OPM Disability Retirement: The Process of Decision-Making

As has been previously stated in repetitive fashion, 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 understand and acknowledge the duality of the process — for it is a process, as opposed to a singular event, both as an administrative legal issue, as well as for the individual Federal or Postal employee in a personal sense.

To clarify:  As an administrative issue, it is a process which involves multiples stages of argumentation (potentially).  Yes, it would be nice if every case was decided with an approval at the First/Initial Stage of the administrative process; however, there is a purpose and a reason why there are multiple stages.  It is precisely because it was anticipated that there would be denials and appeals to such denials, that an administrative procedure for multiple stages of review and further submissions of evidence and arguments was constructed and implemented.  It is not an entitlement pursuant to a fixed date, a fixed age, or a triggering event.  Rather, it is an administrative process which must be proven, applied for, and affirmatively shown that one is eligible.

From the personal perspective of the Federal or Postal employee, the decision of “when” to apply for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is also a process, as opposed to a singular event.  There are, of course, cases where a traumatic injury or life-changing accident occurred, and such an event is the triggering moment for filing.  But for most Federal or Postal employees, the medical condition suffered is a progressively deteriorating process, and it is often difficult to determine a “date certain” where one can point to on a calendar and state, this is the day and hour when I cannot perform one or more of the essential elements of my job.

This is why there is an inherent complexity to a process, as opposed to a singular event of certitude — for, it is always the unknown and the uncertain which gives rise to the anxieties of life, and a process is indeed a period of the unknown, and a chasm of uncertainty.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Last Minute Filings

Waiting until the very last moment in order to file a Federal Disability Retirement application is often an inevitable reflection of the medical condition itself; whether because the thought and act of filing contributes to the exacerbation of one’s condition, or because the severity of the medical condition impedes and presents an obstacle to proceeding, are somewhat irrelevant in the end; whichever may be the case, the fact is that the admixture of medical conditions, Statute of Limitations, and the need to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits, do not cohere well, and something inevitably suffers as a consequence.  But the law is impervious to excuses of filing inaction (with some narrow and specific exceptions); and society’s view is that a limit must be imposed at some point.

Thus:  For filing a Federal Disability Retirement application through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether the Federal or Postal employee is under FERS or CSRS, the Federal or Postal employee must file the application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits within one (1) year of being separated from Federal service.  Waiting until the last minute can have some inherent and deleterious consequences, and failing to be attuned to them can come back to haunt one at a later date.  For example: Since one has waited until the last moment to file, once a Federal Disability Retirement application is filed, there will be little to no chance of amending the application (note:  “amending” is not synonymous with “supplementing“), as one no longer has the luxury of withdrawing a Federal Disability Retirement application, amending, and refiling; for, in the meantime, the Statute of Limitations has presumably come and passed.

Filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits and waiting until the last possible moment is, unfortunately, a reality reflecting the often anxiety-filled state of affairs, both for the individual and the pressure to file on time; with that being said, it is nevertheless a reality which must be faced, and handled in the best possible manner under the given circumstances.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and USPS Disability Retirement: First Impressions

The older generation often refers to the importance of “first impressions” — of the firmness of one’s handshake; of whether eye contact is made to betray secretiveness; the clothes one wears; tattoos and the number of body piercings; all are evidence of first impressions left for future judgment.

While such initial encounters may not reveal the true “inner” person, they nevertheless leave an indelible and lasting imprimatur upon those who rely upon such an approach.  Whether one likes it or not is besides the point; first impressions are psychological realities which one must deal with in this harsh world.

For those who prepare, formulate and file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the Federal or Postal applicant must understanding that one’s formulation of one’s case is merely one of thousands, and the Case Worker who is assigned to the case, upon an initial review and analysis, will be left with such a first impression.

The methodology of evidentiary presentation; the conciseness of the Statement of Disability; the coordination and support of the medical evidence; all will depend upon the manner and content of the presentation.  Too many tattoos, and the grandmother-characteristic in the Case Worker may turn up a nose; not a firm enough handshake, and the old-man sense in another Case Worker may pause with concern.

First impressions; it is how one approaches a case, as much as the presentation of the evidence, in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The Cumulative Emergency

Most emergencies need not have been; either through preventative maintenance or attending to it through troubleshooting at regular intervals; or by cautiously identifying overt signs of oncoming problems, the vast majorities of apparent emergencies turn into the status of such urgent needs because of neglect or deliberate avoidance.  

That is not to say, however, that once an event reaches a heightened status of requiring an urgent response, that it should not be treated with the appropriate manner of alarm; rather, it is merely a recognition that most emergencies need not have become so.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the best course of action is to attempt to avoid having the entire administrative process become an emergency need.  

In order to practice containment, one must recognize the medical condition, the potential impact of the medical condition; the time when the medical condition begins to impact one or more of the essential elements of one’s job; a carefully prepared plan to initiating the needed conversation with one’s treating doctor; financial planning to weather the long and arduous bureaucratic morass; and an expectation that one’s own agency will not be supportive, for the most part, throughout the process.

Such recognition of some of the bare essentials which comprise the entirety of the Federal Disability Retirement process is easier said than accomplished.  

Life rarely occurs and presents itself in neatly folded stacks of laundered clothing; instead, the more apt analogy is the pile of dirty clothes brought home in a black garbage bag by one’s college son or daughter, with the door opening, a smile on the face, and declaring, “Here, will you take care of this for me”?

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Timing and Perseverance

The proper timing of an event has much to do with the successful outcome of an endeavor.  Just look at the “timing” passes in the NFL, where the quarterback throws a pass towards a receiver who has not yet looked for the ball, but expects it because that is precisely the play which has been called, and one which has been practiced for in countless previous series of practices.  But with timing comes a history of perseverance. Timing is perfected by practice, and practice becomes fruitful and productive only through countless effort and perseverance.

If the first time one attempts X and the timing is not perfect, one cannot walk away in frustration because the timing was “off”; rather, it is through perseverance where perfect timing is achieved.  Effortlessness is achieved through the very achievement of great effort.  

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, there are multiple “timing” issues, coupled with the need to have the perseverance to achieve that proper timing.  

Sometimes, it is simply premature to start the process:  perhaps the doctors are not ready; perhaps the Federal or Postal worker is not mentally prepared to take the next step.  Psychological barriers are just as real an impediment as physical ones. At other times, timing has to do with the doctors — cases often have to develop, and doctors have to spend time with the patient/applicant before admitting that disability retirement is the only and best option.  For that “perfect timing” to occur, perseverance by the Federal or Postal employee may be needed — if not only to persevere through a slightly longer process of case-development.  

Thus, timing and perseverance are not limited to the NFL or sports in general; rather, in life, and in preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application, being “in the game” and trudging along to perfect the right time, are all important components in the successful submission of a Federal Disability Retirement application for the Federal and Postal Worker.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Meaning of Separation from Service

The 1-year rule, or more properly, the Statute of Limitations, continues to be confused at various levels.  The beginning point in understanding the rule must always be to first clarify what constitutes the trigger-point; for, if one does not know what represents the first day of the year, how can one calculate the remaining 364 days?

First, in negative form:  Being on LWOP, Sick Leave, or any time of leave, does not constitute a separation from service.  Indeed, logically, if one reflects upon it for a moment, the very fact that one is on some type of leave would imply that one is on leave “from” an agency, thereby inferring that no separation from service has yet occurred.  Thus, separation from Federal Service is an event which occurs when a Federal or Postal employee affirmatively resigns; is issued a termination or separation letter; or is issued a personnel action on an SF Form 50 or PS Form 50, showing that Federal or Postal employment has been terminated.

For Postal employees, if you continue to receive a “0”-balance pay stub, it likely means that you have not yet been separated.

Obviously, for Federal Disability Retirement purposes, whether under FERS or CSRS, knowing whether or not you are separated from Federal Service is important, because the Office of Personnel Management will not make a determination on the substantive basis of a Federal Disability Retirement application if it has been filed in an untimely manner (i.e., after a year has passed from the date of separation).

Then, of course, there is also the “other” 1-year rule, of showing that one’s medical condition will last for a minimum of 12 months.  But let us not get ahead of ourselves and confuse and conflate the two.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Concerns of Confidentiality

There is often an expressed concern regarding how confidential the medical records submitted through one’s Agency are kept.  It is a valid concern, but one which must be weighed and considered in light of the ultimate goal:  to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits under either FERS or CSRS.

There are multiple instances of confidentiality breaches — both at the agency level and at OPM.  OPM has sent out letters in the past to the wrong individual, and in the letters they discuss details of medical conditions, contents of medical reports, etc.  Such mistakes, while (fortunately) rare, do occur at times.

At the Agency level, of course, the concern is of greater import.  If a Federal or Postal employee is still on the rolls of the Agency and has not been separated from Federal Service for more than thirty one (31) days, then a Federal Disability Retirement packet, with all of the attached medical reports, must be submitted through that Agency.  Disclosure of such medical reports and records are to be kept to an “as needed” basis — for the limited purpose of seeing whether the Agency can accommodate a medical condition, for instance.

Federal and Postal employees who are filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits often express the concern that unauthorized individuals may be able to view the confidential medical reports, and sometimes use them for alternative, unauthorized purposes.  One such concern, of course, is if there is a pending collateral case ongoing — such as an EEOC case or some similar filing, where the evidence gleaned from the medical records can be used against the Federal or Postal employee in another forum.

Ultimately, the Federal or Postal employee must weigh the pros and cons, and do the best to ensure confidentiality, and view any concerns of confidential breaches as merely an intermediate step of necessity to attain the ultimate and more important goal, of obtaining an approval from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in a Federal Disability Retirement case.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire