Federal Disability Retirement: “Soft” Deadlines and Opportunities

It is exasperating to observe how unilateral and “unfair” deadlines are treated for Federal Disability Retirement applications, whether under FERS or CSRS, for Federal and Postal employees.

There are, of course, the “hard” deadlines — of filing for a Request for Reconsideration (30 days — to be on the “safe” side, from the date of the letter of denial from the Office of Personnel Management); for filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (1 year from the date of separation from Federal Service); of filing an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board (again, to be on the “safe” side, within 30 days from the date of the denial from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management); and similar hard deadlines.

Then, of course, there are the “softer” deadlines, of responding to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in substantive form — of submitting additional medical documentation within 30 days, and similar such “softer” deadlines. They are “soft” deadlines only because the U.S. Office of Personnel Management will not get to one’s file and begin the process of review, evaluation and analysis until well beyond the passing of the so-called deadline.

The frustrating part of it all, of course, is that while the Federal or Postal applicant is restricted by both hard and soft deadlines, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is oblivious and unaffected by any deadlines whatsoever. However, the optimistic viewpoint is to see the “soft” deadlines as opportunities to submit additional medical documentation, arguments, and relevant evidence, any time during the process — before, or even after, either a “soft” or a “hard” deadline comes about.

There is one exception, however: the Statute of Limitations. In that event, as the undersigned has repetitively stated, unless one meets that one particular deadline in form, there is no basis to make any substantive arguments, because the Statute of Limitations is the point of essence where form and substance coincide.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Deadlines

One of the frustrating aspects of the entire administrative process entitled, “Federal Disability Retirement” — of the whole of the engagement in preparing, formulating and filing, and then of waiting for an answer from the Office of Personnel Management — is the issue of “deadlines” imposed by the regulations, statutes and rules.  For one thing, it seems to be a unilateral imposition:  a one way street required by the Office of Personnel Management, with no requirement of deadlines of responsive timelines for the Agency, the Office of Personnel Management, or the Federal Government in general.

Thus, the 1-year statute of limitations for filing; the 30-days within which to file a Request for Reconsideration; the 30-days within which to file an appeal from a denial of a Reconsideration Request to the Merit Systems Protection Board; the time to file an appeal to the Full Board for a Petition for Review; the time requirement to file an appeal to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals — all of these are statutory impositions and restrictions upon the Federal or Postal employee.  

Yet, where is the timeline imposed upon the Agency, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the MSPB, the Federal Courts, or the Federal Government in general?  It seems that the requirement of waiting and being patient is all upon the individual Federal or Postal employee, without any obligatory ancillary or concomitant requirement placed upon the agency — specifically, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in providing a responsive decision to a Federal Disability Retirement Application, whether under FERS or CSRS.  

While all of this is true, and it may well be “unfair” in a general sense, it is merely a fact of life which must be lived with.  As the famous author, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., famously stated in referring to the multiple absurdities of life, “So it goes…”

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The Waiting

Yes, filing for, and obtaining, Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS is a long, arduous, bureaucratic process. It can take 6 – 8, sometimes 10 months from the beginning to the approval of the application at the First Stage. Then, even after it is approved, it can take another 60 days before even the initial, interim payment is received. Further, if it is denied at the First Stage, the Reconsideration Stage can take an additional 90 – 120 days. And of course if it is denied at the Reconsideration Stage, the appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board can take 120 days or more (with temporary case-suspensions and waiting for the Judge’s decision). Beyond that, any further appeals can take many more months. All of this “waiting” and admonishment of “being patient”, with little or no income, and the anxiety of one’s financial future. There is no argument to be made: patience is necessary for the entire process. I, as an attorney, cannot promise that the “process” will be any smoother or shorter; hopefully, however, I can provide a level of expertise during the entire process, which can lessen some of the anxiety during the long waiting period. As I often say: If patience is a virtue, then Federal and Postal Workers going through the Disability Retirement process must be the most virtuous men and women of the world.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability: End of Year

The New Year is upcoming. For those who are anxiously awaiting a decision on their Federal Disability Retirement applications, remember that this is a continuing process. Thus, whether or not the application gets approved or denied prior to the coming New Year, the process of then having the Agency provide the necessary payroll information in order for interim payments to begin, will still take some time. Unfortunately, the Office of Personnel Management is a bureaucracy. Within each bureacracy, as with all such gigantic entities, there are individuals who are competent in what they do; others, less so. Once a disability retirement application has been approved, the best thing which can be done to expedite payment on an approved claim, is to be persistent (on a daily basis, and some times on an hourly basis); be cordial and professional with each person you speak with, but be firm; get the name, telephone number, and write down any “promises” which an OPM person makes or proposes to make; then get a firm date as to when the promise will be fulfilled. Also, it is helpful, if possible, to get a supervisor’s direct number. Remember, good manners and courtesy will get you a long way; “befriending” an individual will get you even further; and gaining a sympathetic ear will get you the farthest. Be persistent, patient, and a pain-in-the-behind — all at once.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement & the Reconsideration Process

In the process of applying for Federal Disability retirement under FERS or CSRS, it is the “hope and wish” of each applicant that it will smoothly sail through at the initial stage of the application. However, the reality of the process is that a certain percentage of applications get denied at the initial stage (Stage 1 of the process). It is both discouraging and befuddling to receive a letter from the Office of Personnel Management informing you that your disability retirement application has been “denied”.

You are now required to Request Reconsideration of your case within thirty (30) days of the date of denial, and you must submit additional medical evidence or other supporting documentation within 30 days of requesting such reconsideration (Stage II of the process). It is, indeed, a time of disappointment to receive a denial. It is all the more so when it is unclear as to the basis for the denial. Often, a denial letter will refer to the medical evidence without much commentary beyond acknowledging the submission of a medical report, then in the last paragraph, simply make a declarative statement that the medical evidence submitted “was insufficient” to show that you are disabled. Or, more often than not, the OPM Benefits Specialist will actually mis-state the law by claiming that you have “not shown that you are so disabled as to keep you from the workplace” (no such legal standard is required under disability retirement rules, regulations or case-law).

Whatever the reasons given, it is both discouraging and disheartening to receive a denial letter from OPM. However, it is important to calmly, systematically, and with pinpoint focus reply to the letter of denial — even if it doesn’t seem to make any sense. This is done most effectively by using all of the tools required in persuading eligibility and entitlement to disability retirement benefits: the law; the medical report; the medical records; rational and legal arguments –in short, the “nexus” needed to win.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: Beyond the MSPB

Not all cases that should be won, are won. No one can win 100% of the time; think about it — even the best Major League Baseball players strike out at least 2 out of every 3 at-bats. Most strike out every 3 out of 4 times. Fortunately, I am able to pass through a high percentage of my clients at Stages 1 or 2 of the Disability Retirement process, and that is how it should be.

Every now and again, however, a case must go to the Merit Systems Protection Board; and out of the small number that must get to that point, an even smaller number goes before an Administrative Judge who is clearly anti-employee, and ignores the law and sides with the Office of Personnel Management. Fortunately, most MSPB judges are fair and understand that disability retirement laws favor, for the most part, approval of disability retirement benefits. In those instances where, for whatever reason, a case has been denied at Stages 1 & 2, and the MSPB Judge completely ignores the strong and unequivocal testimony of the doctor, then there is still a good shot at winning the case at the 4th level — a Petition for Full Review.

Such a Stage must be approached by pointing out the legal deficiencies and, indeed, the Hearing Judge’s complete mis-application of the law. It must be done delicately and respectfully, however, because you are essentially asking that the Full Board (a panel of 3 Administrative Judges) reverse one of the Administrative Judges at the Merit Systems Protection Board — to declare that the Administrative Judge “erred” in applying the law. It is possible to do — but it must be done with care, respect, and technical expertise.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: Reconsideration Stage

Alas, a batch of decisions has obviously been sent out to many disability retirement applicants in the last couple of weeks, because I have gotten many calls from those who attempted to try and obtain disability retirement benefits without legal representation.  In reviewing the denial decision from the Office of Personnel Management, many who have called have observed some rather amusing things, such as:  “It seems like most of the decision is just boilerplate language”; “There were so many typos and grammatical errors in the decision”; “The OPM specialist referred to a doctor whom I never treated with”; “The decision said that I suffered from medical condition X, which I never claimed!”   “To err is human…” is a true enough adage; but to point out the mistakes of an OPM decision for the sake of pointing out the mistakes, is a pointless exercise.

Do not fret; yes, much of the language of a decision is indeed boilerplate; OPM representatives are human, and do indeed make mistakes, and insert names of doctors and medical conditions which are not part of an applicant’s narrative; and other mistakes as well.  But don’t overlook the obvious by fuming about such mistakes:  if your disability application was denied, you need to take the decision seriously, identify the substantive issues which were the primary basis for the denial; ignore the tangential errors made; then proceed to address the concerns brought to light by the Office of Personnel Management.  Time is of the essence, and those 30 days to file for reconsideration, and the additional 30 days given to obtain further medical documentation, come and go quickly.  Don’t fume about irrelevant details; focus upon strategizing a substantive approach to getting your disability retirement application reconsidered, and approved.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire