Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The Applicability of the Legal Argument

If there is a legal argument to be made, make sure that it is applicable; further, it is important to distinguish between the necessity of making a legal argument, as opposed to allowing the facts to speak for themselves, and the medical reports and records to establish the necessary proof by a preponderance of the evidence.

In administrative law, and specifically in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the “applicant” (the one filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether as a Postal Worker or as a non-Postal, Federal Worker) has the advantage of thoughtfully compiling the material, documentation, legal memorandum, narrative reports, and the entire compendium of proof necessary to meet the legal requirements of eligibility, and therefore entitlement, to Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

It is essentially a “paper presentation” to the Office of Personnel Management.  As such — because the applicant is able to take the necessary time and effort at the front-end of the process to prepare a compelling case, it is important to “pick and choose” the viable legal arguments to be made.

Sometimes, facts can speak for themselves, and there need not necessarily be a legal case to support the facts.  Other times, the medical report and records can meet the legal requirements, without citing a specific statute or case-law.  Then, there are applicable legal arguments which must, and should, be made, if merely because one should assume that OPM will not recognize the legal requirements unless aggressively informed about it.

In making such legal arguments, however, don’t undermine your own case unless you know what you are talking about.  Better to remain silent on matters not known, lest you reveal your lack of knowledge on the matter.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The Legal Argument

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, one must always be cognizant of the “legal aspect” of the entire bureaucratic process.  For, ultimately, FERS & CSRS is based upon a statute, which has been further expanded and delineated in regulatory explication, and additionally, evolved through judicial decisions called “case laws“.  It is the compendium and compilation of a legal framework of administrative law which comprises the entirety of eligibility and entitlement to Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Within this context, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management must make its decision upon a review of each and every Federal Disability Retirement application.  If in any single aspect of applying the law, OPM goes counter to, or misapplies the substance of, the legal framework — whether against the originating statute; in non-compliance with the regulations; in failing to apply the clarifications mandated by case-law; then, a decision by OPM denying a Federal Disability Retirement application can be reversed based upon an error in applying the law.

Thus, the importance of making a proper legal argument in a Federal Disability Retirement application cannot be overemphasized.  As “the law” is the basis of any civilized society, so the proper application of the law ensures the fair and equitable process due to each citizen who fits within the framework of the law.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: OPM & the Legal Argument

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, as with all venues of applications, it is important to recognize who the “audience” is, and to appropriately tailor the submission to the targeted audience.  However, when one engages in an administrative process — which involves various levels and stages comprised of multiple administrative and governmental procedures — it is important to always look beyond the initial audience targeted, and prepare for any subsequently receiving entities.

Thus, because Federal Disability Retirement is an administrative process which involves not only multiple levels of personnel at the agency level (i.e., the Office of Personnel Management for the Initial Stage of the determination process and, if denied at the initial level, then the Reconsideration Stage of the process), possessing varying levels of sophistication with respect to recognizing the applicability of legal citations, arguments, precedents, etc., but further, it involves multiple layers of legal arenas (i.e., Administrative Judges at the Merit Systems Protection Board, both at the appeal/hearing stage, as well as potentially for a Petition for Full Review; then, beyond, to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, where one will be before a Judge of the Circuit Court of Appeals) — because of the potential involvement of many such venues, it is important to prepare the initial stage of the application with a view towards addressing the later stages of the process.  

While everyone believes that his or her Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is a “sure thing,” the wise man prepares for every eventuality, and when it comes to having someone at the U.S.Office of Personnel Management review a Federal Disability Retirement application, it is best to consider the possible eventuality of an initial denial.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The Cogent Argument

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS and submitting it to the Office of Personnel Management, it is important to formulate a cogent argument for approval.  

There are different methodologies of persuasive argumentation — including logical argumentation; appeal to emotional elements; presenting a compendium of multi-faceted sub-arguments; overwhelming the listener with volumes of facts and issues, etc.

A cogent argument, however, involves persuasiveness by means of the logical structure, believability and inherent clarity and incisiveness of the argument itself.  It is the argument, in the context of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, which creates the necessary “nexus” between one’s medical conditions and the essential elements of one’s job.  For, whether one agrees with, or understands this (or not), in preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, and specifically when one writes the narrative presentation on the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (SF 3112A) , in describing one’s medical conditions and their impact upon one’s ability or inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, you are arguing for persuasive effect.  

Cogency is the key to an effective argument.  Clarity of logical and sequential dependent clauses building upon an ultimate conclusion — or a conclusion which will systematically follow from the premises which are presented in a clear and concise manner — is important in making one’s “case” to the Office of Personnel Management.  

A cogent presentation is an effective one; lack of clarity only muddles the issues; and when a Federal or Postal employee is attempting to persuade, by means of a paper presentation, to a faceless bureaucracy, it is important to make the impact of cogency felt immediately.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Formulating an Effective SF 3112A

The “heart of it all” is…   The medical report will provide the substantive basis; a supervisor’s statement may or may not be helpful or useful at all; legal arguments will certainly place the viability of the application for Federal Disability Retirement into its proper context and arguments which touch upon the legal basis will inevitably have their weight, impact and effect upon whether one has met by a preponderance of the evidence the legal criteria required to be eligible and entitled.  All of that aside, the SF 3112A — the Applicant’s Statement of Disability — is where the heart of the matter resides in preparing, formulating, and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS. 

If a Federal or Postal employee is unsure of what to state, how to state it, or how much to reveal and state, that becomes a problem.  For, ultimately, the proper balance must be stricken — between that which is relevant as opposed to superfluous; between that which is substantive as opposed to self-defeating; and between that which is informational, as opposed to compelling.  Formulation takes thought and reflection.  Yes, the SF 3112A — the Applicant’s Statement of Disability — is the heart of it all.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Objectivity & Legal Arguments

Having written about the importance of maintaining a level of objectivity in preparing, formulating and submitting a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, and further, about the necessary component of a legal argument and references to prior legal citations, it is of note that the two intersect in significant ways.  Because the law, statutes, cases, etc., are intended to apply to everyone, it is meant to be a ‘universal principle’.  Whether one agrees with the law or not is beside the point, and ultimately irrelevant.  

Further, one must make a distinction between using the law as either a shield or a sword, and for a Federal or Postal employee who is considering citing the legal precedents in filing a Federal Disability Retirement application, it is important to utilize the law, case-law and statutes as a ‘sword’ in order to persuade the Office of Personnel Management to approve your case.  

The two together — of maintaining a level of objectivity in preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application by focusing upon the medical reports & records; citing case-law and legal precedents to argue one’s case in an affirmative manner — form a powerful and compelling basis in any Federal Disability Retirement application.  The intersection between the two — objectivity and legal arguments — direct the tone, tenor, and foundation of any Federal Disability Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Legal Arguments

Legal precedents are a necessary part of any process, and this is no less true when filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS.  Some argue that legal citations and references to legal precedents are less important at the Initial Stage of the process, but such a viewpoint ignores the fact that preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS is a “process” — not merely a one-time filing.  

Indeed, the distinction is important to note, because that is precisely why the entire administrative procedure of having an Initial Stage, a Reconsideration Stage, then an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, then further appeals, is available for all Federal and Postal employees.  As a “process”, while each stage is considered in a “de novo” fashion (meaning, looked at “anew” without consideration of the prior decision), the legal precedents and citations which one refers to in order to establish one’s eligibility and entitlement to Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS provide the foundational justification, no matter what stage of the process one is at.  

Thus, a legal citation argued for at the Initial Stage is valid for the Reconsideration Stage; a precedential legal reference made and argued at the Reconsideration Stage is valid for the MSPB, and so on.  As such, legal arguments provide for a continuum of arguing for one’s entitlement to a benefit which the Office of Personnel Management must justify in any denial it renders.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement for Federal and Postal Employees: Defining Terms

In proceeding through the administrative and bureaucratic maze of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS, one of the most frustrating encounters is the lack of an ability to concretely “define terms”, such that any disagreement with the Office of Personnel Management can be narrowly curtailed in order to allow for a proper response.  It is often contended that 99% of arguments and disagreements are non-substantive.  That is, because neither side defines the terms utilized in the argument, each side will argue at cross-purposes, never agreeing because there has been no prefatory attempt at defining the terms which are being used in the first place.  If you can, take the opportunity to sit and listen to two people arguing:  Are each using terms interchangeably and loosely?  Is person A using the terms in the same way and meaning as person B?  It is unfortunate that there is never an opportunity to have a “conversation“, in effect, with the Office of Personnel Management, before an Initial Decision is made. 

When one looks at an OPM denial, denying an initial Federal or Postal Disability Retirement application, the terms used, the criteria declared, the arguments made (if any), there is never a static point of reference in the terms defined.  Ultimately, of course, the point of needing to “define the terms” comes about at the Third Stage of the Process — at the Merit Systems Protection Board, where an Administrative Judge will be an arbiter and (hopefully) finally force a more stable use and definition of terms.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Arguing the Case

I recently wrote an article in FedSmith.com where I argued that the process of argumentation is often just as important as the substance of the argument itself.  For instance, technically speaking, the mere fact that a Federal or Postal employee under FERS or CSRS receives a proposed removal for one’s medical inability to perform one’s job, without actually being removed for that medical inability, does not accord one the Bruner Presumption.  And, indeed, there may be various valid reasons why a Federal Agency will hold off from actually removing an employee — often to the advantage of the Federal employee.

During such a “suspension” period (sort of like being in purgatory in the Federal sector) between having a proposed removal and actually being removed, while one may not obtain the advantage in a Federal Disability Retirement application of the Bruner Presumption, one can still argue that one is essentially entitled to the Bruner Presumption, and that is often just enough to win the argument.  Thus, as I argued in the FedSmith article, the process is sometimes just as effective as the substance of the argument.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Imperfect Law

Law is an imperfect science; indeed, one could dispute the ascribing of law as a “science” at all, except in a generic, loose sense of the word.  Like the sciences, it is an observation and gathering of empirical evidence (“just the facts, please’); like science, it is an application of a hypothesis (proposing an applicable theory of law upon the gathered facts); and like science, the results of applying the hypothetical model upon the empirical evidence must take into account the factors of error, the possibilities of various elements which may impact upon a perfect study (i.e., the personalities and quirks of a jury or a judge, for example).   But that is where the resemblance between science and law end. 

More often than not, the practice of law is nothing more than what Hume’s famous argument concerning causality entails:  repetitive observation of an event does not necessarily result in the same effect the next time around; it is merely experience which guides the observer to predictably conclude certain end-results.  To that extent, administrative law, and specifically Federal Disability Retirement law for Federal employees under FERS or CSRS is no different.  Law, as engaged in actively by an attorney of law, is the acute observation of the facts, the application of the proper hypothetical model, and the combining of both — with the exception of taking into account one’s experience, the experience of past cases, and making discretionary decisions based upon all of the facts and circumstances.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire