Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Patience & Frustration

Stories now abound concerning the backlog at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management; and as has been often stated by the undersigned attorney, if the old adage that “patience is a virtue” is truly a truism, then Federal and Postal employees must indeed be the most virtuous of individuals in any given society, because the long wait in order to obtain a decision — favorable or otherwise (and, if the latter, then at least the Federal or Postal worker can assert his or his reconsideration or appeal rights in the matter) — on a Federal Disability Retirement application certainly tests the outer limits of one’s moral character.

The inverse emotional reaction to the moral character of virtue, is the expression of frustration.  Such an expression is the release of irritation, anger, and an overwhelming sense of angst at a system and administrative procedure which follows no rules, acknowledges no time lines, and concedes no boundaries of what a “reasonable” length of time would be defined as.

Then, of course, one always hears of “stories” about individual X who filed and got a decision within a month of a case being assigned; or that individual Y went into bankruptcy while waiting for OPM to make a decision.  It is best to refrain from comparative analyses; such stories, in whatever form and to what extent of truth is contained, will only increase the level of frustration, and further test the moral fibre of virtue.

While there is no single answer to the long waiting period which OPM has imposed upon the process, this much is true:  Approvals are being issued; decisions are being made on a daily basis; it is simply a matter of time.  In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, this period of waiting must be “factored in”.  But when such factoring has occurred, the actual period of waiting is indeed a frustrating part of the administrative process.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Affirmative Proof

It is a single agency — the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and specifically the Disability, Reconsideration and Appeals Division — which makes the determination on all Federal and Postal Disability Retirement applications.

It is not the agency (although the agency can provide some nominal assistance on some peripheral issues); it is not the U.S. Postal Service; it is not the Human Resources Department of the agency (the personnel of whom will often claim that they have processed “thousands” of such submissions and never had one rejected); and it is certainly not the H.R. Shared Services office of the U.S. Postal Service in Greensboro, N.C. — these are not the Federal or Postal entities which make a determination upon a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under either FERS or CSRS, it is the affirmative duty of the applicant — the Federal worker employed by a Federal agency; or the U.S. Postal Worker — who must prepare the case, formulate the content of the proof and arguments to be used; and ultimately file the case, either through the agency if the Federal or Postal employee is still employed or any separation from Federal or Postal Service has been less than thirty one (31) days; or, if the Federal or Postal worker has been separated from Federal Service for more than thirty one (31) days, then to file it directly with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and to do so within one (1) year of being separated from Federal Service.

The proof to submit must be affirmative — meaning, thereby, that it addresses each of the legal criteria necessary to be found “eligible” for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  You cannot rely upon the agency, third parties or other entities to do this; it must be done by the particular “you”, or if the referential point is reversed, by the “I”, as in the Federal or Postal employee.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Reminder on the 1-Year Statute

Just a reminder, which is given because of continuing and repetitive questions about the 1-year statute of limitations.  Remember that those who wish to file for Federal or Postal Disability retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS must do so either (A) while a Federal or Postal employee (18 months minimum under FERS; 5 years minimum under CSRS), or (B) within 1 year of being separated from Federal Service.  By “separated” it means actually being terminated from the Federal Agency, whether by resignation or by Agency action.

The 1-year statute of limitations does not begin to toll except when you are separated from Federal Service.  Thus, being on LWOP does not begin to toll the statute; being injured or on OWCP does not begin to toll the statute.  By “toll the statute”, what is meant is that the right to file for OPM Disability Retirement benefits for FERS or CSRS employees does not begin to “count down” unless and until you are actually separated from Federal Service.  This is meant as a continuing clarification of the issue, written because of the questions which have been asked of me over the past month or so.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal & Postal Service Disability Retirement: Experience & the Medical Condition

Often, when a client receives the finalized disability retirement packet, I receive a response that goes something like:  “I didn’t realize I was so bad off, until I read through the prepared packet.”  While I have not personally experienced the medical conditions of my many clients over the years, I have the experience of having spoken to them, and have learned about the symptoms, the words which best describe the pain, the impact, and the symptoms which are experienced on a daily basis. 

That is why it is an absurdity for the Office of Personnel Management, for example, to continually and redundantly refer to Fibromyalgia cases as ones with symptoms which “wax and wane”.  Or, with severe Major Depression, Anxiety and panic attacks, the Office of Personnel Management will systematically deny many such claims by stating that there is no “objective medical evidence” to show that the individual is unable to continue to provide efficient service in a cognitive-intensive job.  It is the job of the attorney, in a Federal Disability Retirement case, to be the one who projects the experience of the disabled Federal or Postal employee.  The attorney does not have to personally experience the medical condition in order to properly and descriptively convey the impact of the symptoms and debilitating conditions; however, it is helpful if the attorney has had a wide range of experience — by having spoken to multiple individuals over the years who have personally experienced such conditions.  In this way, the attorney can obtain the experience to express the medical experience of the applicant.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Each Step is a New Review

There are only one of several ways in which a Federal disability retirement application under FERS or CSRS can be lost: Either a Judge at the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals renders a final opinion denying a Federal or Postal Employee his or her disability retirement, or the Federal or Postal employee simply gives up.  As to the former:  Even then, if the Federal or Postal employee has not been separated from service for more than one (1) year, he or she may file a new application for disability retirement. 

Thus, we are left with the latter:  a disability retirement applicant simply gives up.  By “giving up” is meant:  the next step is not taken; the time-frame within which to file a Request for Reconsideration or an appeal is allowed to “lapse”; or, if an appeal is taken, it is done with resignation and surrender.  Nothing good can come out of such an approach.  Each step of the process in a Federal disability retirement case must be attacked aggressively.  Each step must be looked at as a potential place for a new review. Think about it in reverse:  If you don’t take the next step, then nothing good will certainly happen, so what is there to lose?  Indeed, there are times when a client hires me to file a Request for Reconsideration or an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, and the mere filing of my appearance into the case persuades and convinces the OPM representative to reverse course and grant the disability retirement application.  The point of making such a statement is not to “brag”, but to make the larger point:  good things can happen only if you affirmatively act.  Otherwise, you are left with what King Lear said to his daughter Cordelia, that “nothing can come from nothing”. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Discretion in a Response

When a Federal Disability Retirement applicant under FERS or CSRS receives an unfavorable response from the Office of Personnel Management (translated:  an initial Denial), you have the right (which must be asserted in order to move forward in the future, i.e., to the MSPB and beyond) to file a Request for Reconsideration.  If you receive a second denial, then the only response required (and which should and must be asserted) is an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board.  A response to the initial denial, however, should include a reply to the (often) detailed “discussion” section of the denial letter. 

Normally, when I file a response (in addition to obtaining additional medical documentation from the doctors, and any other substantiating documentation which may be relevant), I normally write up a 5 – 7 page responsive legal memorandum rebutting the denial letter.  Now, this is where “discretion” is necessary.  Upon an initial reading of a denial letter, one’s first response is normally not that which one should act upon, because it is often a reaction of, “What???”   Discretion is a virtue to follow; there must be a proper balance between responding to every single criticism from OPM (not a good idea), to ignoring everything in the denial letter (also not a good idea), to choosing two or three of the more substantive issues brought up and addressing those issues.  How to address them, with what tone, what manner & style, etc., is what an attorney is for.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire