Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: The Changed Standard

Lawyers are trained to engage in linguistic gymnastics; that is precisely why Plato railed against rhetoricians of his day, as they used language to distort the fullness of being (as Heidegger would say).  For, the malleability of language allows for a spectrum of purposive and mischievous play upon words; only an abiding sense of integrity in the face of a world which has abandoned parameters and boundaries of what constitutes “fair play” in the arena of linguistic word games, would save the original foundation of the correspondence theory of truth.  But in this postmodern world where objective truth can no longer be argued for, subtlety in playing a language game is no longer necessary; one can simply, deliberately and without conscience switch one word for another, and maintain a straight face.

So, in a Federal or Postal Disability Retirement case, when the U.S. Office of Personnel Management inserts words which clearly do not reflect the legal standard as presently existing, what does one do?  When the standard is raised to require “disability which precludes you from the workplace”, or evidence of a medical condition which is “compelling”, how does one respond?  Such unwarranted and baseless legal applications are inserted in many denials from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, requiring a Request for Reconsideration or an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board.  In the end, in order to properly respond, one must first recognize the malleability of language; then to identify the proper legal standard to be applied; then to selectively address such improper legal standards.

In a Federal Disability Retirement case, whether under FERS or CSRS, the ultimate problem is that one is dealing with a Leviathan of an agency — the U.S. Office of Personnel Management — and one which has the power to engage in rhetorical flourishes with unfettered abandon.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Standards

The existence of a standard constitutes an irrelevancy if the application of it is based upon an unknowable, incalculable methodology.  Standards represent a paradigm which, if implemented, provide for stability and consistency, precisely because one can rely upon the same application in all instances, and indeed, that is what is often defined as “fairness”.

Thus, in sports — if the referee makes all calls based upon a known standard, there is very little to argue with respect to the “rules”; one may, of course, challenge the interpretation of the “facts” and charge that the referee is blind and did not see the play as reality reflected; but no one can argue the minutiae of the standard itself.  In society, and in a civilization governed by rules and accepted procedures of administration, if a standard is disagreed upon, then a democratic method of change is normally considered an appropriate methodology of redefining the lines previously demarcated by the “old” standard.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is assumed that the standard which would constitute “fair play” will be one of “preponderance of the evidence”, but the actual implementation of such a legal standard will necessarily depend upon whether the Case Worker at OPM actually understands what that standard means.

It is, ultimately, a low civil “bar” to meet; and when a denial is rendered, the language contained within the denial will often reveal the extent of comprehension on the part of the OPM Case Worker.  Pointing a misapplication of the standard is sometimes a useful tool in taking the Federal Disability Retirement case to the next level — the Reconsideration Stage of the process — but unduly focusing upon the mistakes of the previous Case Worker is often a waste of time.

Balance is the key; application of the correct standard is vital to the working efficiency of a bureaucracy; pointing out a misapplication is why attorneys exist.  They are, ultimately, technicians of written standards.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: The Legal Standards

Recent decisions issued by the Full Board of the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board — specifically, Henderson v. OPM, decided on January 31, 2012, reestablishes the two general standards of applicable evidentiary approaches in proving a Federal Disability Retirement case, whether under FERS or CSRS.  Whether or not the U.S. Office of Personnel Management will “comply” with the applicable standards as set forth by the MSPB is another question.

Often, the “trickle-down” effect of a legal opinion can take years to accomplish — and by that time, further refinements by the courts and by the MSPB may have made such legal opinions moot, irrelevant or otherwise restrictive in its practical application, anyway.  For the time being, however, the two legal approaches can be generally stated thus:  One must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence in all Federal Disability Retirement cases, either (A)  That certain specific medical conditions prevent one from performing certain specific essential elements of one’s job (somewhat like a 1 – 1 correspondence, or more generally, a medical opinion showing that medical condition X prevents job duties Y because of Z) or (B) as stated previously in Bruner and multiple other cases, there is an “inconsistency” between one’s medical condition (or multiplicity of medical conditions) and the type of positional duties one must engage in to perform the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal job.

The former criteria to satisfy may be deemed “particularized”; the latter may be seen as a more “generalized” approach.  While there is certainly a conceptual distinction between the two, in pragmatic terms, such a distinction may be without too much difference, if only because doctors will often go back and forth between the two approaches, anyway, in writing a medical narrative report.

The conceptual distinction is not as apparent as one between “explicit” and “implicit”, but certainly the former approach encapsulates a greater specificity of detailing a connection between X and Y, whereas the latter requires the reader or reviewer (i.e., OPM or the Administrative Judge) to think through and analyze the entirety of the issue.  But that life would not be so complicated.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Recent MSPB Clarification

A recent Merit Systems Protection Board Decision has retracted and clarified a misinterpretation of the legal standard needed to meet in order to qualify for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS.  An expanded article explaining the clarification, impact and relative significance to Federal and Postal employees who are filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management will be forthcoming (from the undersigned writer) in the very near future.

Essentially, an evolving misinterpretation of the legal standard was expanding with unforeseen implications, and indeed, this may be why the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, in recent years, has been invoking terms and concepts which have gone far beyond the applicable standard of evidentiary requirements.  To make such a claim, of course, may be giving OPM too much credit — that they are actually following the cases-law which is handed down through the MSPB and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals; but if not, then there has been a coincidental use of onerous language which has been rather puzzling.

What the MSPB has “clarified” and retracted, is the growing misunderstanding that one of the legal standards to be met in becoming eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, is to provide “unambiguous” and evidence, or evidence which is “uncontradicted”.  Such a standard is an almost impossible one to meet, obviously, and to allow for such a requirement to remain would have placed a greater — almost impossible — burden of proof upon the applicant.

When the “system” of statute-to-case-law-interpretation works, it is a wonder to behold.  Justice works slowly; but then, great works of art can never be mass produced and time is always the friend of the masterpiece.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire