CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: Conceptual Constraints

Within the world of biology, the distinction between an unicellular eukaryote and a prokaryote is one defined by the absence of a distinct, membrane-bound nucleus.  The latter is thus without a homunculus, constrained by a parameter and protected as the central seat of control.  One would assume that, because of this, the former would be easier to genetically manipulate, while the former would be more difficult.

Similarly, while widespread dissemination of responsibility and delegation of authority may have the positive effect of getting much work done, the corollary negative impact may also become uncontrollably representative of an organization:  loss of qualitative control.

Upon reading a denial letter from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, one may begin to suspect that you are dealing with a prokaryote-type of entity:  for anything may be said, and what may be stated may not even remotely be the law of the case.

Being unconstrained by a membrane may have its advantages for survival; being unconcerned by the constraints of language will have its definite impact upon a Federal or Postal employee attempting to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management: confusion for the Federal or Postal Worker, or worse, surrender and retreat.  But there are ways to counter such an untethered approach — but one which must use all of the legal tools available to the Federal or Postal applicant.

The key is to build a membrane and change the prokaryote into an eukaryote.  In order to do this, however, one must know the law, apply the law, and force the law upon the organism — thereby effectuating the genetic modification.  Thus does science, logic and law coalesce into a unified, rational whole.  Go figure.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Responses

Whether fair or not; whether consistent or a lack thereof; the one who holds the power of determination ultimately has the authority of interpretation — until and unless a higher authority supersedes such power.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the Federal or Postal employee can seemingly comply with all of the requirements of the laws and case-laws governing Federal Disability Retirement eligibility and entitlement, and still be denied.

The standard response on the telephone is often, “I thought I had a slam-dunk case…”  But the problem with approaching a governmental bureaucracy is that one assumes (wrongly) that application of the law will be implemented in an interpretively consistent manner.  But where individuals are involved, a multiplicity of interpretive approaches will surface.

Some OPM personnel will focus upon certain legal aspects over others; others will apply a “higher” bar of passage as to what meets the “preponderance of the evidence” test; and still others will be so obtuse as to refuse, or merely fail to, accept that when a doctor (for example) states that a condition is “permanent”, that such a statement logically entails and encapsulates the satisfaction of the requirement that a medical condition will last a “minimum of 12 months“.

How to respond to such inconsistencies? By reasserting the law; citing applicable case-law; by preemptively guiding OPM into approving one’s Federal Disability Retirement case.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: OPM, Authority & Rights

The decision-making process in filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is placed into the hands of an administrative agency known as “The Office of Personnel Management“.  

OPM, as the acronym which the agency is known by, is the administrative bureaucracy which makes a determination on each individual Federal Disability Retirement application, after reviewing the submitted medical records, Statement of Disability as formulated and presented by the Applicant and his or her Attorney; the Supervisor’s Statement; The Agency’s Efforts for Reassignment and Accommodation — in other words, the full compendium of the evidence, based upon a legal standard which is low on the totem pole of legal standards — that of “Preponderance of the Evidence“.  

It is helpful to understand that the Office of Personnel Management is merely following the statutory procedures as created and mandated by law:  OPM, as the first-line administrative agency, must make an initial determination on a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, not because they want to, desire to, like to, etc. — but because they are the designated entity set up to do so.  They have the “authority” under statutory mandate to make a determination of eligibility at the “First Stage” of the process, as well as at the “Second Stage” (the stage often known as the “Reconsideration Stage”) of the process.  

As an inverse matter, however, the individual Federal or Postal applicant has the “right” to dispute any negative determination made by the Office of Personnel Management at either of the first two stages of the process.  

It is important to distinguish between the conceptual differences and distinctions between “Authority”, “Rights”, and the use of the term “right” as in “right or wrong”.  OPM has the authority to make an eligibility determination on a Federal Disability Retirement application because they are statutorily mandated to do so; the individual Federal or Postal employee has the right to appeal such a decision; the fact that OPM may have the right to deny a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS does not mean that they are “right” in doing so; they merely have a statutory authority, and nothing more.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: Unequivocal Statements

Unequivocal statements can go either way:  They can either show the force of authority, or unravel a lack of knowledge.  In a Federal Disability Retirement case, where a Federal or Postal Worker is attempting to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, such statements of “unequivocal” authority can be seen at any stage of the process.  An unequivocal statement of disability can be made by a treating doctor.  An unequivocal statement of denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application can be made by an OPM Representative.  

What is the distinction and difference between the two?  For the former, the medical doctor who makes an unequivocal statement of disability is based upon the history, clinical examinations, experience, possible diagnostic testing, and other criteria applied in coming to a medical conclusion.  There accompanies it the force of the doctor’s credentials.  The latter is an opinion based upon (hopefully) a comparison of the documentation submitted by the Federal or Postal worker, and the “letter of the law”.  But that assumes that the OPM Representative understands and correctly applies the law.  Such an assumption is often erroneous, inasmuch as the OPM Representative is not a lawyer — and that is just the first of many reasons.  

Don’t be fooled by unequivocal statements; authority of such statements must have a force of rational basis and credentials, and not just because a person “says so”.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Attorney Representation

I am still often asked about whether or not, or how helpful, legal representation would be in a Federal or Postal Disability Retirement case.  To ask an attorney such a question is often unhelpful, for there is always the question as to how much “self-interest” an attorney has in answering such a question.  What I can state, however, is the following:  Remember that everyone believes that his or her case is a “sure thing” — this is natural, because the very individual who is filing for disability retirement is the one who is suffering from the medical condition, and so it is a very “personal” matter, and a sense of objectivity is difficult to maintain in these matters.  Second, remember that when you hire an attorney, you are not just hiring someone who “knows something” about FERS & CSRS disability retirement; instead, you should be hiring that lawyer for his or her reputation, his knowledge of the administrative & legal process with the Office of Personnel Management and the Merit Systems Protection Board, and how well he is “thought of” by OPM (i.e., how long has he been practicing in the field of Federal Disability Retirement law, does he know the people at OPM, and more importantly, does OPM know him/her?).  Finally, always keep in mind that, while attorneys can be expensive, you must always do a cost-benefits analysis, and look at the benefit you will be receiving (or not receiving) if you do or do not hire an attorney.  Disability retirement benefits are essentially a means of securing one’s financial future, and as such, the benefit to be secured is important enough to consider hiring an attorney.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Beware the Layman

Federal employee attorneys create and manufacture a parallel universe of statutory interpretation, legal argumentation, case-law citations, and extrapolations from esoteric provisions in arguing the “finer points” of law.  Thus, it is a temptation for the lay person — the “non-lawyer” — to attempt to borrow from cases and take a stab at citing case-law and statutory authority in trying to garner support for his or her Federal Disability Retirement application.  In taking on a case at the Reconsideration Stage or the Merit Systems Protection Board, I have the opportunity to read some of the “legal arguments” which non-lawyers have attempted to make.  While many such arguments are valid, some (i.e., too many) mis-cite the law, and often fail to understand and proffer the substantive import of what the cases are saying.  On top of it all, I suspect that the Office of Personnel Management gets a bit annoyed when a non-lawyer applicant attempts to preach the law to another non-lawyer OPM Representative.  A word to the wise:  let lawyers entertain themselves in the parallel universe of the law; let the doctors render their medical opinions; let the non-lawyers make the best arguments possible, in layman’s language. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire