CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: The Proper Balance

The Office of Personnel Management has sent out a number of denials in recent weeks, and the undersigned attorney has had multiple opportunities to review many of the cases which have been submitted at the Initial Stage of the process, by Federal and Postal workers who are or were unrepresented by an attorney.  

The spectrum of the quality of the applications vary; some have obviously engaged in some research, and attempted to put together a Federal Disability Retirement application by following some guidelines which have been put forth.  But in most cases, there is still the problem of an “imbalance” — of not reaching the correct median between the subjective and the objective; of an inability to stay away from the workplace issues, of harassment, of complaints about the Agency, etc.  

Remember that this is first and foremost a medical disability retirement application, and the operative term which should always be focused upon and emphasized is the “medical” aspect of the formulation.  While there is ultimately no formulaic Federal Disability Retirement packet (precisely because the particular medical condition which is unique to each individual resists any such attempt to package a Federal Disability Retirement application in a generic sort of way), nevertheless, there are certain key points which should be addressed and emphasized, while other “non-key points” should be avoided.  

Put in a different way, in proving that a medical condition prevents a Federal or Postal employee from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, one must include multiple “essential elements” in meeting the burden of proof.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Reconsideration Response — Refrain from Reflexive Response

When a denial is received for an Application for Federal or Postal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, sometimes they are replete with comical “errors” and omissions.  Thus, anywhere from mistaken identities, to wrong job identifications, to the wrong doctors named; from medical conditions which were never claimed, to diagnostic tests and surgeries which were never submitted; these are just some examples of errors and omissions which one might find in the body of the “Discussion” in an OPM denial letter.  The reflexive temptation is to put together a string of harangues and accuse the OPM Representative of incompetence, incoherence, ineptitude, and inability to perform the essential element of his or her job.  Such a reflexive response would be the wrong tact to take, however.  One should refrain from making such “ad hominem” attacks.  Instead, the better way to go about it would be to politely point out the major errors, the omissions of any medical or other substantiating documentation, in an understated way, then to argue the main points that need to be argued to rebut the denial letter.  While the former methodology may make you feel good, in the end, it is an approval which will prove to be of lasting elation.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Continuing Patience

It is difficult to be patient.  The Office of Personnel Management, in reviewing and evaluating each case, takes its time.  One can attempt to “read into” each day, as to whether the longer wait is more beneficial than a decision which is to be made in short order.  Calling to check on the “status” of the case can have a negative effect upon a decision, although it is not “supposed to” do so. 

Often, the response by OPM’s representative is that a decision will be made “this week” or “next week” or “by the end of the month”.  Time passes, and there is no decision.  These past couple of weeks, OPM has sent out many decisions that were long-in-waiting.  When the decision is a favorable one, then of course the burden of the wait is suddenly lifted.  When the decision is a denial, then the response is often one of anger, disbelief or discouragement.  Once the emotions are set aside, then one must accept the reality of further waiting.  Yes, patience is a virtue, and Federal and Postal employees must be the virtuous of all people.  But those are empty, vacuous and meaningless words when one must wait to see what the future holds. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Disability Retirement: Discretion in a Response II

In responding to an initial denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application before the Office of Personnel Management, it is important to remain professional, and not to “overload” the response with unnecessary or otherwise irrelevant responses.  Initial anger and disbelief over the selective criticisms contained in an OPM denial letter should not be reflected in a response to the denial.  Why not?  Because there is a good possibility that the case may be denied a second time, and it may appear before the Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board.  Don’t write things to OPM that you will regret having an Administrative Judge — one who may be deciding your case — look at and read.  Thus, the “first rule”:  never write an immediate response back, because your anger and emotional disbelief will show itself.  If you need to “get rid” of your anger and expiate the emotionalism, then write your emotional response on a separate piece of paper, then set it aside.  Your “real” response will come later — when you can with a rational perspective, review the unfair and selectively biased denial letter, and begin to compose the serious response that your case deserves.  Or, better yet, get your attorney to do it.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Creativity Is Important In the Applicant’s Statement

It is important to creatively inter-weave facts, feelings, medical impact, symptoms and conditions into a persuasive Applicant’s Statement of Disability.  It should not be overly emotional; it should not be voluminously long; it should not be preachy; it should not be written as a doctor would write it.  It is the Applicant’s Statement of Disability, and it should be from the Applicant’s perspective; but as with every writing, the “audience” to whom anything is written, must always be kept in mind.  Remember that the audience is a reviewing Office of Personnel Management representative — one who is evaluating, analyzing, and making a decision upon the application for disability retirement. 

Of course the independent attachment of medical documentation will be persuasive; of course a review of the position description will have an impact; and of course the analysis of comparing the medical condition with the type of job one has will be scrutinized and will be relevant.  It is the applicant’s statement of disability, however, which will most often be the determining factor.  That is why such a statement must creatively weave all of the various aspects of a disability retirement application — facts, emotions, job impact, medical impact, doctor’s statement, personal statement, impact statement — all in a bundle, all inter-weaving, all in a persuasive, creative description.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability: The Disabled Federal and Postal Worker

As with most attorneys, I try to maintain an appearance of detached professionalism. It is my job to provide sound legal advice; to guide the client/disability retirement applicant with logical argumentation, rational perspective, and legal foundations as to the strength or weakness of a case, and to guide my client over obstacles, around legal landmines, and through the briars and thickets of “the law”. I try to remain aloof from the inherent emotionalism which arises from the human story of my clients, because not to do so would be to defeat the essence of why a client hires me: to maintain and retain an objective perspective, in order to provide the best legal advice possible. However, to maintain that wall of professionalism is not always possible.

The human story of the Federal and Postal employee is indeed one of encompassing a juggernaut of loyalty, professionalism, dedication, hard work, and the driving force behind and undergirding the economic might of the United States. Yes, of course the United States is built upon the economic principles of the free market system of the private sector; but the services which the government provides are not accomplished by some faceless or nameless entity; each such service — from the letter carrier through “rain, sleet or snow”, to the Special Agents who investigate and put criminals behind bars; from the border patrol agents who guard our security, to the IT Specialist who safeguards our internet viability — is provided by a competent and dedicated worker. That is why I am often humbled by my clients; because, truth be known, the disability retirement applicants who come to me have come to a point with his or her medical condition, where there is no other choice. It is never a question of dedication or hard work; the Federal and Postal Worker has already proven his or her dedication and hard work through the decades of service provided, prior to coming to me.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Situational Disability II

To reiterate: Situational disability can be an issue which can defeat a disability retirement application, precisely because OPM (and if it gets to the MSPB level, the Administrative Judge) can conclude that the Psychiatric disability in question originates and results in response to the hostile workplace environment.

These three concepts are important to understand — originate, result in, and result “in response to”. A psychiatric condition can originate from a hostile work environment, but as long as the medical condition then pervades beyond the work environment and impacts a person’s life through and through, then that alone does not constitute situational disability, because while it may have originated from A, it is not limited to A.

The second concept — results in — must be seen in the context of the condition of the psychiatric disability. Thus, does the (for example) Major Depression or anxiety result solely from the work environment, or does one experience the symptoms while at home, even while away from the work environment?

And thirdly, does the individual experience the symptoms of the psychiatric condition “in response to” his or her exposure to the work environment, or are the symptoms all-pervasive: i.e., throughout all aspects of the person’s life?

To differentiate these three concepts is important in avoiding the pitfalls of situational disability, and in helping to prepare a Psychiatrist in either preparing a medical narrative report, or in his or her testimony before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Federal Disability Retirement: The Danger of Situational Disability

The danger of falling into the trap of situational disability, which is one of a number of reasons for denying a disability retirement application, can come about quite regularly. Especially because, in the face of contending with a medical disability that is serious enough to warrant changing one’s career, of filing for medical disability retirement — there is often the Agency’s contentious response, of needing to have the continuity of the work accomplished, of being insensitive and lacking compassion for the applicant; in such a context, the applicant views the Agency’s response as hostile.

The employee/applicant, then, in filing for disability retirement, will often make the mistake of focusing upon the hostile work environment, or the lack of compassion and empathy on the part of the Agency — and this will often warrant a denial of disability retirement based upon the medical condition of the applicant as being “situational disability” — meaning that the medical condition of the employee/applicant is limited to the work situation of that particular office or agency. This is a completely wrong-headed approach for the applicant.

That is why, when I represent my clients, I am singularly focused upon the 2 or 3 main issues that form the essence of a disability retirement case, and insist upon focusing my clients upon those very same issues, while setting aside those tangential issues which can ultimately defeat a disability retirement application. Understand that these peripheral, tangential issues may well be “important” to my client — but I would not be doing my job in representing my clients if I allowed the peripheral issues to become “front and center” — for that would be a disaster for my clients. I represent people to obtain disability retirement benefits. That is my job. That is my focus. If I allow my focus to waiver, then I am not representing my clients properly.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire