Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Legal Arguments

Legal arguments represent a peculiar form of persuasive argumentation; by appealing to statutory authority, precedents as set by prior court cases and administrative legal opinions, as well as decisions rendered in previous decisions — the foundation of a legal argument rests upon the validity of that which occurred prior to one’s own case.

That is why, in making a legal argument, lawyers argue “by analogy” — via similarity of factual context, as a logical proposition:  X resulted in Y; the factual circumstances in A are similar to X; therefore, A should similarly result in Y.  It is not, in terms of pure syllogistic logic, a valid one to make; for the dissimilarities between A and X may well determine the outcome as to Y.

Further, familiarity with the underlying reasoning of a legal opinion is essential to making a valid legal argument.  That is why non-lawyers who attempt to cite case-law and legal authorities as a basis for their Federal Disability Retirement often fail, and fail miserably:  while it may be the right case-law to cite, the analogy may not fit the context.  In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, it is not only important to create the nexus between one’s medical condition and the positional duties of the Federal or Postal job; moreover, it is essential to make the logical and legal argument in a persuasive, effective manner.

According to an Aristotelian approach, man is indeed a rational animal, and rationality is effectively pursued through a logical methodology; but what is not stated in such an approach, is that rationality and logic do not constitute the entirety of the universe of human persuasion; legal argumentation is merely one facet of the society within which we must live; in the context of a Federal Disability Retirement application, it may play a major part; and that is why citing the right case, making the proper analogy, and creating the logical nexus between facts and “the law”, is essential to a successful outcome in a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Beyond the Bruner Presumption

The methodology of making extended legal arguments beyond the explicitly stated statute or case-law is a natural event, accepted and expected by Judges and opposing counsel.  However, there are unspoken but circumscribed limits to such arguments, and when an individual attempts to go beyond the parameters of rational argumentation, the entire argument loses its underlying credibility.  

Thus, in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, one may argue for the application of the Bruner Presumption once a proposal to removal a Federal or Postal employee for his or her medical inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job has been  initiated.  Such an argument would certainly be a logically viable one.  

Further, there is certainly legal authority and precedent for use of Social Security Disability approvals, and Veteran’s Administration ratings, as persuasive arguments in a Federal Disability Retirement case.  But how far can an argument — often “by analogy”, which has a long tradition of acceptance in the legal arena — be taken?  For instance, can an email discussion between supervisors within an agency discussing and admitting a proposed removal of an employee based upon his or her medical inability to perform the job be used?  Probably, but sparingly.  Can the Bruner Presumption be applied in such a hypothetical?  Probably not, but the principles underlying the case of Bruner v. OPM can certainly be argued as “further evidence” of the agency’s inability to accommodate the Federal or Postal applicant.  

These all constitute the boundaries of legal argumentation, which can be pushed to their limits, but with care and the tool of logical force.  But one must, of course, always be careful — because, to use a tool based upon logic implies that the user has been trained in logic and logical argumentation, which in and of itself is a discipline sorely lacking in many people, including many attorneys.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Using the Bruner Presumption

Argumentation on a point of law, persuasive argumentation based upon a logical implication of a legal finding, extended argumentation based upon an implicit extension of a finding of law — all can be effective tools in a formulation of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  

Thus, in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, often the question is posed as to whether the “Bruner Presumption” (that presumption which is derived from being separated from Federal Service based upon  a medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, or a finding of a parallel delineation of being administratively separated while concurrently showing that a medical condition was the underlying basis of such separation from Federal Service) can be applied based upon the proposal of an administrative separation, or whether the actual separation from Federal Service must occur.  

While the application of the legal presumption can be applied only upon an actual separation, certainly a persuasive argument can be made that OPM and the Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board should effectively grant the presumption, inasmuch as the intent of the Agency is (once a proposal to remove based upon the medical inability to perform the job is made) certainly to follow through on any proposal; nevertheless, technically, the Bruner Presumption is applied only after a decision on the proposal to remove is made.  However, as has been previously stated on many occasions, one should never wait upon the Agency to propose anything, let alone to act upon the proposal.  Instead, one should always affirmatively move forward — especially when contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: OPM and the Law

The Office of Personnel Management is the agency which determines all applications for Federal Disability Retirement, whether under FERS or CSRS (or CSRS-Offset).  In making such a determination, a standard of “objectivity” is expected by each and every Federal and Postal employee, in making such a determination.  

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) applies a set of criteria as determined by statute and further expanded upon by the Merit Systems Protection Board and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.  The entirety of “the Law” which governs and guides the eligibility and entitlement to Federal Disability Retirement benefits is thus based upon a patchwork of legal holdings, statutory language, and cases and legal opinions which have “evolved” over the years.  From this patchwork of laws, one expects a “representative” from OPM to apply it fairly, objectively, and without any arbitrariness or capricious intent.  Yet, since the individuals applying “the Law” at OPM — at least at the first and second “Stages” of the process — are not themselves lawyers, how realistic is this?  

Ultimately, legal arguments in persuading OPM to approve a case are best made when they are concurrently explained — explained in their logic, their force of argumentation, and in their applicability to a given issue.  Simply declaring that “the Law” applies will not do; one must sensitively guide OPM to understand the very laws which govern their behavior.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Using the Legal Tool

A word of wisdom:  generally, it is not a wise endeavor for applicants who are not lawyers, who file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, to make legal arguments.  I have seen the end-product of such results, and have concluded that they are more-often-than-not, harmful to the case.  Most legal arguments are formulated through years of discretionary application based upon extensive research and experience in a given area of law; and the discretion that must be used is not always intuitively obvious.

As an example, there are cases where it is entirely appropriate to submit the VA disability rating as part of the Federal Disability Retirement application, as supplemental documentation in support thereof.  However, determination concerning the importance, impact and significance of relying upon such information must be discreetly assessed.

Yes, there is “case-law” concerning the persuasive authority of VA Disability ratings.  However, the practical legal aspect of utilizing such ratings must be carefully considered, based upon numerous factors:  while the combined rating may be higher, what are the individual percentages?  Are each high enough to warrant persuasive argumentation?  Could closer scrutiny of the individually ascribed ratings be more harmful to one’s case?  Is the rating (and each individualized break-down) discussed in medical terms in the VA records?

Ultimately, the individual who files for Federal Disability Retirement benefits without an attorney must rely upon himself or herself, and the wisdom of one’s own counsel.  Whether that is wise or not, I leave to each individual.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Arguing the Case

I recently wrote an article in FedSmith.com where I argued that the process of argumentation is often just as important as the substance of the argument itself.  For instance, technically speaking, the mere fact that a Federal or Postal employee under FERS or CSRS receives a proposed removal for one’s medical inability to perform one’s job, without actually being removed for that medical inability, does not accord one the Bruner Presumption.  And, indeed, there may be various valid reasons why a Federal Agency will hold off from actually removing an employee — often to the advantage of the Federal employee. 

During such a “suspension” period (sort of like being in purgatory in the Federal sector) between having a proposed removal and actually being removed, while one may not obtain the advantage in a Federal Disability Retirement application of the Bruner Presumption, one can still argue that one is essentially entitled to the Bruner Presumption, and that is often just enough to win the argument.  Thus, as I argued in the FedSmith article, the process is sometimes just as effective as the substance of the argument.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Argument by Analogy

Attorneys argue “by analogy” all of the time; cases and decisions from the Merit Systems Protection Board, and language from the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, provide the fertile fodder for such argumentation.  Thus, such issues as to whether the Bruner Presumption should apply in the case; whether a case is similar to previously-decided Federal Disability Retirement cases; the similarity of fact-scenarios and legal applications — they are all open to argument by analogy.  That is why case-citations are important — even in arguing a Federal Disability Retirement case to the Office of Personnel Management.  Whether and how much influence such legal argumentation can have at the first two stages of the disability retirement application process, may be open to dispute; but cases should never be compiled and prepared for the first or second stage alone; all disability retirement applications should be prepared “as if” it will be denied and will be presented on appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board.  Such careful preparation serves two (2) purposes:  First, for the Office of Personnel Management, to let them know that if they deny it and it goes on appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, they will have to answer to the scrutiny of the Administrative Law Judge; and Second, for the Administrative Law Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board, to let him or her know that you did indeed prepare the case well, and that your particular Federal Disability Retirement application conforms to the law, and should therefore be approved.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire