OPM Disability: Demythologization of the Process

Beyond being an ugly word, Spinoza attempted it, but closer to the heart of a flawed hermeneutical approach, the theologian, Rudolf Bultmann spent his career attempting to separate the conceptually inseparable narratives encapsulating historical content, context and the meaning behind miracles and metaphor.

All processes are mysterious, until detachedly analyzed, devalued or debunked.  Some merely throw up their hands and reject a subject in its entirety; others spend a lifetime in trying to understand it, and thus do cottage industries emerge.  The peril of pursuing a discipline of futility is that, in the end, the process of one’s own actions may be just as inexorably a conundrum as that which one attempts to unravel; read a single, random paragraph from Heidegger, and one immediately understands such a declaration of frustration.

Often, for Federal employees and U.S. Postal workers, the prefatory statements of confusion abound:  ” I’ve heard that…”; “OPM always …”; “Is it even worth it to…”  But there is indeed a practical difference between the bureaucracy itself, and the bureaucratic process; the former is merely a juggernaut of an agency which is impenetrable because of the nature of the Federal system; the latter is an administrative process replete with multiple layers of statutory and regulatory devices which are complex in their compendium of requirements.

Filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits by the lay person, whether the Federal or Postal employee is under FERS, CSRS or CSRS Offset, is a complex, puzzling and often overwhelming process.  It can be likened to handing a complex transactional law case involving multiple Fortune 500 companies attempting to merge for purposes of avoiding specific legal entanglements to a first-year associate; mistakes are bound to be made, as one fails to recognize the inherent complexities or the need to draft preventative safeguards.

Further, when a medical condition already weakens the physical stamina of the Federal or Postal employee, and tests the limits of one’s cognitive acuity, the ability and capacity to engage a large and complex bureaucracy can be, at best, a challenge.

Filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is analogous to the hermeneutical approach of attempt to demythologize a sacrosanct text of unyielding historical import; the difference from theology, however, is in the pragmatic need and practical residual consequences foretelling; and as they say in the fine-print warning of some advertisements, you should probably not try this on your own.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: OPM’s Standard of Proof

In reviewing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the mandate of burden is determined both by statute and regulation, and the Merit Systems Protection Board reiterates the burden of proof in each of its decisions — that of proving one’s case by a “Preponderance of the Evidence“.  

This is a relatively low standard of proof — of showing that one is eligible and entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS based upon a showing that, with all of the evidence considered, it is more likely than not that the Federal or Postal employee has shown that he or she cannot perform, because of one or more medical conditions, one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  

There is often a question as to whether this same standard of evidentiary showing applies to the Office of Personnel Management, and this question is posed because of the statements made in many of the denial letters (which then prompts a necessary request for Reconsideration, or an administrative appeal to the 2nd Stage of the process; or, if denied at the 2nd Stage — the Reconsideration Stage — then an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board) issued by the Office of Personnel Management, to wit:  The evidence you submitted did not show a “compelling” reason why you could not…; The medical evidence did not show that you had to be “excluded from the workplace completely”; and other statements which seems to require a higher showing than that of “preponderance of the evidence“. 

OPM is supposed to follow the same standard of proof — that of preponderance of the evidence.  Sometimes, they need to be reminded of it.  

However, inasmuch as the safety mechanism for review of an improper standard is an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, such a reminder often must take the form of an appeal.  Without the appeal basis, the Office of Personnel Management can ignore the relevant statutory burden of proof.  But then, that would not be the first time that an agency acted in a non-compliant manner.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Early Retirement for Disabled Federal Workers: The Appeals

While it is often stated that a Federal Disability Retirement application has three (3) stages to the process, there are additional appellate stages which must be considered, and certain additional steps and actions must be undertaken, in order to preserve the viability of the final two stages of the process.  The initial three stages are comprised of the (A) Initial Application Stage of the process in preparing and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS; then (B) if it is denied at the Initial Stage, there is the Reconsideration Stage, where one may submit additional medical documentation and legal arguments, and finally (C) an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, which takes the Federal Disability Retirement application out of the control and hands of the Office of Personnel Management, and allows for an Administrative Judge at the MSPB to hold a Hearing and make a determination.  

The two additional stages of the process for Federal and Postal workers who have filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, are:  (1)  a Petition for Full Review (which I recommend should be taken, in the event of a further denial by the Administrative Judge at the MSPB Appeal) and (2) the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (which can be filed with directly after being denied at the MSPB level, skipping over the Petition for Full Review).  The last two stages of the process — the Petition for Full Review and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit — will not consider any “new evidence” (except in some rare instances), but will be a review as to whether any error of law occurred.  As such, all of the previous steps of the process would be reviewed, and that is why at each and every step, it is important to know what is important in preserving one’s right to an appeal, what is a basis for an appeal, etc.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: Beyond the MSPB

Because filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS is a process which may potentially take the full stages — from the initial application stage, to the Reconsideration Stage, to the Merit Systems Protection Board; then, if denied at the MSPB, to the Petition for Full Review, and if denied there, to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals; as a result, it is a good idea to be represented by a Federal Disability Attorney.  Remember that the last two stages of the process only allow for arguing an error of law.  To that extent, if one pauses for a moment and reflects — everything ultimately comes down to an error of law.  Very rarely is there a misinterpretation of the facts. 

In a Federal Disability Retirement case, the medical evidence is fairly straightforward.  Yes, there can be some arguments concerning the interpretation of the extent and severity of the medical conditions, but the substantive focus of disagreement between the applicant and the Office of Personnel Management normally comes down to the appropriate application of the standard of law, and whether the application has met the burden of proof and satisfied the legal criteria for eligibility.  As such, the essence of a Federal Disability Retirement application comes down to whether OPM — and subsequently the Administrative Judge — has mis-applied the law.  Thus, at each stage of the process, it is important to lay the foundation by pointing out where the error of applying the law happened — at each and every stage of the process.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire