Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Timing the Legal Tools

In any administrative procedure, the use of legal tools and citations may be of limited efficacy for the process itself; it is, however, building a foundation for future application, and to that extent it provides a fair warning to the agency.

Inasmuch as any portion of obtaining an entitlement or meeting an eligibility requirement engages the applicant with a faceless bureaucracy — and one which recognizably is filled with non-lawyers, clerks, etc. — there is always the question as to why an attorney is necessary at the administrative level of adjudication.

The reason is simple:  the non-lawyer governmental worker, while perhaps not fully appreciative of the legal citations which may be argued in a particular case, is nevertheless aware of the consequences of failing to acknowledge the validity of such references.  Being audited and finding that a particular case worker has a high percentage of cases denied, then reversed on an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, has an impact upon the agency worker.

Furthermore, building a foundation for future reference before an Administrative Judge — where the Judge turns to the agency’s representative and asks, “Well, how about Case X, which has already been cited by the Appellant?” — can be quite effective and often short-cuts the entire process.

For Federal and Postal Workers who are attempting to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the effective use of legal tools and citations is crucial at all levels — if only to warn OPM of the consequences of having to go before an MSPB Judge for further adjudication of the case.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

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

Few disciplines and classes of artisans create their own tools.  Musicians do not fashion their own instruments; accountants do not produce calculators or computers; painters do not manufacture their own brushes.  The blacksmith does, however, form and mold his own ironworks.

Similarly, the lawyer formulates the tools upon which he crafts his arguments; for, as most Judges are lawyers themselves, and the vast majority of legislators are also attorneys, so the statutes which are issued, and the judicial opinions which are rendered, are analogously “created” by those who are members of the class identified as “lawyers”.  Once created, it is how the tools are used which makes all the difference.

In Federal Disability Retirement law, the multiple tools available must be utilized for the very purpose of their making.  Thus, application of the Bruner Presumption must be invoked where appropriate, and “stretched” to their logical extension wherever possible; the “Trevan” rule concerning SSDI approvals should be pointed out whenever it has been approved during the process of waiting for a decision on a Federal Disability Retirement application; and the restatement of the applicable legal criteria in Henderson v. OPM should be emphasized when OPM attempts to misinterpret the applicable statutory criteria in being eligible for Federal Disability Retirement as requiring a 1-to-1 ratio between medical conditions and positional duties; and multiple other legal tools.

The issue of “where” a tool was manufactured, unless poorly constructed, is rarely one of importance or relevance; rather, it is how the tool is applied which is the issue of greater import and significance.  For it is precisely the “how” and the efficacy of the utilization of a tool which results in the intended consequences of such use.

For the blacksmith, a well-fitting horseshoe; for the accountant, a tax savings; for the artist, a masterpiece; for the lawyer, a victory.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement from the Office of Personnel Management: Legal Criteria

There is “The Law” — the originating, statutory authority which is passed by Congress — then, the compendium of the entirety of the legal arena, which includes decisions handed down by Administrative and Federal Judges, which comprise the expanding and evolving interpretation, clarification and extension of “The Law”.  

Unfortunately, in making its decision on an Application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the Office of Personnel Management constrains itself (and its knowledge of the law) to a template based upon a “7-part criteria” which is extrapolated from the Code of Federal Regulations.  

This 7-part criteria is a simplistic and misleading application of the law.  It is not so much that it is an “error” on the part of the Office of Personnel Management to apply such a criteria; rather, it is that, in evaluating and determining the sufficiency, viability, and meeting of the standard of proof of “preponderance of the evidence” of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it simply does not go far enough.  Because the 7-part criteria fails to include the interpretive evolution of the entirety of the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement, it fails by excluding many Federal Disability Retirement applications which are based upon legal criteria which fall outside of the delimited circumference and parameters of what OPM has set forth. 

In short, they are “behind the times” in many instances, and so when a denial is based upon a misapplied criteria, it is important to point out to OPM that X law applies in particular case Y — where “X” is outside of the scope or knowledge of the Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Legal Standard & Persuasion

There is a distinction between the existence of a legal standard and the citing of such legal standard — to include statutory references, case-law citations, etc. — and the art of persuasion.  In reviewing Federal and Postal Disability Retirement applications which have been previously prepared, formulated and submitted by unrepresented Federal and Postal employees, which have been denied, it is often refreshing to see how laymen (i.e., “non-lawyers”) have utilized cases and case-law citations (often straight from some of my articles and blogs) in arguing his or her case. 

The problem with such an approach, however, is that the unrepresented Federal or Postal employee will often refer to such legal standards without engaging in the necessary art of persuasion.  Legal standards are certainly there to be used; however, there is a proper way and methodology of utilizing legal standards, and an improper way.  The improper way is to use the legal standard as a hammer — of stating:  X exists and states Y, therefore you must conclude Z.  The proper methodology in utilizing a legal standard is to engage in the art of persuasion:  X exists, and X determines why Y must come about, and therefore Z should be the logical conclusion, and here are the reasons why. 

Normally, I advise against non-lawyers using the law precisely because of the potential mis-application of the methodology.  Leave the law to lawyers; that is why lawyers are hired.

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: Legal Citations

Some question whether or not legal citations are necessary in filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  Certainly, as an administrative process in applying for a benefit from the Office of Personnel Management, there are individuals who attempt to obtain the benefit of Federal or Postal Disability Retirement benefits without the representation or assistance of an Attorney, and such “self-represented” individuals rarely refer to legal authorities or citations in such an application.

Are legal citations — or references to legal authorities, statutes or case-laws — “necessary” when filing an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS?  If by “necessary” is meant, is it a requirement in order to be eligible for obtaining OPM Disability Retirement benefits, then the obvious answer is “no”.

However, the purpose in referring to legal authorities is quite simple, and logically based:  As the Office of Personnel Management is required to apply the legal criteria in determining one’s eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, it makes sense to support one’s application by citing the legal authorities which reinforce and explain the legal basis for eligibility.

As such, while citing legal authorities is not a necessary condition in applying for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, it may be a condition precedent which may need to be sufficiently satisfied in order to favorably “weight” the successful outcome which is sought after.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire