OPM Disability Retirement: Agency Actions and the Bruner Presumption

Agency actions separating a Federal or Postal employee from Federal Service often contain language which comes close to allowing for a Federal or Postal employee to assert the “Bruner Presumption” (that legal presumption which essentially states that the declaration and admission by the Agency triggers a legal presumption that a Federal or Postal employee is entitled to, by a matter of law, to Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS), but not close enough.  

Such language will instead be couched in references to medical documentation which has been previously reviewed by the Agency; will embrace an acknowledgement that the Federal or Postal employee has a “medical condition”; and will sometimes even entertain verbiage evincing sympathy for the Federal or Postal Worker’s “situation” — but still will base the removal upon other considerations, such as “excessive absences”, “failure to maintain a regular work schedule”, etc.  

The question ultimately then becomes:  Is it important, leaving aside relevance, to fight the agency to amend or otherwise re-characterize the original proposal to remove, in order to obtain the Bruner Presumption?  

The Bruner Presumption is a legal mechanism which gains greater weight and importance when a Federal Disability Retirement application has been denied twice by the Office of Personnel Management (both at the Initial Stage of the process, than at the Reconsideration Stage), and one therefore finds one’s self before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board.  But such appearance before the MSPB presumably means that there are other problems with a case — most often, insufficient medical documentation.  

The Bruner Presumption aside, the Federal or Postal employee must still prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, one’s case, by submitting sufficient medical documentation.  The Bruner Presumption is simply that “extra” ingredient that may be helpful if all other factors have been met in proving a Federal Disability Retirement case.

While helpful, it is not a certainty for an approval.  While better to have than not, one must still prove one’s case.  While triggered most effectively at the MSPB, a less-than-Bruner-trigger can still be argued at all stages of the process.  Just some thoughts.

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

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Misreading the Law

As the old adage goes, a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.  The Bruner Presumption is one of those legal tools which is often misunderstood and misapplied. The legal presumption stems from a Federal Circuit Court of Appeals opinion which basically declared (among other things) that when a Federal or Postal employee is separated from Federal Service for his or her medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, that there is a “presumption” that the Federal or Postal employee is entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management.  

Does this make it a certainty that one will receive an approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application from the Office of Personnel Management?  No. Does it enhance the chances of obtaining an approval from the Office of Personnel Management?  Maybe.  

One must remember that the Office of Personnel Management, at least for the first 2 stages of the process, does not assign attorneys as Case Managers to review a Federal Disability Retirement application.  As such, relying too heavily on the “Bruner Presumption” would be a mistake.  Further, to wait for the agency to terminate you based upon your medical inability to perform your job so that you can argue that you “have the Bruner Presumption” would be foolhardy.  It is a legal tool.  In order to use it, you must apply it in the right manner.  It would be like using a screwdriver to open up a can of peas.  As another old adage goes:  “Leave it to the professionals“. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Bruner Revisited

In filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, one should never pause or hesitate from affirmatively going forward in preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application based upon what the Agency will or will not do; is expected or not expected to do; or is predicted or not predicted to do.  One should simply move forward based upon one’s personal and professional circumstances, the extent of the medical condition, the impact of one’s medical condition upon one’s ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job, etc.  

Thus, for instance, where a Federal or Postal employee has informed the Agency of one’s medical condition, or one has filed for FMLA and submitted substantiating medical documentation, if the plan is to “wait” for the Agency to remove the Federal or Postal employee in order to obtain the advantage of what is generally known as the “Bruner Presumption,” such a plan is normally not the best course of action, for various reasons.  

First, the Agency may take an extraordinary amount of time, and in the end, may attempt to remove the Federal or Postal employee for “other reasons” (performance issues, for instance).  Second, whether or not one “gets” the Bruner Presumption in a case, that legal advantage is really for the Third Stage of the process — at the Merit Systems Protection Board — inasmuch as most of the Claims Reviewers at the Office of Personnel Management are not legally informed enough to know such a legal presumption from a nearby neighbor named John Doe Bruner.  And Third, one must affirmatively prove by a preponderance of the evidence, anyway, that one cannot perform the essential elements of one’s job because of a medical condition.  The Bruner Presumption, while a great thing to have, does not override the medical condition and evidence which must be presented.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Termination (Part 2)

There are times when an Agency will proceed and terminate a Federal or Postal employee based upon adverse grounds — of “Failing to follow proper leave procedures”, for being AWOL, for Failure to do X, Y or Z.  Such adverse actions may be the “surface” reason for the actual, underlying reason — that of one’s medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  Once a proposed termination becomes an actual termination, then the course of action to take, of course, is to file an appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board.  An Administrative Judge can often be of great assistance in defining and narrowing the issues, and in gently persuading and convincing the Agency to consider changing and amending the “surface” reason to the true, underlying reason of medical inability to perform the job.  The goal here, of course, is to do everything to help in “weighting” a disability retirement application in your favor, and while obtaining the Bruner Presumption in a case is not critical, in many cases, it can be helpful.  And the way to get the Administrative Judge on your side, so that the AJ will then try and persuade the Agency to consider amending a removal, is to obtain well-documented, well-written medical narrative reports from the doctors.  As is almost always the case, the underlying basis for any disability retirement application begins and ends with a well-written medical report.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: After Separation from Service (Part 2)

Of course, it is always the separation from service based upon reasons delineated other than medically-based reasons which give rise to concerns in a federal disability retirement case.  Understand, however, that the “Bruner Presumption” is essentially a “scale-tipper” for the Office of Personnel Management (supposedly) and for the Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board (of somewhat greater certainty).  By this, I mean merely that, with or without the Bruner Presumption, a Federal Disability Retirement applicant under FERS or CSRS must still prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he or she is eligible and entitled to federal disability retirement benefits. “Preponderance of the evidence” is essentially proof such that it is “more likely the case than not”.  Thus, when all things are equal, the Bruner Presumption is supposed to tip the scale in favor of the federal disability retirement applicant. 

On the other hand, if an individual was removed for reasons other than medically-based reasons — i.e., as a hypothetical, let’s say he was removed “for cause” — an act of dishonesty; failure to follow certain agency procedures; or whatever the case may be.  Does such a removal tip the scale the other way?  Not necessarily; however, it makes gathering the proper medical evidence that much more important, and what I often do is to try and tie in the underlying behavior which resulted in the removal “for cause”, with the medical basis — if at all possible.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire