Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: The Long Road

The bureaucratic process identified as “Federal Disability Retirement” with the Office of Personnel Management is indeed a long, and often frustrating, endeavor to undertake.  

From the long wait at the initial stages of preparation and formulation; to the waiting wasteland once it gets to the Office of Personnel Management — including first the period of waiting merely to have it assigned to a case worker, then the long period of uncertainty while it has been assigned but pending an actual review by the OPM Caseworker; then, of course, if it is approved, the lengthy period of receiving interim (partial) pay before it gets “finalized” and calculated — this, all on the assumption that the Office of Personnel Management will perform the monetary calculations of backpay, interim pay and final pay in a correct, indisputable manner; and further, if it gets denied at the First Stage of the process, then the further period of waiting at the Reconsideration Stage of the process; and further, if it gets denied at the Reconsideration Stage of the process, then an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board.  

A recent case — indeed, just decided a couple of days ago — where the client went through the First Stage, the Reconsideration Stage, then a Hearing at the Merit Systems Protection Board, all without an attorney, and came to the undersigned attorney to file a Petition for Full Review at the Merit Systems Protection Board where, fortunately, there were enough legal mis-steps on the part of the Administrative Judge that the collective “we” were able to get it reversed and obtain an approval for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management — all told, took about 2 and a half years from the start of the process to the final decision.  By any standard, that is a very, very long time.  

Caution:  It is not recommended that an individual wait until after an MSPB decision to obtain the services of an attorney.  The wait for a Full Review by the MSPB 3-member Board alone took about 10 months, and moreover, it is very difficult to reverse the decision of a Merit Systems Protection Board’s decision.  It can be done (and has been done), but it is obviously a better idea to win at the MSPB Hearing level, and not try and reverse an AJ’s decision based upon an “error of law“.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: Promises

Federal and Postal workers who are contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS must understand that it is the Office of Personnel Management which is the agency that makes the decisions concerning approval or denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  Whether the Postal Service, or any number of agencies “promise” to support a Federal Disability Retirement application, such promises are of limited value to the extent that they are not the governing arbiter — it is the bureaucracy known by its acronym, “OPM” which makes the decision.

While certain forms must be completed by the Agency or the Postal Service; and while certain decisions concerning the SF 3112D, or the basis of a removal action, may aid a Federal or Postal worker in OPM’s decision-making process, remember that any promise made by a Federal Agency or the Postal Service claiming to “get you” an OPM Disability Retirement is one without force or effect.

The Office of Personnel Management is an independent agency which reviews, evaluates, and scrutinizes each application for Federal or Postal Disability Retirement under either FERS or CSRS — they are the final “arbiter” of the matter, in conjunction with any appeals to the Merit Systems Protection Board in the event of a denial at the Initial Stage of the Application, and a second denial at the Reconsideration Stage of the application process.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: The MSPB

The Merit Systems Protection Board (better known by its acronym, the “MSPB”) is the third stage of the administrative process in attempting to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  By this Stage, while the Office of Personnel Management has been both the “judge and jury” for determining one’s eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, the case is then handed over to an Administrative Judge to be the arbiter of such determination.

While it is advisable for a Federal or Postal Worker to obtain a FERS/CSRS Disability Attorney from the start of the administrative process, it is of even greater importance to consider obtaining proper legal representation before proceeding down the path of the MSPB.  This statement of advising any Federal or Postal employee to obtain proper representation at the MSPB is made for several reasons, not the least of which includes the following:  The MSPB is the last “stage” of the process in which a Federal or Postal employee who is seeking to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits may submit evidence in order to prove one’s case (with some special exceptions); any basis for an appeal, upon the chance that the Administrative Judge rules against you, must be established during the Hearing of the case at this stage; and since this stage is the arena of “the law”, it is important to be familiar with the most recent case-laws which govern Federal Disability Retirement.  The MSPB is not a place to feel one’s way through; it is the playground where the “grown-ups” play.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The MSPB Hearing

If you find yourself at the Merit Systems Protection Board trying to prove to an Administrative Judge that your are entitled to Federal Disability Retirements benefits under FERS or CSRS, and you have already filed a Prehearing Statement, and your witnesses have been approved at the Prehearing Conference, and further, you have outlined all of the issues, set forth the legal basis, and proffered the expected testimony, it is then “showtime”.  

It is obviously preferable for an applicant who is filing for OPM Disability Retirement benefits to be represented by a Federal Disability Attorney — if possible, from the inception of the process, through the Reconsideration Stage, to the MSPB.  However, if a Federal or Postal employee finds that, for one reason or another, you simply cannot afford an Attorney, then here are three (3) tips if you find that you are before an MSPB Administrative Judge:  (1)  Have a doctor testify, and make sure that the testimony of the doctor is precise and to the point (2) Make sure that what you prove to the Judge correlates with what you said you would prove in your Prehearing Statement, and (3) Be prepared to make objections to any of OPM’s cross-examination questions.  Finally, remember that the point of making an objection during a Hearing is not to necessarily stop the question or answer, but rather, to preserve the point for a possible appeal.  It is ultimately difficult for a non-attorney Federal Disability Retirement applicant to formulate and prepare for an effective Merit Systems Protection Board Hearing, and further, it would be better if the Federal or Postal employee had an attorney (who is well-versed in Federal Disability Retirement law) throughout the entire process; but one must play the hand one is dealt with, and that old adage is true even with a Federal or Postal Disability Retirement case under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: The Connection between the Prehearing Statement and the Hearing

When a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS has been denied twice by the Office of Personnel Management, and one appeals the Federal Disability Retirement case to the Merit Systems Protection Board, there comes a point when the scheduling order requires that each side (the “Appellant” or the one who filed the appeal, and the Office of the Personnel Management) file a “Prehearing Statement”.  

Do not underestimate the importance of preparing a Prehearing Statement.  It is not simply a listing of the witnesses to be testifying at the MSPB Hearing; more than that, it is an opportunity to set the issues, to form in the mind of the Administrative Judge the parameters of what will be proven; an opportunity to proffer and plant the seeds of the evidence which will be presented; to undermine and preempt many of the arguments which are used customarily by the Office of Personnel Management; to argue for the Bruner Presumption (even if it does not strictly apply); and to show how, at this preliminary stage of the process, that the upcoming Hearing is really an unnecessary event.  Thus, the Prehearing Statement, as well as the Prehearing Conference, is an important preliminary step in setting the stage for success in a Federal Disability Retirement case.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: The MSPB

The Merit Systems Protection Board is the arena, in a Federal Disability Retirement application, where the issues are taken out of the control of the Office of Personnel Management for an independent review of a Federal or Postal employee’s disability application to obtain the benefit.  In a Federal Disability Retirement application, the Office of Personnel Management is given an opportunity (twice — at the initial stage of the process, then at the Reconsideration Stage) to make the “right” decision (in my view, “right” being an approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, at least for my clients).  

If that decision is a denial, at both levels, then the applicant has the right and opportunity to file an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board.  At that level, by a preponderance of the evidence, the Federal or Postal employee must prove that he or she meets the criteria, under the law, to be eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  Some de minimus extent of discovery is engaged in; a Prehearing Statement defining the issues and identifying the proposed list of witnesses must be prepared; and, finally, a Hearing is set.  It is the forum in which someone other than OPM will have a fresh opportunity to review the case, and this is a good thing.  Otherwise, only the fox would be guarding the hen house, and under that scenario, there would be very few hens left alive, if any.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: Beyond the MSPB

Because filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS is a process which may potentially take the full stages — from the initial application stage, to the Reconsideration Stage, to the Merit Systems Protection Board; then, if denied at the MSPB, to the Petition for Full Review, and if denied there, to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals; as a result, it is a good idea to be represented by a Federal Disability Attorney.  Remember that the last two stages of the process only allow for arguing an error of law.  To that extent, if one pauses for a moment and reflects — everything ultimately comes down to an error of law.  Very rarely is there a misinterpretation of the facts. 

In a Federal Disability Retirement case, the medical evidence is fairly straightforward.  Yes, there can be some arguments concerning the interpretation of the extent and severity of the medical conditions, but the substantive focus of disagreement between the applicant and the Office of Personnel Management normally comes down to the appropriate application of the standard of law, and whether the application has met the burden of proof and satisfied the legal criteria for eligibility.  As such, the essence of a Federal Disability Retirement application comes down to whether OPM — and subsequently the Administrative Judge — has mis-applied the law.  Thus, at each stage of the process, it is important to lay the foundation by pointing out where the error of applying the law happened — at each and every stage of the process.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Preparing for an MSPB Hearing

There is a singular focus when preparing for a Hearing at the Merit Systems Protection Board:  that of persuading and convincing an Administrative Judge that you have proven, by a preponderance of the evidence, that you are entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  Of course, as I have often pointed out in the past, the full and complete preparation for an MSPB Hearing should have come about throughout the first two stages of the process — in the initial application for Federal Disability Retirement, and in responding to the Office of Personnel Management at the Reconsideration Stage of the process.  The fact that the Office of Personnel Management denied a case twice does not mean that the Applicant or his/her attorney did anything “wrong”; rather, it merely means that the Office of Personnel Management was wrong twice over.  Beyond the singular focus upon the MSPB Administrative Judge, there must be a multiple focus before the actual day of the Hearing:  Prepare, prepare, and prepare.  That means:  Go through the Agency records with a fine-toothed comb; prepare by anticipating any cross-examination questions which OPM may have; prepare the witnesses; prepare the closing argument.  Preparation is the key to every litigation, and a Hearing before the MSPB Administrative Judge is no different.

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