OPM Disability Retirement: Early Decisions, Later Consequences

Decisions engaged in early on, reap later consequences which often reflect the choices made in those initial steps.  This is true both in life generally, and in particularized ventures, endeavors and vocations.

That is precisely why we tell our kids to study hard; that the key to success is preparation and practice; that, on performance day, the ease with which the presentation appears reflects the extent of the behind-the-scenes effort which went into the show.

Such admonitions apply to every project we undertake, and it is no less different when one is contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, for the Federal and Postal Worker.  The logical sequence of how a person puts together a Federal Disability Retirement application will be reflected both in the final submission, as well as in the results obtained.

Now, there may well be cases which are poorly compiled, yet approved without a glitch; just as there will be cases which are irrefutably argued, yet denied by the Federal Bureaucracy identified as OPM.

However, another adage which is also true, is that “the exception does not make the rule”.

What words are chosen; how the Statement of Disability on SF 3112A is formulated; what medical evidence is presented; which legal arguments are promulgated and highlighted; what collateral issues are preemptively brought up; collectively, they “matter”.

What we do today determines the course of tomorrow; what tomorrow brings, will reflect upon who we are today.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Certainties and Presumptions

Life presents conundrums of certainties and presumptions; the former in order to retain sanity; the latter in order to appear sane.  A certain event is one which is expected to occur because of a natural law, a habitual repetition of reliance, or because the daily routine has engrained it upon our consciousness.  A presumption is a wish for certainty which may not even be rationally-based, but one in which we conclude will likely occur because of past events, contextual probabilities, and a sense that the present should reflect the historicity of the past.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, it is best to establish the strict bifurcation between certainties which are clearly so, and avoid presumptions.

It is certain that Federal Disability Retirement is a process which will likely require multiple stages to obtain; it is certain that the Office of Personnel Management will scrutinize each Federal and Postal employee’s application and find it deficient or inadequate; it is certain that one’s agency will likely be two-faced and feign loyalty and support but act in ways which defy such declarative embracing of the Federal or Postal employee.  Conversely, one should never presume that one’s case is a “slam-dunk”; nor that OPM will make a decision sooner than later; nor that OPM will provide a rationally-based reasoning for denying a case.

Hume and Berkeley aside, we live in a world where cause-and-effect are relied upon, and where the world does not merely depend upon our perceiving it; but certainties should always be tempered with an understanding that Federal Disability Retirement is an administrative process which must be fought for, then protected, and presuming an easy path with any Federal agency is to defy the logic which both Hume and Berkeley took to the extreme.

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

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

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Decisions, Decisions

I am often asked questions by people of which I am unable to answer.  They are not questions concerning “the law” underlying Federal Disability Retirement, but rather questions which go to my “professional discretion” as an attorney in putting together a Federal Disability Retirement packet, prepared to go forth to the Office of Personnel Management. 

By “professional discretion” questions, I mean those questions which go to making decisions and choices concerning medical reports, percentage ratings received from the Veterans Administration; permanency ratings received from Second Opinion or Referee doctors, or the fact that one has reached “maximum medical improvement” and is now “permanent and stationary”, and whether to use such collateral sources of medical documentation in putting together a disability retirement packet. 

The practice of law is not all objective and straight-forward; part of the “practice” of law is of an art form, based upon one’s experience, and professional discretion sharpened by repetitive experiences in working with the Office of Personnel Management and in representing Federal and Postal employees before the Merit Systems Protection Board.  Further, there are some questions which I answer only for those whom I represent.  I am happy to provide general information about the process of filing for disability retirement.  For those whom I represent, however, I reserve for them the art of practicing Federal Disability Retirement law.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Process at the MSPB

When a FERS or CSRS disability retirement application has made its way in the “process” to the “Third Stage” — the Merit Systems Protection Board — then I (as an attorney) must be unequivocal in my recommendation:  You need an attorney.  I believe that individuals who file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits should retain a competent attorney at every stage of the process, but there are always considerations of financial ability, and perhaps other considerations, which prevent someone from hiring an attorney at the initial stages of the process. 

At the MSPB level, however, it is important for two (2) reasons (there are many, many other reasons as well, but for brevity’s sake, I choose the main reasons):  1.  It is extremely important to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that you meet the eligibility requirements, to an Administrative Judge, who is both a lawyer and a Judge, and therefore has the knowledge and background to make a reasoned assessment of the evidence presented, and 2.  You must be able to present the case in such a way that, if the Administrative Judge makes an error in his or her decision, you are prepared to appeal the case to the next level.  In order to be able to appeal the case to the next level, you must know the law, be able to present your evidence at the MSPB in accordance with the law, and therefore be able to argue that a decision rendered against you is in violation of the law.  In order to do this, you need an Attorney.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Attorney Representation

I am still often asked about whether or not, or how helpful, legal representation would be in a Federal or Postal Disability Retirement case.  To ask an attorney such a question is often unhelpful, for there is always the question as to how much “self-interest” an attorney has in answering such a question.  What I can state, however, is the following:  Remember that everyone believes that his or her case is a “sure thing” — this is natural, because the very individual who is filing for disability retirement is the one who is suffering from the medical condition, and so it is a very “personal” matter, and a sense of objectivity is difficult to maintain in these matters.  Second, remember that when you hire an attorney, you are not just hiring someone who “knows something” about FERS & CSRS disability retirement; instead, you should be hiring that lawyer for his or her reputation, his knowledge of the administrative & legal process with the Office of Personnel Management and the Merit Systems Protection Board, and how well he is “thought of” by OPM (i.e., how long has he been practicing in the field of Federal Disability Retirement law, does he know the people at OPM, and more importantly, does OPM know him/her?).  Finally, always keep in mind that, while attorneys can be expensive, you must always do a cost-benefits analysis, and look at the benefit you will be receiving (or not receiving) if you do or do not hire an attorney.  Disability retirement benefits are essentially a means of securing one’s financial future, and as such, the benefit to be secured is important enough to consider hiring an attorney.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire