Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: The Art of Argumentation

The Art of Argumentation is a dying form.  Watching any “debate” forum on television or the radio; viewing the Presidential debates; it has become, instead, a time of pontification, where the loudest, most vociferous voices, and those who can filibuster the time, seemingly “wins” the debate.  

For the art itself to be effective, it must be accomplished in a manner where the opponent is unaware of the subtle impact of the argument itself; it needs to be conveyed in a manner of a conversation, where persuasion is mixed within the content of a narrative.  Of course, there are numerous forms of argumentation —  a strict, logical proposition; a legal citation where one argues that the opponent has little to no choice but to abdicate a position because of what a case-law states; but in most instances, the subtleties must be observed because of the obfuscation of the circumstances and the lack of clarity of the law.  

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 compose one’s argument as a conductor would an orchestra:  the facts, the evidence, and the law must be gathered and coordinated; streamlining should be an inherent part of the process; and the tone and tenor of the various instruments will need to be brought together into a coherent whole.  

No one likes to sit and listen to a screechy violin, no more than to listen to the drone of a tuba.  The art of an argument must bring together all of the instruments into a melodious whole, where the listener — in this case, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management — is lulled into a state of rapture, to the extent that an approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application is granted with a smile.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The Applicability of the Legal Argument

If there is a legal argument to be made, make sure that it is applicable; further, it is important to distinguish between the necessity of making a legal argument, as opposed to allowing the facts to speak for themselves, and the medical reports and records to establish the necessary proof by a preponderance of the evidence.

In administrative law, and specifically in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the “applicant” (the one filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether as a Postal Worker or as a non-Postal, Federal Worker) has the advantage of thoughtfully compiling the material, documentation, legal memorandum, narrative reports, and the entire compendium of proof necessary to meet the legal requirements of eligibility, and therefore entitlement, to Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

It is essentially a “paper presentation” to the Office of Personnel Management.  As such — because the applicant is able to take the necessary time and effort at the front-end of the process to prepare a compelling case, it is important to “pick and choose” the viable legal arguments to be made.

Sometimes, facts can speak for themselves, and there need not necessarily be a legal case to support the facts.  Other times, the medical report and records can meet the legal requirements, without citing a specific statute or case-law.  Then, there are applicable legal arguments which must, and should, be made, if merely because one should assume that OPM will not recognize the legal requirements unless aggressively informed about it.

In making such legal arguments, however, don’t undermine your own case unless you know what you are talking about.  Better to remain silent on matters not known, lest you reveal your lack of knowledge on the matter.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: The MSPB & the Window of Opportunity

At the Merit Systems Protection Board, there are multiple critical points of opportunity in which to convince, persuade and otherwise have a discussion with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to reverse their earlier denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application.

Remember, however, that this is the arena and playground of lawyers.  While an applicant who has meandered through the intricate administrative process of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management, can certainly survive the administrative procedures as circumscribed by the Merit Systems Protection Board, it is a good idea to have legal representation– obviously, from the very beginning; if not, then to represent one’s interests in rebutting an initial denial at the Reconsideration Stage; if not (again), then to have proper representation before the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB).

Whether at a Preliminary Conference to discuss the forthcoming issues, or at a Prehearing Conference — or, in preparing and filing a Prehearing Statement as ordered by the Administrative Judge at the MSPB — opportunities arise for the Federal or Postal worker to submit additional medical evidence which can potentially persuade OPM’s representative to reverse the two previous decisions of denial.  Such opportunities must be carefully embraced.  Yet, often, a Federal or Postal employee who is unrepresented at the MSPB is unaware of the opportunities which arise, at which points, in what circumstances, and the Administrative Judge is bound by duty and position to remain neutral.  Then, of course, there is the Hearing at the MSPB, in the event that OPM does not reverse.  Whatever the circumstances of the Federal or Postal employee who is or will be filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, an advocate to represent the Federal or Postal employee’s interests is paramount. Don’t “go it alone”; for, to do so will often only lengthen the process.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: The MSPB

The Merit Systems Protection Board (better known by its acronym, the “MSPB”) is the third stage of the administrative process in attempting to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  By this Stage, while the Office of Personnel Management has been both the “judge and jury” for determining one’s eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, the case is then handed over to an Administrative Judge to be the arbiter of such determination.

While it is advisable for a Federal or Postal Worker to obtain a FERS/CSRS Disability Attorney from the start of the administrative process, it is of even greater importance to consider obtaining proper legal representation before proceeding down the path of the MSPB.  This statement of advising any Federal or Postal employee to obtain proper representation at the MSPB is made for several reasons, not the least of which includes the following:  The MSPB is the last “stage” of the process in which a Federal or Postal employee who is seeking to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits may submit evidence in order to prove one’s case (with some special exceptions); any basis for an appeal, upon the chance that the Administrative Judge rules against you, must be established during the Hearing of the case at this stage; and since this stage is the arena of “the law”, it is important to be familiar with the most recent case-laws which govern Federal Disability Retirement.  The MSPB is not a place to feel one’s way through; it is the playground where the “grown-ups” play.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The MSPB Hearing

If you find yourself at the Merit Systems Protection Board trying to prove to an Administrative Judge that your are entitled to Federal Disability Retirements benefits under FERS or CSRS, and you have already filed a Prehearing Statement, and your witnesses have been approved at the Prehearing Conference, and further, you have outlined all of the issues, set forth the legal basis, and proffered the expected testimony, it is then “showtime”.  

It is obviously preferable for an applicant who is filing for OPM Disability Retirement benefits to be represented by a Federal Disability Attorney — if possible, from the inception of the process, through the Reconsideration Stage, to the MSPB.  However, if a Federal or Postal employee finds that, for one reason or another, you simply cannot afford an Attorney, then here are three (3) tips if you find that you are before an MSPB Administrative Judge:  (1)  Have a doctor testify, and make sure that the testimony of the doctor is precise and to the point (2) Make sure that what you prove to the Judge correlates with what you said you would prove in your Prehearing Statement, and (3) Be prepared to make objections to any of OPM’s cross-examination questions.  Finally, remember that the point of making an objection during a Hearing is not to necessarily stop the question or answer, but rather, to preserve the point for a possible appeal.  It is ultimately difficult for a non-attorney Federal Disability Retirement applicant to formulate and prepare for an effective Merit Systems Protection Board Hearing, and further, it would be better if the Federal or Postal employee had an attorney (who is well-versed in Federal Disability Retirement law) throughout the entire process; but one must play the hand one is dealt with, and that old adage is true even with a Federal or Postal Disability Retirement case under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: The Connection between the Prehearing Statement and the Hearing

When a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS has been denied twice by the Office of Personnel Management, and one appeals the Federal Disability Retirement case to the Merit Systems Protection Board, there comes a point when the scheduling order requires that each side (the “Appellant” or the one who filed the appeal, and the Office of the Personnel Management) file a “Prehearing Statement”.  

Do not underestimate the importance of preparing a Prehearing Statement.  It is not simply a listing of the witnesses to be testifying at the MSPB Hearing; more than that, it is an opportunity to set the issues, to form in the mind of the Administrative Judge the parameters of what will be proven; an opportunity to proffer and plant the seeds of the evidence which will be presented; to undermine and preempt many of the arguments which are used customarily by the Office of Personnel Management; to argue for the Bruner Presumption (even if it does not strictly apply); and to show how, at this preliminary stage of the process, that the upcoming Hearing is really an unnecessary event.  Thus, the Prehearing Statement, as well as the Prehearing Conference, is an important preliminary step in setting the stage for success in a Federal Disability Retirement case.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Understanding the Doctor

A question I often ask the treating doctor at the end of a Hearing before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board (obviously for Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS) is:  Do you have an opinion as to whether Mr. X/Ms. Y is a malingerer? The reason I ask such a question is to establish in the mind of the Administrative Judge, that after all of the clinical examinations, the treatment modalities, the diagnostic testing, etc., does the doctor have a personal opinion about the individual who is seeking to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits

Obviously, there are multiple questions which I ask as a follow-up; and, indeed, the question as to the status of the client/applicant requests a professional opinion about the patient — but implicit in that question is also a rather personal one.  It goes to the heart of who the patient/applicant is, and what the doctor believes about this particular applicant/patient.  For, to resolve any doubts about the underlying motive of the patient is not only important to the Administrative Judge in a Federal Disability Retirement application; it is equally important that the doctor is comfortable in his own mind, as to the clear and honest intention of his patient.  Conveying that comfort from the voice of the treating doctor to the ears of the deciding Judge, is no small matter.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire