OPM Federal Disability Retirement: Fiscal and Other Cliffs

The general public is, by and large, rather puzzled by the inability of the Executive and Legislative branches to come to terms with the impending “fiscal cliff” facing the nation, precisely because they face such hard decisions on a microcosmic level on a daily basis.

In representing Federal and Postal employees to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is clear that the “everyday person” faces tasks and obstacles which require hard decision-making almost on a daily basis.

The surreal world of the Federal Government, where there is never a debt limit, and where the hardest task is determined by the difficulty of reelection, fails to properly recognize and appreciate the daily toil of its own workers.  Proper management at the highest levels of government should be presumed to take place, so that the “field workers” can continue doing their duties.

For the Federal or Postal Worker who has come to a point in his or her life that the positional duties cannot be performed, anymore, the decision to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is one which comes with a harsh realization:  one’s chosen career may be effectively over; the camaraderie and interaction with coworkers will cease; the financial security of one’s future will be compromised, etc. But necessity of action results in the making of such decisions, and Federal and Postal employees must, and do, make such decisions on a daily basis.

They face fiscal and other cliffs almost daily; as greater responsibility falls upon those in higher echelons, it is a puzzle why there is a cliff at all.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: Discretionary Proprieties

One can know a friend for decades, but catch him or her at the wrong time, and be the recipient of a reaction which astounds and confounds.  In everyday life, most of what we do is based upon a routine of habit.  We may rearrange the deck of chairs by doing X chore before tackling issue Y, but for the most part, our lives are set within the confines of a comfortable routine.  And that is probably a good thing; for, as order and continuity allows for a peace of mind, so a set routine provides a sense of comfort and security.

How we deal with disorderliness and chaos, however, often determines whether the comfort of a routine was ultimately healthy for us.  Confronting a sudden emergency; having a medical condition which interrupts our formulated goals; asking for support from others when a need arises — those are the life “tests” which separate our friends from all others.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the sudden need to garner extraordinary support (and the term “extra-ordinary” is applicable precisely because it requires actions out of the ordinary course of people’s lives) from others — family members, agency personnel, doctors, etc. — will test one’s patience and confidence in one’s fellow man.

In trying to get the support of others, one must use one’s sense of discretion and propriety — of the right time and place — by sensing how to approach each.

The old metaphor of a “bull in a china shop” will often apply.  For the Federal or Postal Worker, the “bull” is the Federal or Postal worker who needs the support; the china shop is represented by all others.  The trick is to walk softly and carefully, and with great tact.  In doing so, remember that you are disrupting the comfortable routine of others.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Compartmental Clarity

Compartmentalizing issues, concepts, various technical terms, etc., leads to greater clarity, and therefore cuts down upon misunderstandings.  Ultimately, the ability to utilize and comprehend the proper technical terms in any area of law, or in a general sense of becoming “competent” with an issue, requires the proper adoption of a language game (as Wittgenstein would apply the term).

Becoming proficient in a language game is important because, to fail to do so can lead to real-life consequences.

Thus, in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, it is important to distinguish between Social Security Disability (which a FERS employee must also file for as part of the administrative, bureaucratic process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits) and FERS & CSRS disability retirement benefits.  The latter must be filed through one’s agency, and ultimately must be decided by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Then, of course, one must distinguish between Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement from OPM (the acronym for U.S. Office of Personnel Management), and OWCP (standing for “Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs), administered through the Department of Labor (DOL), under the Federal Employee’s Compensation Act (FECA).

These are just some of the language-game terms of the three main areas of compensatory benefit programs — there are others, of course, including benefits from the Veteran’s Administration (VA).

It is best to begin by getting the terms right; to get the terms right, one needs to compartmentalize the terms into their proper usage and associated agencies, thereby leading to greater clarity.  By attaining a level of compartmentalized clarity, one can ensure that a discussion with an OPM Disability Retirement Legal Expert will lead to a fruitful consultation.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: The Impersonal File

Creative writing courses almost always fall back on an old adage:  Show, don’t tell.  Such a simple advisory truism, while trite and overly simplistic, applies in so many aspects of what constitutes effective writing — whether for fiction, journalism (is there a difference between the two?), or in Federal Disability Retirement (the latter, of course, is a completely separate genre from the former two).

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 apply all of the learned, effective tools of writing, in confronting every stage, every administrative hurdle, every step in the bureaucratic, administrative process.

In approaching a treating doctor:  remember that doctors are quite effective in compartmentalizing patients — separating a patient emotionally from the patient’s file; the cold, clinical approach of treating a medical condition without becoming “personally involved” is what a doctor is trained to do.  Thus, in obtaining the support of one’s treating doctor, it is important to break that silent wall of bifurcation, and often, simply sitting down with the doctor and explaining, talking, “personalizing”, is an important first step.

Another example:  the Applicant’s Statement of Disability.  That statement is the window to OPM’s soul.  It is the means and vehicle by which and through which one persuades the Case Worker at OPM that one has a medical condition which prevents one from performing the essential elements of one’s job.

Writing it well is the route to success.  Showing, and not merely telling.  Old adages tend to live on forever, because the truth inherent and embedded in them continue to thrive.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: A Form and Its Impact

The completion of the multiple forms in a Federal Disability Retirement application can seemingly be a simple matter, upon first encounter.  The questions are fairly innocuous and straightforward.  A distinction must be immediately made, however, between the Standard Forms which merely ask for factual/personal information (SF 3107 series for FERS employees; SF 2801 series for CSRS employees), requesting name, address, agency information, date of birth, etc.

Then, there is the SF 3112 series (both for FERS as well as for CSRS employees), and specifically SF 3112A, the Applicant’s Statement of Disability, which goes to the very heart of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  For, how the questions are stated; the content which is provided; the listing of the diagnosed medical conditions; the description provided of the impact of one’s medical conditions upon the positional description of the Federal or Postal employee — these will determine the future course of the Federal Disability Retirement application, its success or failure, and the potentiality for any future inquiry requested from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in the form of a Medical Questionnaire, requesting an update on the medical status and disability of the Federal or Postal annuitant.

Ultimately, the preparation of a standard government form may, at first appearance, look like a simple matter.  Those things in life which “look” simple, often present the greatest of complexities.  But of course, that is the very question which Plato and Aristotle, and the entire history of Western Philosophy wrestled with:  the distinction between appearance and reality.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Clarification of Options

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 often necessary to perform a methodological analysis similar to a “risk-benefits” evaluation before proceeding down the path in attempting to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that one is eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

The risks versus benefits analysis should already have been performed:  the necessity of filing because of one’s medical conditions should have answered any such issues arising from such a concern.  The “other” analytical approach, however, often revolves around the ever-prevalent and uniquely human ability to endlessly ruminate:  the “What if” syndrome.  What if I don’t get the disability retirement?  What if my agency terminates me before I get approved?  What if…

Such questions, while important to consider, should be first preceded by the overarching “what-if” question of all, which generally answers all subsequent similar questions:  “What if I don’t file?”  Presumably, one comes to a point in deciding to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits because of a medical condition which has progressively or suddenly come to a point where it prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.

Given that, the options to be clarified are quite simple:  If one does not file, then one will either have to continue working in the same or similar capacity; or one can resign and walk away, perhaps with a deferred retirement at age 65.  Are any of those options truly viable?  Ergo, many — if not all — of the other “what if” questions resolve themselves by first clarifying the penultimate what-if question.

Sequential clarification of one’s options is an important step in the reflective process of decision-making; take the time to consider the options; clarify the options; then, when the decision to prepare, formulate and file for Federal Disability Retirement benefitsbecomes a matter of necessity, move forward with the view that one will be approved precisely because the facts prove the case, without engaging in the self-defeating, very-human endeavor of self-doubt and questioning.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Writing about Medical Conditions

It is easy to give advice about pain when a person is feeling no pain; it is unwise to act upon it when one is in an extreme state of it.  For, the former will often be disbelieving of the extent and severity of it and will therefore view it as involving a lack of fortitude; the latter will be willing to sell his soul in order to rid himself of it.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the problem of pain is representative of the greater difficulties of writing about a medical condition — of the dichotomy and bifurcation of subject-object; of sympathy – empathy; of persuasion and what constitutes effective writing which compels a person to tears.

Of course, as to the latter — we need not expect an OPM Case Worker to be reading your narrative in the Applicant’s Statement of Disability to suddenly burst out in tears, get up, and scream as he or she is running down the corridors of OPM holding your case file declaring, “This one is approved!  This one is approved!” (although such a scene would indeed be welcome and rather amusing).

The problem nevertheless exists — of how one can write about one’s own medical conditions, with a level of objectivity, a compelling sense of persuasive effect, a standard of maintaining a perspective which declines to cross into maudlin overstatement, and a judicious use of adjectives in conveying a true picture of pain or symptomatologies of medical conditions, which paints the picture as opposed to merely narrating a list of diagnoses which may portray unfeeling information, as opposed to the entirety of information, feeling, sensation and struggle — the aggregate of the human condition as encompassed by one in pain.  The problem has no answer; rather, it is one which must always seek a solution, which is a process in and of itself.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Statute of Limitations

In filing a Federal Disability Retirement application with the Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, one must file within one (1) year of being “separated from service”.  That is what is often referred to as the “statute of limitations” — a limit placed upon the ability of a Federal or Postal worker to file for a claim, based upon pragmatic policies of making sure that a claim is “recent” enough to allow for evidence which is neither stale nor outdated.  

There is sometimes a level of confusion as to what it means to be “separated from service”, and it often appears that such confusion arises from mixing issues with other administrative claims.  Thus, OWCP/FECA has its own sets of rules; Social Security has its own set of rules, etc.  For Federal Disability Retirement applications under FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management, to be “separated from service” and thus to trigger the 1-year timeframe, means that a Federal or Postal worker is terminated, taken off the rolls, and an SF 50 and PS Form 50 needs to be issued showing that a person has been effectively separated from Federal Service.  

For Postal Workers, a good indication that this action has been effectuated is when one stops received the “0”-balance paystubs.  Further, one must remember that, once separated from the Agency, after 31 days or more of such separation, any Federal Disability Retirement application must be filed directly with the Office of Personnel Management.  Filing with the Agency after the 31 day period and waiting for them to process the case, and relying upon them to forward it to OPM may result in a case simply sitting on someone’s desk…until the year has run out.

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

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: The "Lost Cause" Case

Often, an approval for a Federal Disability Retirement case will come in the mail, and the client will state, “I never thought I would see it approved.”  It is the job of an attorney who specializes in any area of law, to win the case.  In representing Federal and Postal employees to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the ultimate “win” is to get the approval from the Office of Personnel Management

Some cases are harder to get approved than others; then, there are the “Lost Cause” cases — ones which, for one reason or another, seem to encounter greater obstacles:  from agencies which attempt to undermine the Federal Disability Retirement application, to adverse termination proceedings prior to the filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application; to insufficient medical documentation; and multiple other reasons, there are cases which appear to be lost causes.  Yet, so long as there is another stage of appeal, and so long as there is sufficient merit to a case, one should never give up.  Lost causes are especially triumphant moments for the attorney representing a disabled Federal employee.  For an OPM Disability Retirement case, it is especially sweet to obtain that letter of approval from the Office of Personnel Management, for that case which the client himself/herself believed as a “lost cause”.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire