Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: To Resign, or Not

The question of whether a Federal or Postal employee should (or should not) resign from the job is one which cannot be answered in a vacuum.  Various considerations should be taken into account, but generally speaking, the rule of thumb which the undersigned writer poses in any circumstance is:  What is the compelling reason to do so, such that by resigning, one triggers the Statute of Limitations on filing for Federal Disability Retirement?

Certainly, there are dire circumstances which may necessitate a resignation: being able to access TSP funds because one cannot work because of one’s medical conditions, and one has no other means of support during the process; a pending non-medical adverse action which cannot reasonably be argued against, which may collaterally impact a Federal Disability Retirement application, with a settlement choice to resign for “medical reasons”; and some similar factual scenarios which may indeed warrant and dictate a resignation.

On the other hand, by remaining on the rolls of the Federal sector job, there are multiple advantages which may unfold for the future, including the assertion of the Bruner Presumption when the Federal Agency realizes that the Federal Disability Retirement package clearly shows an inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job and proceeds to remove the Federal or Postal worker based upon the medical inability to perform; a lack of triggering the Statute of Limitations, thereby extending the timeframe for multiple future attempts in filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits; and other issues which need to be considered.

Resignation is an event of certainty, with no reversal; and in all such certainties, it should be done only if compelled by circumstances, facts and considered thoughtfulness.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Resignation Argument

Sometimes, in preparing to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management under FERS or CSRS, one is either forced to resign or, because of financial or other reasons, it is the best course of action to take.  

In any resignation, one should submit a resignation letter which clearly and concisely identifies the reason for one’s resignation:  Medical inability to perform one’s job.  While such resignation, for the reasons stated, may not invoke what is termed the “Bruner Presumption“, it nevertheless lays the groundwork for arguing that one is entitled to the Bruner Presumption.  

Now, understand that such an argument may fly completely over the heads of anyone and everyone at the Office of Personnel Management.  However, if the case is denied both at the Initial Stage of the Process, and at the Reconsideration Stage of the Process at the Office of Personnel Management, then it must be filed as an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board.  There, with an Administrative Judge reviewing the record, while it may still end up that one is not entitled (technically) to the Bruner Presumption, sometimes the strength of an argument in favor of a legal precedent is almost as strong as obtaining the substantive elements of the legal precedent.  

Indeed, if all of the corollary issues surrounding the stated resignation for medical reasons are consistent — the medical documentation; using FMLA; being on OWCP for part of the time, or otherwise only able to work part of the time; etc. — then the fact that one was forced to resign based upon one’s medical inability to perform one’s job, is a consistency worth documenting and arguing thus:  While it is true that one was not removed for one’s medical inability to perform the job, it is “as if” one was removed, because there was really no other choice available.  Sometimes, it is the argument itself which provides the foundation for persuasion, and not the technical application of a legal device.

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 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

Federal Disability Retirement: Using an Agency’s Action

Agencies will often act in predictable fashion; they act based upon prior actions engaged in; they act as an organic constituent of procedures and policies previously followed (often blindly and without thought) in the past; they act in self-interest, and often with a very narrow, myopic path and goal.  

If an agency ignores the medical conditions and the documentation submitted showing the medical conditions of a Federal or Postal employee, and removes an individual from his or her Federal position based upon reasons other than one’s medical inability to perform one’s job (whether intentionally or because no one bothered to look at the medical documentation), then the resulting action can obviously impact a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  Often, the Agency’s general counsel will be the first person to finally listen to reason, and by then an appeal has been filed with the Merit Systems Protection Board, for the sole and narrow purpose — not of overturning the termination or getting one’s job back, but — of rescinding the adverse decision of removal and reissuing a removal based upon one’s medical inability to perform one’s job.  

This course of action, however, is not always necessary.  Often, the adverse action, the delineation of poor performance, etc., can be directly tied to one’s progressively deteriorating medical condition, and the Agency’s own actions can be used to one’s advantage in proving a Federal Disability Retirement case.  Each case is different, and discretion in fighting for that which is helpful, and recognizing that what may “appear” to be adverse, is actually to one’s benefit, is the key to winning a Federal Disability Retirement case under FERS or CSRS.

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