OPM Disability: Demythologization of the Process

Beyond being an ugly word, Spinoza attempted it, but closer to the heart of a flawed hermeneutical approach, the theologian, Rudolf Bultmann spent his career attempting to separate the conceptually inseparable narratives encapsulating historical content, context and the meaning behind miracles and metaphor.

All processes are mysterious, until detachedly analyzed, devalued or debunked.  Some merely throw up their hands and reject a subject in its entirety; others spend a lifetime in trying to understand it, and thus do cottage industries emerge.  The peril of pursuing a discipline of futility is that, in the end, the process of one’s own actions may be just as inexorably a conundrum as that which one attempts to unravel; read a single, random paragraph from Heidegger, and one immediately understands such a declaration of frustration.

Often, for Federal employees and U.S. Postal workers, the prefatory statements of confusion abound:  ” I’ve heard that…”; “OPM always …”; “Is it even worth it to…”  But there is indeed a practical difference between the bureaucracy itself, and the bureaucratic process; the former is merely a juggernaut of an agency which is impenetrable because of the nature of the Federal system; the latter is an administrative process replete with multiple layers of statutory and regulatory devices which are complex in their compendium of requirements.

Filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits by the lay person, whether the Federal or Postal employee is under FERS, CSRS or CSRS Offset, is a complex, puzzling and often overwhelming process.  It can be likened to handing a complex transactional law case involving multiple Fortune 500 companies attempting to merge for purposes of avoiding specific legal entanglements to a first-year associate; mistakes are bound to be made, as one fails to recognize the inherent complexities or the need to draft preventative safeguards.

Further, when a medical condition already weakens the physical stamina of the Federal or Postal employee, and tests the limits of one’s cognitive acuity, the ability and capacity to engage a large and complex bureaucracy can be, at best, a challenge.

Filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is analogous to the hermeneutical approach of attempt to demythologize a sacrosanct text of unyielding historical import; the difference from theology, however, is in the pragmatic need and practical residual consequences foretelling; and as they say in the fine-print warning of some advertisements, you should probably not try this on your own.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Responsibility of the Applicant

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the importance of adequately conveying persuasive information to the Claims Representative at the Office of Personnel Management must be a primary goal of the Federal or Postal employee.  

Rarely does a doctor, without guidance and some “prodding”, execute an administrative duty such as preparing a medical narrative report for a patient, in a sufficiently excellent manner.  The work product of a doctor is normally defined by patient care, clinical examination, and prescribing an effective course of treatment.  It is up to the patient or his/her Federal Disability Attorney to remind the doctor as to “why” it is important to provide a medical narrative report in a Federal Disability Retirement application.  

Often, it is merely that the doctor does not understand the necessity of preparing a narrative report; or, as confusing as the entire administrative process of preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application is to the Federal or Postal employee, it is exponentially more confusing to the doctor, who is normally not part of the Federal workforce (unless he or she happens to be a doctor for the Department of Veterans Affairs, or is part of the Veterans Health Care System).  

It is ultimately the responsibility of the Federal or Postal employee to convey persuasive evidence and argumentation to the Office of Personnel Management, in order to meet that burden of proof, of showing that by a preponderance of the evidence the Federal or Postal employee has proven that he or she is eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits. While medical records, treatment notes, office notes, etc., can often be persuasive on their own, the applicant must be able to formulate a statement and refer to “the law” in order to convince the OPM Representative that his or her case meets that burden of proof.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Extrapolating Carefully from “The Law”

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is important to recognize the major legal cases (those “landmark cases”) from which many other cases derive their foundational basis.  Such cases form the fundamental and overriding criteria of a legal arena, and this is no different in arguing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, either for Federal or Postal employees.  Furthermore, in citing a case to argue for one’s position of eligibility and entitlement, it is equally important to have read the cases carefully, and to argue the merits of an issue persuasively and accurately.  

One of the worst things that a lay, non-lawyer applicant can do is to mis-cite a case or a statute, and its meaning and ancillary conclusions.  For, when the Office of Personnel Management reviews a case and refutes a particular issue, and further points out that a legal precedent or statutory authority has been mis-applied, one’s credibility as to the substance of the application is not only undermined, but further, the viability of one’s legal argument has been subverted.  As such, it is normally advisable to leave the law to lawyers — and in Federal Disability Retirement cases under FERS or CSRS, to leave it to lawyers who specialize in the field. For, to do little or no harm to one’s self is certainly better than to saw off the branch which one has grasped onto, no matter how tenuous the position to begin with.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Using the Legal Tool

A word of wisdom:  generally, it is not a wise endeavor for applicants who are not lawyers, who file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, to make legal arguments.  I have seen the end-product of such results, and have concluded that they are more-often-than-not, harmful to the case.  Most legal arguments are formulated through years of discretionary application based upon extensive research and experience in a given area of law; and the discretion that must be used is not always intuitively obvious.

As an example, there are cases where it is entirely appropriate to submit the VA disability rating as part of the Federal Disability Retirement application, as supplemental documentation in support thereof.  However, determination concerning the importance, impact and significance of relying upon such information must be discreetly assessed.

Yes, there is “case-law” concerning the persuasive authority of VA Disability ratings.  However, the practical legal aspect of utilizing such ratings must be carefully considered, based upon numerous factors:  while the combined rating may be higher, what are the individual percentages?  Are each high enough to warrant persuasive argumentation?  Could closer scrutiny of the individually ascribed ratings be more harmful to one’s case?  Is the rating (and each individualized break-down) discussed in medical terms in the VA records?

Ultimately, the individual who files for Federal Disability Retirement benefits without an attorney must rely upon himself or herself, and the wisdom of one’s own counsel.  Whether that is wise or not, I leave to each individual.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: OPM May Say So, But…

I often wonder how many unrepresented disability retirement applicants there are who, having received a denial letter at the First Stage of the process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS, never file a Request for Reconsideration because they believe what the Office of Personnel Management stated in the Denial Letter.  Sometimes, I will get telephone calls from people who want to file, and during the course of the conversation, it will come out that they had filed a few years previously, and had been denied.  “Did you file a Request for Reconsideration, at the time?” I ask.  “No,” is the answer.  “Why not?” I ask.  The typical answer?  “Because I just thought there was no way to fight them on it.” 

I used to be amazed at such answers, but after some thought, it makes sense.  As an attorney, my first instinct (both trained and natural) is to always take something to the next level, with the firm belief that I will prevail just by pure persistence, and by using the law as “a sword” in the process of fighting for my clients.  But most people are not lawyers (some would say, thank goodness for that, we have enough lawyers in the world), and when the Office of Personnel Management writes up a denial letter, then allegedly cites “the law”, and makes bold conclusions such as, “You do not meet the eligibility criteria under the laws governing disability retirement…”  It all sounds convincing.  It all sounds like any further action will be an act of futility.  But just because OPM “says so” doesn’t make it true, doesn’t make it right, and certainly doesn’t make it unwinnable.  They may say you don’t meet the eligbility criteria; I would argue otherwise.

Sincerely,
Robert R. McGill, Esquire