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

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

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

Early Retirement for Disabled Federal Workers: The Appeals

While it is often stated that a Federal Disability Retirement application has three (3) stages to the process, there are additional appellate stages which must be considered, and certain additional steps and actions must be undertaken, in order to preserve the viability of the final two stages of the process.  The initial three stages are comprised of the (A) Initial Application Stage of the process in preparing and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS; then (B) if it is denied at the Initial Stage, there is the Reconsideration Stage, where one may submit additional medical documentation and legal arguments, and finally (C) an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, which takes the Federal Disability Retirement application out of the control and hands of the Office of Personnel Management, and allows for an Administrative Judge at the MSPB to hold a Hearing and make a determination.  

The two additional stages of the process for Federal and Postal workers who have filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, are:  (1)  a Petition for Full Review (which I recommend should be taken, in the event of a further denial by the Administrative Judge at the MSPB Appeal) and (2) the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (which can be filed with directly after being denied at the MSPB level, skipping over the Petition for Full Review).  The last two stages of the process — the Petition for Full Review and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit — will not consider any “new evidence” (except in some rare instances), but will be a review as to whether any error of law occurred.  As such, all of the previous steps of the process would be reviewed, and that is why at each and every step, it is important to know what is important in preserving one’s right to an appeal, what is a basis for an appeal, etc.

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

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