OPM Disability Retirement: Disparate Information in a Disability Retirement Application

The difference between success and an almost-successful endeavor is normally not based upon the information available, but rather, the effective use of the available information.  Just as most “secrets” are neither hidden nor unknown, but rather depend upon who knows it, how it is used, and when it is acquired; similarly, the availability of information disseminated throughout our lives — via the internet, through publications, through media outlets, etc. — is generally not the basis for success.  Disparate information compiled in a bulk bound conglomeration is normally not an effective way of presenting something.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is important to go beyond mere compiling of information and data in presenting one’s case to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  Remember that Federal Disability Retirement is not an entitlement; rather, it is a benefit which is available upon proving one’s case.  Proof of a case depends upon multiple factors: indeed, the Office of Personnel Management will often state the following in denying a Federal Disability Retirement application:  “The mere fact that you have a medical condition does not mean that you are eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.”

The existence of a medical condition is a necessary requirement; facts supporting one’s case can be persuasive; the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement and the eligibility criteria should be cited; the nexus between one’s Federal and Postal position and the medical condition should be established; then, beyond each of the disparate informational islands, a coordination of the information is necessary. For that, an approach which involves a paradigm of how one should win a case is important.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: The 31-day Rule

Once a Federal Disability Retirement application has been prepared and formulated, the next step in the equation is to determine the proper destination for filing.

For all Federal and Postal employees, whether under FERS or CSRS, if one is still on the rolls of the agency, whether on Sick Leave, Annual Leave, receiving donated leave, or on LWOP, if separation from service has not occurred, then the Disability Retirement packet must go through either the local or district Human Resources Office of the Agency for further processing.  The Office of Personnel Management will not accept a Federal Disability Retirement application directly from the applicant, if the Federal or Postal worker filing for such benefits has not yet been separated from Federal Service.

For Postal employees, a further caveat concerning “separation” should be taken into account:  Often, the U.S. Postal Service will continue to retain workers on the rolls, even after proposing to remove them, and often even after issuing a decision letter on a removal.  A good indicator as to whether a Postal Worker is still on the rolls of the U.S. Postal Service is if the individual is still receiving “0” balance pay stubs.  This likely means that the person is still officially “on the rolls” of the U.S. Postal Service.

Further, while many Federal (non-postal) workers continue to have the benefit of a local Human Resources Office, or an assigned district H.R. Office, for the U.S. Postal Service employee, all Federal Disability Retirement applications must be processed through the H.R. Shared Services Center in Greensboro, N.C.

If a person has been separated from Federal Service for more than thirty one (31) days, then the former Federal or Postal Worker must file his or her Federal Disability Retirement application directly with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Thus, the first priority is to prepare and formulate a Federal Disability Retirement application; next, to ensure compliance with the 1-year statute of limitations; and finally, to file it via the proper channels.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Informational Perspectives

As a general maxim, it is true that not all information is equal; that the qualitative reliance of a given source of information, based upon consistency, accuracy, credibility, etc., should be viewed over the course of sufficient time; and that quantity and volume of information are often an inaccurate guide to determining the usefulness of such information.  

George Orwell’s novel, 1984 is considered a “classic” not only because of the excellence in writing style, but because the content and depiction of future events (now past in terms of events having occurred, predicted to occur, or passed occurrence or relevance because the historicity of such events has surpassed expectations of occurrence) have become a common banality of reality.  One point which Orwell was profoundly correct about, but in an inverse way, encapsulates information:  Orwell predicted that by reducing words and language, there would be the natural consequence of a reduction in conceptual possibilities, minimizing ideas, and more importantly, dangerous or revolutionary ideas.  Instead, the opposite has occurred:  by exponentially expanding information, and disseminating voluminous irrelevancies, there has been a parallel reduction of knowledge.  

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, there is much information “out there”.  Such volume of information, however, does not necessarily result in concurrence of knowledge.  

Information often contains a catch:  a perspective and a motive.  Is the information merely provided in order to persuade you to pay for services?  How was the information obtained — is it merely a regurgitation from information provided by someone else?  Has it been “cleverly borrowed” from someone else’s website?  There is nothing wrong with providing information with a secondary purpose of providing a service which is related to the information; how that information is provided, however, and whether such information is accurate, reliable and consistent, may make all the difference in the world.  

In pursuing eligibility for Federal OPM Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management, be careful in accessing information on the issues; not all information is equal; and it is ultimately knowledge, not information, which one is attempting to obtain.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: What Others Said

Often, during a consultation with a Federal or Postal employee, the issue comes up about what “X said” about “Y-issue”.  Information is plentiful, and especially in this age of the internet, the plethora of information, abundant in volume and scope, can seemingly provide the generic and universally appreciated mass of unidentifiable vacuity called, “Information“.

The problem is no longer the lack of information; rather, the problem is to be able to discern the difference between “useful information”, “relevant information,” “effective information,” and “peripheral information”.  In preparing, formulating, and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is important to make the distinctions.  However, in this world of unlimited sources of information, a person who first approaches a subject — especially a subject involving legal consequences such as Federal Disability Retirement law — may have a difficult time in distinguishing between the various “types” of information.  

Further, it is important to recognize the “source” of information — Who said it?  Where did it come from?  Is there statutory authority to back it up?  Is the source reliable?  These latter questions must also be asked, and the way to determine the credibility and reliability of information is often to take some time and cross-check information from various sources, and decipher as to whether a particular source provides a consistency of information which can be trusted.  When it comes to preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, where one’s future may depend upon the information gathered, the Federal or Postal employee would be wise to “check out the source” before proceeding forth.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: OPM’s Generic Denial

Often, cases are mishandled not because of the “present” mistake, but because the case was never prepared for the “long-term” event.  Let me elaborate and explain. Obviously, an applicant for disability retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS wants to win the case at the earliest stage of the process.  The attorney who is handling any such disability retirement case, similarly, would like to “win” the case at the earliest stage possible.  However, sometimes that is simply not going to be the case. 

In an initial denial, it is often important to not only address the case for the Reconsideration Stage, but also to prepare the case for the next stage — the Merit Systems Protection Board (and, similarly, in preparing an application for Disability Retirement, it is important to prepare such an application not only for the initial review at OPM, but also for the Reconsideration Stage).  By this, I mean that, because there is at least a “possibility” that the disability retirement application will be denied again at the Reconsideration Stage, it is important to point out the deficiencies, the lack of clarity, the inadequate reasoning, the outright lies and mis-statements which the Office of Personnel Management may have engaged in as part of the “Discussion” Section of the denial letter.  Often, while OPM may give some “lip-service” to make it appear as if your case was thoroughly reviewed, a closer reading (on second thought, it need not even be a closer reading) clearly shows that OPM did a shabby job in denying a case.  It is what I ascribe as OPM’s “generic denial” — a denial so devoid of any particularity or care as to reveal a complete lack of proper administrative review of the case.  Such lack of proper administrative review is what needs to be shown; it needs to be shown because, if OPM denies the case again, then it is advantageous to the applicant to have the Administrative Law Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board see that he will be hearing a case which may not have been necessary — but for the lack of diligence on the part of OPM.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Case of Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is one of those medical conditions that the Office of Personnel Management systematically “targets” as a condition which is prima facie “suspect”. This is despite the fact that there are cases which implicitly “admonish” OPM from engaging in the type of arbitrary reasoning of denying a disability retirement application because they “believe” that “no objective medical evidence” has been submitted, or that the “pain” experienced (diffuse as it might be) is merely “subjective”, or that the chronicity of the pain merely “waxes and wanes”, and a host of multiple other unfounded reasonings. Yet, cases have already placed a clear boundary around such arbitrary and capricious reasonings.

A case in point, of course, is Vanieken-Ryals v. OPM, a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit case, decided on November 26, 2007. In that case, it clearly circumscribes the fact that OPM can no longer make the argument that an Applicant’s disability retirement application contains “insufficient medical evidence” because of its lack of “objective medical evidence”. This is because there is no statute or regulation which “imposes such a requirement” that “objective” medical evidence is required to prove disability. As long as the treating doctor of the disability retirement applicant utilizes “established diagnostic criteria” and applies modalities of treatment which are “consistent with ‘generally accepted professional standards'”, then the application is eligible for consideration. Further, the Court went on to state that it is “legal error for either agency (OPM or the MSPB) to reject submitted medical evidence as entitled to no probative weight at all solely because it lacks so-called ‘objective’ measures such as laboratory tests.” Statues are passed for a reason: to be followed by agencies. Judges render decisions for a reason: for agencies to follow. Often, however, agencies lag behind statutes and judicial decisions. It is up the an applicant — and his or her attorney — to make sure that OPM follows the law.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire