FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: The Process of Eligibility

The problem with possessing power is that it must be accompanied by truth, validity and rational foundations, if it is to be effective over the long term.  

In filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, there is the process of proving one’s eligibility by meeting the burden of proof, termed as the “preponderance of the evidence“.  A disagreement can occur during the process, in that the Representative from the Office of Personnel Management can deny the Federal Disability Retirement application.  

Such a denial can occur twice at the OPM level — at the Initial Stage of the process, then at the Reconsideration Stage of the process.  OPM possesses the power to approve or deny each Federal Disability Retirement application.  Often, however, the denial itself fails to be accompanied by a rational discourse which strives to meet the high standards that a Federal Agency should always adhere to — guided by the truth and validity of any claims made in a denial letter.  Too often, the discourse which is the basis of the denial merely regurgitates a series of template-like statements, and then the OPM denies the claim.  

Fortunately, however, OPM is not the only Agency which makes the determination during the entirety of the process.  After the second denial, it then loses its jurisdiction over a case, and an appeal can be made to the Merit Systems Protection Board.  

The integrity of the entire process depends upon the independence of the MSPB in reviewing all such cases, and indeed, the Administrative Judges at the MSPB review each case carefully, with an open mind, and with the proper application of the law.  Each Judge must render a decision which contains the rational basis of a decision, based upon precedents and statutory legal underpinnings.  To have the full benefit of the process is indeed the basis of a system with integrity.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Proper Responses

A receipt of a denial from the Office of Personnel Management to a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS is always an event which is upsetting to a Federal or Postal employee, but it is “part of the process” which occurs often enough.  

If it is a second denial (where a Request for Reconsideration has already been accomplished, and the Office of Personnel Management has denied it again), then the only appropriate response is to file an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board (no response is required, or even appropriate, to OPM, as it is out of their jurisdictional purview upon denying it a second time).  

If it is a “first denial“, then a “Request for Reconsideration” must be filed within thirty (30) days of the date of the denial letter (one can argue that the 30 days should be counted from the date of receipt, but it is always better to be on the safe side), and if requested, an additional thirty (30) days is automatically granted in order to have sufficient time to gather and submit further documentation to rebut and answer the denial from the Office of Personnel Management.

Submission of the Request for Reconsideration, and participation in the process of having the Office of Personnel Management reconsider the initial denial, is mandatory, not elective.  By this is meant the following:  You cannot bypass or skip the Reconsideration Stage and jump directly to the MSPB; you must first get a decision on the Request for Reconsideration before the Merit Systems Protection Board will consider your case.  

You cannot get angry or reactive and declare, “I will just file an appeal to the MSPB and have an Administrative Judge look at my case”.  You must patiently go through the proper channels of justice, and respond accordingly.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Recognizing the Process & the Necessity for Patience

In filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, it is important to recognize that the entire application endeavor — the initial preparation, formulation and filing; if denied at the First Stage, the ability to file a Request for Reconsideration within thirty (30) days of the denial; the appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board; a further appeal to the Full Board; then, if necessary, an appeal to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals — constitutes a “process”, and one which must be prepared for from the very beginning.  

Recognizing that the entire endeavor is a process will help to prepare one for the long haul — not only in being patient with the Office of Personnel Management at the first two stages of the process, but further, with the Administrative judicial process at the Merit Systems Protection Board; then (if necessary) with the Federal Court system.  Without such recognition, one will only experience frustration and anxiety.  As has been stated many times, Patience is a virtue; as such, Federal and Postal employees must be the virtuous of all classes of people, because of the constancy of patience they must endure.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Legal Standard & Persuasion

There is a distinction between the existence of a legal standard and the citing of such legal standard — to include statutory references, case-law citations, etc. — and the art of persuasion.  In reviewing Federal and Postal Disability Retirement applications which have been previously prepared, formulated and submitted by unrepresented Federal and Postal employees, which have been denied, it is often refreshing to see how laymen (i.e., “non-lawyers”) have utilized cases and case-law citations (often straight from some of my articles and blogs) in arguing his or her case. 

The problem with such an approach, however, is that the unrepresented Federal or Postal employee will often refer to such legal standards without engaging in the necessary art of persuasion.  Legal standards are certainly there to be used; however, there is a proper way and methodology of utilizing legal standards, and an improper way.  The improper way is to use the legal standard as a hammer — of stating:  X exists and states Y, therefore you must conclude Z.  The proper methodology in utilizing a legal standard is to engage in the art of persuasion:  X exists, and X determines why Y must come about, and therefore Z should be the logical conclusion, and here are the reasons why. 

Normally, I advise against non-lawyers using the law precisely because of the potential mis-application of the methodology.  Leave the law to lawyers; that is why lawyers are hired.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Burden of Proof

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS & CSRS, one is often asked (and should also ask of one’s self) the following question:  What does it take to be eligible?  What proof proves my case?  How much proof must I submit (quantity) and is the proof I submit sufficient (quality)?  All of these questions fall under a generic rubric in law, termed as “burden of proof“. 

Every legal process — and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS is no different — applies a legal standard:  a set of criteria in determining whether or not a Federal or Postal Worker is eligible for — qualifies for — Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS. 

In applying a statutory set of criteria, there is the general application of what constitutes, or meets the needs of, the evidence, documents, and proof that is submitted for review.  The overriding standard that is supposed to be applied for determining the process, is a standard of law called, “Preponderance of the evidence.”  It is a relatively low standard used in civil law — where, if the proof submitted shows that it is more likely so than not so, then one has met “by a preponderance of the evidence” that a Federal or Postal employee is entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits. 

Does this standard apply at the administrative level — at the Office of Personnel Management?  The answer is “Yes”, but not necessarily consciously.  One only effectively argues that the standard of proof has been met when one encounters a Judge — at the Merit Systems Protection Board.  But, nevertheless, OPM is supposed to follow “the law” and the burden of proof, and it is simply one more argument that one can, and should, make to the Office of Personnel Management when filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under either FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Early Retirement for Disabled Federal Workers: The MSPB & Beyond, a Retrospective View

Assume the following hypotethical:  a Federal or Postal employee has filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, and has been denied twice by the Office of Personnel Management, has gone before an Administrative Judge for a Hearing at the Merit Systems Protection Board, and now a decision has been made to file a Petition for Review.  

What is the MSPB looking for at a PFR?  

The arguments to be made will focus upon whether or not the Administrative Judge applied “the law” (collectively known for all of the statutes, rules, regulations and prior cases which have touched upon, defined, or otherwise decided upon, any and all issues concerning Federal Disability Retirement) correctly, or whether he/she made an “error of law”.  As such, from a retrospective viewpoint, what should have been done during the Hearing of the matter before the MSPB & the Administrative Judge?  The answer:  where possible, a citation of the applicable cases showing at each juncture of the evidence submitted, that it complied with a specific case and holding of a case.  With that “on the record”, it constrains the Administrative Judge from ruling against the Appellant, but more importantly for purposes of the Petition for Full Review, it establishes the errors of law which the Administrative Judge committed, for purposes of showing reversible errors at the PFR.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Beyond the MSPB

With certain notable exceptions (e.g., documents which could not be obtained prior to or during the Hearing; an SSDI approval which was awarded after the close of the record, etc.), the Hearing which is set for the Merit Systems Protection Board (better known by its acronym, the “MSPB”) is the time and place to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that a Federal or Postal employee is eligible to meet each of the legal criteria in a Federal Disability Retirement case.

MSPB Hearings for Federal Disability Retirement applications are performed telephonically; but beyond the time to submit all additional medical documentation and have any witnesses testify, it is the time to set the stage for a future Petition for Review (PFR) or an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Any legal issues concerning the eligibility criteria, accommodations, sufficiency of medical documentation, etc., needs to be argued at this stage of the process, in order to be able to make the argument later that the Administrative Judge committed “legally reversible” errors in his or her Initial Decision on the case.  As with anything well-built, a solid foundation must be prepared, and in the arena of legal battles, the introduction of clear legal precedent is what establishes the foundation for a future appeal.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Sometimes, It is the Wrong Question

If the question is asked, “Is it difficult to get Federal Disability Retirement benefits based upon a Stress Claim?” — within the context of the poorly-worded question, you may get a wrong answer.  This is because it is the wrong question to begin with.  

The concept and term “stress claim” is more appropriately formulated in the context of an OWCP claim.  It implies that one is claiming for compensation based upon a situation — a hostile work environment, a harassing supervisor, etc. — because the origin and inception of the medical condition generically characterized as “stress” implies that it is the workplace which is the originating responsibility for the very medical condition claimed.  

Such a question would thus imply a multitude of irrelevant considerations for purposes of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, such as the causality of the claim, whether the cause is merely situational (is it the supervisor causing the stress?  If so, if a Federal or Postal worker moved to another office or agency, could he or she work in the same job?), or contained within the context of the workplace. The problem with using the term “stress” in a question is that, whether as a noun or a verb, it implies too much while revealing too little.  If expanded upon (e.g., while stress may be the origin, is the medical condition Major Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, etc.), then the entire question takes on a new form.  Sometimes, the problem begins with the question asked which is poorly worded; and to a poorly worded question, a wrong answer might be given.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: The MSPB and Beyond

An application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS should always be prepared for the “long haul“.  Thus, it should be formulated, argued and prepared as if it will be denied at each stage, and will end up before the Merit Systems Protection Board.  

Does this take any “special” preparation?  To some extent, the answer is “yes”, inasmuch as the stages beyond the Initial Application stage before the Office of Personnel Management, then the Reconsideration Stage of the process, then a Hearing before an Administrative Judge at the MSPB, involves whether or not an “error of law” was made.  As such, because each of the preceding three stages of the administrative process would essentially involve foundations for a later stage of an administrative appeal, it is obviously important to know what “the law” is.  One can hardly argue in the later stages what “errors of law” were made if one is not familiar with what “the law” is comprised of in the first place.  By establishing certain key foundations, and inserting legal precedents and arguments throughout the process, one has a better chance at arguing that legal errors were made by the Administrative Judge. While a Federal or Postal worker should certainly expect that his or her Federal Disability Retirement application should be approved at any given level because it has been properly prepared, it is always wise to look beyond the present, and prepare for future contingencies.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: When to file for an MSPB Hearing

Filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS is what is generically known as falling under “Administrative Law“.  That is, Federal and Postal employees must undergo the administrative process of filing with a Federal Agency, the Office of Personnel Management, in an attempt to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that one is eligible for, and therefore entitled to under the law, Federal Disability Retirement benefits under either the Federal Employee’s Retirement System (FERS), the Civil Service Retirement System (the “older” system, or CSRS), or its hybrid, the CSRS-Offset.  

If the Agency which makes the decision on eligibility denies a Federal or Postal employee’s application twice (both at the Initial application Stage of the process, then again at what is termed the “Reconsideration Stage” of the process), then the case can be appealed to an Administrative legal forum specifically set up to hear such cases (as well as many other types of cases involving Federal and Postal employees).  In order to file with the Merit Systems Protection Board (the “MSPB”), one must have received a “final denial” letter from the Office of Personnel Management — and, by “final”, is merely meant the “second denial” letter.  Thus, in order for the Merit System Protection Board to consider an appeal for one’s Federal Disability Retirement benefits, the Federal or Postal employee must have been denied by the Office of Personnel Management on the first two tries — first, with the Initial Application, then for the Reconsideration of that application.  Only then may a Federal or Postal employee who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS, CSRS or CSRS-Offset file an appeal with the MSPB.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire