FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Simplicity of the Case

The initial telephone inquiry often involves an apologetic explanation that one’s particular Federal Disability Retirement case “is a very complicated one which involves…”  Then, of course, there is an extensive history of events.  But complexity is often made so because of the lack of understanding of what direction the Federal or Postal employee must pursue in order to obtain an approval from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and it is assumed that the reason why the Federal or Postal employee contacts an attorney is to unravel and unscramble the complications which were created precisely because of such lack of understanding.

Remember that in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the bundle of complexities was created, more often than not, because of an admixture of agency issues, a history of adverse contact between the agency and the Federal or Postal employee, coupled with the rise of medical issues and their impact upon one’s ability or inability to perform all of the essential functions of one’s job.  As such, it is the job of the attorney to focus the Federal or Postal employee upon the foundational “essence” of a Federal Disability Retirement case.

Whether it is to “cut to the chase”, or strip away any peripheral issues to get to the “heart of the matter”, or whatever other pithy niceties which may be applicable, it is the job of the attorney to set aside the complexities, and simplify the process in order to obtain a Federal Disability Retirement approval for the Federal or Postal worker suffering from a medical condition which prevents him or her from performing one or more of the essential elements of his or her job.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Precision of Terms

Tools and weapons can be interchangeably and effectively utilized, and often with appropriate results; however, normally the intended usage is the preferred application, especially if one desires a result of precision and craftsmanship.  Thus, while using a shotgun to hunt pheasant is entirely appropriate, it may not be the best weapon of choice to kill a squirrel (although, again, it may still be quite effective).  Or, using a corkscrew to make a hole in the drywall may be effective, but perhaps messy.  While adaptation may be a sign of higher intelligence, it may also be indicative of a lack of appropriate knowledge.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the “shotgun” approach used by many Federal or Postal applicants is often indicative of a misunderstanding of the applicable and relevant laws which must be addressed in a Federal Disability Retirement application.  Or, there are Federal Disability Retirement applications where repetitive “name-dropping” occurs — implying some knowledge, but to a dangerously limited extent.  “Bracey”, “Trevan”, “Bruner”, and multiple other names are inserted, often in contextually inappropriate ways (including, one hesitates to add, by lawyers and law firms), as if they are characters in a mystery novel, or perhaps in an HBO detective series.  Or, general terms such as “causality”, “rating”, “maximum medical improvement”, while appropriate in other types of compensatory filings, are almost entirely meaningless for purposes of obtaining Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Precision of terms is necessary in the endeavor of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management; for, in the end, the effective tool is the one chosen for its intended purpose, just as man without a teleological essence, is merely a wandering ape in a jungle of arbitrary appearances.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: The Only Real Standard

In legal parlance, there are various and multitudinous “standards” — of proof; of evidence; of law, etc.  Some have higher, more stringent requirements; others are considered fairly de minimis, and can be satisfied with sufficiently targeted evidence.  All, however, share a common thread — that of persuading the trier of facts.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the standard of proof to be applied is one of “preponderance of the evidence”, which is considered a fairly low standard.  However, the only real standard of proof in any case — whether in administrative law, such as Federal Disability Retirement, or in civil litigation, criminal court, etc. — is one of pragmatic reality:  whoever hears the case, it is necessary to persuade the decision-maker.

Obviously, there is a distinction between an onerous standard, such as “beyond a reasonable doubt”, in comparison with a lower standard of proof such as “preponderance of the evidence”.  Whether, if and when, one has met a standard of proof, is not based upon a scientific calculus, and indeed, that is precisely why in closing arguments, an attorney will repeatedly argue that one has met the X-standard of proof, and these Y-reasons are why.

Theoretically, persuasive argumentation is not necessary if the facts themselves prove the argument.  In reality, however, it is the argument which brings the facts together into a coherent whole, and presents them to the viewer within a context and a specific perspective, such that the viewer or recipient of such information and facts can make a logical connection between a disparate conglomeration of facts, and reaches a conclusion that yes, the purpose for providing such facts has met its goal, etc. The key is to argue without seeming to argue.

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 this point of pragmatism:  One can get lost in the morass of legal parlance, and worry excessively about meeting the legal requirements; in the end, it all comes down to presenting an effective, persuasive Federal Disability Retirement packet, such that one receives a letter of approval from the Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Professionals & Saving Time

In many areas of law, it is often the case that “professionals” prefer dealing with other professionals.  Thus, doctors will often encourage their patients to obtain the services of a lawyer when it has come time to consider medical retirement.  

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, submitted to the Office of Personnel Management, there are multiple factors to consider when engaging in the preparatory stages of the administrative process.  The reason why doctors often prefer to deal with attorneys when the patient is compiling the “paperwork” for Federal Disability Retirement is that it saves time.  

Time is a commodity which is scarce and valuable.  Doctors do not want to have to engage in multiple revisions or rewriting of medical reports.  Doctors are professionals who believe that their time is best spent in treating patients — and while such “paperwork” is a necessary part of a doctor’s practice, and one which ultimately assists the patient in furthering his or her medical condition and future well-being; nevertheless, if an administrative issue needs to be addressed, doctors will often prefer to accomplish such administrative tasks in the most efficient, expeditious manner possible.  

The same concept holds true for the Federal or Postal worker who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  While there is never a guarantee that a “professional” will present a compelling enough case to the Office of Personnel Management such that an approval of one’s Federal Disability Retirement application will be a certainty; nevertheless, it is normally the most effective road to success.  

As time is a valuable and scarce commodity, so such scarcity and value should be considered at the beginning of the process of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Lawyers and H.R. Personnel

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, one of the peculiar “events” which often erupts and surfaces is the interaction between a Federal or Postal employee, his or her attorney, and the interaction with the Human Resources Department of the particular agency.  

While the reaction of the H.R. personnel is not universal by any means, and while exceptions will surprisingly occur, nevertheless the pattern of recurrences leads one to conclude that there is an undertone of antagonism between the lawyer representing the Federal or Postal employee who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, and the Agency’s Human Resources Department.  

What is puzzling is the following:  (1)  The undersigned writer always attempts to approach all H.R. Personnel with humility and courtesy, with the view that both are working towards the same common goal of assisting the Federal or Postal employee, (2) the very existence of the Human Resources Department of the Agency is predicated upon the notion that they are there to assist the Federal or Postal employee in his or her employment endeavors, including filing for administrative benefits, and (3) since both the attorney and the H.R. Personnel are there to help the Federal or Postal employee, cooperation of efforts would be the natural course of action.  

Unfortunately, in most instances, the very opposite is true.  Whether because the H.R. Personnel believe that an attorney is antagonistic by nature, and therefore must be met with equal force; or because they believe that the attorney is somehow circumventing or undermining the role of the Human Resources’ work and role; nevertheless, it is important for the H.R. Personnel to understand and appreciate that the role of the Attorney in representing a Federal or Postal employee in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application through the Agency (first) and to the Office of Personnel Management (thereafter), needs to be a tripartite effort (the Federal or Postal employee; the Agency; and the attorney), all working together.  

If the Human Resources Department did its job, much of what the representing attorney needs to do would be diminished, and perhaps altogether unnecessary.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Beyond the Approval Letter

There are many stories of Federal and Postal employees who suffer from physical, emotional and cognitive (psychiatric as well as progressively deteriorating neurological disorders) medical conditions, who continue to endure within the confines of a Federal or Postal job, for years and years.  

Federal Disability Retirement allows for a Federal or Postal employee who has a minimum of 18 months of Federal Service under FERS (5 years under CSRS, which is already a safe assumption that such minimum eligibility requirements have already been met for CSRS employees) to continue to be productive as an employed member of the workforce — but in a different capacity.

Each story is a unique one —  filled with a narrative of human suffering, of enduring pain, hostility, and often discriminatory actions by the Agency.  The attorney who represents the Federal or Postal employee, however, has a specific and unique role.  He or she is not the Federal or Postal employee’s friend, therapist, doctor or financial advisor.  Instead, the attorney’s job should retain a singular focus — to obtain the Federal Disability Retirement benefits for the applicant who is seeking such benefits.  For, after all, it is only upon the satisfaction of the foundational basics that a Federal or Postal employee can then “move on” and go beyond the impact of a medical condition — to recuperate; to start a second career; to repair the physical, emotional and psychiatric impact of the past year or more; and to begin rebuilding after experiencing the jubilation of an approval letter from the Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Medical Conditions & OPM

Clearly, there are certain medical conditions which the Office of Personnel Management “dislikes” or has a negative, suspicious view towards, in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  One may attempt to rationally comprehend the innate bias towards certain groupings of medical conditions, but to do so would expend energy which, ultimately, results in an act of futility.

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, nowhere in the statute which provides for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is there notification or indication of a distinction between medical conditions.  As such, any pattern of hostility towards a particular medical condition, or a “type” of medical condition, must have evolved over time.  

The peculiar thing, of course, is the consistency in which all of the Claims Representatives at OPM have developed — of a similar pattern of reaction and behavior towards the “undesirable” medical conditions, as if they all work from a single template and have discussed, in conspiratorial hushed tones, a concerted effort to deny certain cases which are primarily based upon X medical conditions.  

That all said — and put aside as a note of interest but ultimately irrelevant — the way to rebut and overcome the inherent bias towards such medical conditions is to systematically reinforce the statutory requirements for eligibility, by explaining to the treating doctor(s) what is needed in order to overcome such bias.  Ignorance of the law is one thing; misapplication of the law is another.  Both must be overcome by guiding the treating doctor in how to meet the legal criteria, no matter what the medical condition.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Another Day to Fight

I often tell young people who are contemplating going to Law School that, to become a lawyer, one must accept a life of constant contentiousness.  While “professional courtesy” in the field of practicing law is often spoken about, and courtroom decorum is indeed important to maintain, it is nevertheless a profession which faces controversy, contentiousness, debate, disagreement — and, yes, disagreeableness.

One might think that in the field of Administrative Law, such as Federal Disability Retirement law, where the singular issue is whether a Federal or Postal employee is eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, that the level of confrontation and contentiousness may be limited.  It is not.

This is because the emotional, mental, financial and future security of an individual is at stake.  At any given moment in time, the client who is counting on getting an approval from the Office of Personnel Management, may feel the anguish of the wait.

It is up to the Attorney who represents the Federal or Postal employee to win the fight, and to know that so long as there is another day to fight, there is always a chance that the client will obtain the Federal Disability Retirement benefit that he or she rightfully deserves.  Today or tomorrow is another day to fight, and it is another day of contentiousness which is worth it, because that is what we are paid to do.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Complex Case

It goes without saying that each case of preparing and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is a “complex case”.  There are multiple intervening issues, including peripheral issues encompassing OWCP filings; issues with SSDI and whether to aggressively pursue it even with the offset and the lower cap for earnings; EEOC filings and collateral issues which may or may not have a direct impact upon the issues which must be focused upon in filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  It is the job of an OPM Disability Attorney to tailor the issues, such that the peripheral issues do not overwhelm and dictate the centrality of a case; and to ensure that the central focus remains like a magnifying glass upon those issues which are relevant, not only to the client and to the entire process, but most importantly, to the person reviewing the case at the Office of Personnel Management.  Whenever an inquiry begins with the statement, “Mine is a rather complex case,” I realize that the primary job is to try and simplify the complexities, and that begins with narrowing the issue down to the single focus of the reason why the caller is calling in the first place:  the medical condition, and how that medical condition impacts one’s ability to perform one’s job.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Patience and the Attorney

Attorneys have limitations.  This may be a surprise to some people; many believe that because an attorney is involved, mountains can be moved and cases can be immediately resolved.  There are always “war stories” about the worker that X knows who filed a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS and got it approved within a couple of weeks, and got paid immediately the day after.  One should always be suspicious of such stories; they may or may not be true, but there is never a way to verify the truth, falsity or exaggeration of such stories without directly contacting the individual. 

What is “known” for certainty is that the Office of Personnel Management is a large governmental entity; it moves slowly; “demanding” that something must get done immediately, merely because one is represented by an attorney, will not necessarily make it so.  If a client hires an OPM Disability Attorney because he or she thinks that the OPM Disability Retirement application will go to the front of the line and bypass all administrative obstacles, then there must be some misunderstanding.  A Federal Disability Attorney should be hired to represent a disabled Federal or Postal employee based upon the following criteria:  (1)  The application stands a better chance of approval at the first stage, and (2) in the event of a federal disability denial, a responsive rebuttal will continue to increase the chances of ultimate approval.  For, that is the point of legal representation — ultimate approval.  The “fight” may have many rounds; it is the ultimate round of success which the attorney is most concerned with, in order to secure the long-term future of the client. Yes, the immediate pain of waiting, of financial uncertainty, etc., is very trying, and hardships abound.  That is where patience must come in.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire