Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: The Suspect

Newspaper stories are replete with articles involving scams, dishonesty and crimes of financial improprieties; that is not surprising, given the nature of what constitutes “newsworthiness”.  Fraudulent claims involving disability applications are trumpeted loudly to reveal the disintegration of a system requiring structural integrity.  Of course, no one makes the distinction that such claims of fraud almost always involves the “other” disability system, and not the option available to Federal and Postal employees through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS.

Just as all politicians are lumped together, so the aggregation and broad-painted brushing of anyone receiving a “disability” annuity is to be expected.  But Federal Disability Retirement is a different animal from the “other” disability system, and with good cause:

First, Federal and Postal employees do not file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits until and unless it becomes a necessary option to take.  The general public cannot have it both ways: on the one hand, they complain that Federal and Postal employees have it “easy” with their Federal or Postal jobs; on the other hand, they grumble that receipt of Federal Disability Retirement benefits is taken advantage of by unscrupulous Federal and Postal employees. But if the employment itself is so easy, why would the Federal or Postal Worker take a lesser income by filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits?  The fact is that most Federal and Postal employees work hard, and well beyond their rate of compensation, in furthering the mission of their agency or department; and filing for Federal Disability Retirement is the furthest thing from the mindset of a Federal or Postal employee.

Second, because of the reduction of income accorded by an approved Federal Disability Retirement, many Federal and Postal employees must go out and seek employment in the private sector.  Yes, they can continue to receive the disability annuity so long as they remain under 80% of what the former Federal or Postal position currently pays; and yes, the combination of both the annuity and the employment income can aggregately comprise more than what the former Federal or Postal position was paying; but that is the very attractiveness and intelligence of the incentivized system. It encourages the Federal and Postal Worker to remain productive, and to “pay back” into the system. In essence, it is a self-paying enterprise.

And, Third, because Federal Disability Retirement recognizes that the disability is tied to a particular kind of job, there is very little room for abuse within the system.  One is encouraged to remain productive, and such an incentive allows for the system to remain economically viable.

In these difficult economic times, people are often afraid of considering filing for “disability” benefits; but for Federal and Postal employees who have given their time, life and (often) health in the pursuance of an agency’s mission, being treated like a “suspect” in a broadly-painted indictment is not only unfair, but reprehensible.  The Federal and Postal Worker has nothing to be ashamed about, and the fact that the general public may harbor some hidden resentments during these trying economic times, is merely a reflection upon the often petty nature of humanity, and not a true gauge of the work ethic of Federal and Postal employees throughout the country.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Bruner Revisited

In filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, one should never pause or hesitate from affirmatively going forward in preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application based upon what the Agency will or will not do; is expected or not expected to do; or is predicted or not predicted to do.  One should simply move forward based upon one’s personal and professional circumstances, the extent of the medical condition, the impact of one’s medical condition upon one’s ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job, etc.  

Thus, for instance, where a Federal or Postal employee has informed the Agency of one’s medical condition, or one has filed for FMLA and submitted substantiating medical documentation, if the plan is to “wait” for the Agency to remove the Federal or Postal employee in order to obtain the advantage of what is generally known as the “Bruner Presumption,” such a plan is normally not the best course of action, for various reasons.  

First, the Agency may take an extraordinary amount of time, and in the end, may attempt to remove the Federal or Postal employee for “other reasons” (performance issues, for instance).  Second, whether or not one “gets” the Bruner Presumption in a case, that legal advantage is really for the Third Stage of the process — at the Merit Systems Protection Board — inasmuch as most of the Claims Reviewers at the Office of Personnel Management are not legally informed enough to know such a legal presumption from a nearby neighbor named John Doe Bruner.  And Third, one must affirmatively prove by a preponderance of the evidence, anyway, that one cannot perform the essential elements of one’s job because of a medical condition.  The Bruner Presumption, while a great thing to have, does not override the medical condition and evidence which must be presented.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Using an Agency’s Action

Agencies will often act in predictable fashion; they act based upon prior actions engaged in; they act as an organic constituent of procedures and policies previously followed (often blindly and without thought) in the past; they act in self-interest, and often with a very narrow, myopic path and goal.  

If an agency ignores the medical conditions and the documentation submitted showing the medical conditions of a Federal or Postal employee, and removes an individual from his or her Federal position based upon reasons other than one’s medical inability to perform one’s job (whether intentionally or because no one bothered to look at the medical documentation), then the resulting action can obviously impact a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  Often, the Agency’s general counsel will be the first person to finally listen to reason, and by then an appeal has been filed with the Merit Systems Protection Board, for the sole and narrow purpose — not of overturning the termination or getting one’s job back, but — of rescinding the adverse decision of removal and reissuing a removal based upon one’s medical inability to perform one’s job.  

This course of action, however, is not always necessary.  Often, the adverse action, the delineation of poor performance, etc., can be directly tied to one’s progressively deteriorating medical condition, and the Agency’s own actions can be used to one’s advantage in proving a Federal Disability Retirement case.  Each case is different, and discretion in fighting for that which is helpful, and recognizing that what may “appear” to be adverse, is actually to one’s benefit, is the key to winning a Federal Disability Retirement case under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: The Lost Cause

For a lawyer, it is indeed the “lost cause” which is the most challenging of cases.  This is no less true in Federal Disability Retirement cases for Federal and Postal Employees under FERS & CSRS.  In fact, in some instances it is all-the-more-true, because there is necessarily involved a physical or psychiatric medical condition which makes the case all the more worthwhile in fighting for. 

The concept of the “lost cause” is evocative of the famous scene from Frank Capra’s classic movie, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, of course; and no lawyer, no matter how good, should be so arrogant as to think that he or she meets with the standard of what Jimmy Stewart was fighting for.  For one thing, lawyers get paid for what they do.  Yet, it is indeed the “lost cause” cases which often spur the attorney in any area of law, with eagerness and pride. 

Whether to obtain Federal Disability retirement benefits for an individual who was wrongfully terminated for extraneous reasons; proving to the Judge that, despite post-termination medical documentation, one can and should logically extrapolate that the medical conditions existed prior to separation from Federal Service; to persuade the Office of Personnel Management that the Agency knew, or should have known, of the medical condition, and should have terminated the individual for his or her medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, as opposed to the manner in which the Agency went forth; these are all microcosmic examples of “lost causes”; and it is indeed the lost cause which is the most challenging of cases for an attorney.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire