OPM Disability Retirement: The Power of Approval

Whether the Federal agency or the U.S. Postal Service can have a significant impact upon a Federal Disability Retirement application is a question often asked; then, of course, there are always suspicions that certain individuals and entities may try to undermine or otherwise sabotage, out of pure animus and acrimonious low-down-ness (not a legal or technical term, by any stretch of the imagination), by going through “back-door” channels and attempting to influence or otherwise paint a portrait of perverse circumstances.

At best, agencies, individuals and entities of the Federal kind can remain neutral and harmless; at worst, they can allege unspecified and unidentifiable, nefarious circumstances of associated behaviors or conduct issues otherwise unrelated but left to the unimaginative creativity of an OPM administrative specialist.  But then, since those would all be illegal and unofficial acts of retribution and retaliation, they would never be validated nor publicly acknowledged, anyway, and so only the suspicions would remain, without verifiable evidence of ascertained capability to influence or otherwise persuade a negative determination to be reached by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

To their credit, OPM asserts complete and total independence, and refuses to allow for any influence but for the legal criteria in evaluating a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether the individual is under FER, CSRS or CSRS Offset, and whether the Federal Disability Retirement application comes from the U.S. Postal Service or from one of hundreds of Federal agencies and departments across the country.

Neither a Federal agency nor the U.S. Postal Service can promise or otherwise grant a Federal Disability Retirement application to a Federal or Postal worker; only the U.S. Office of Personnel Management can do that.  Empty promises aside, whether by implication, inference or alleged influence, OPM is the only entity which can approve a Federal Disability Retirement application.

Yes, agencies can be more helpful than not (though that is rare); agencies can somewhat harm (though a Federal OPM Disability Retirement application is ultimately based upon the medical evidence gathered); and yes, agencies more often than not attempt to undermine rather than assist (despite thousands of Human Resource Specialists across the country claiming otherwise); despite all of this, it comes down to a single entity — the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and no other agency — which grants or denies an approval for a Federal Disability Retirement application.  As such, beware of promises made; be cautious of settlements reached; and be dubious of claims of egomaniacal exponents of hyperbolic vituperations; they normally amount to the value of the verbal paper they are written upon.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Formulating an Effective SF 3112A

The “heart of it all” is…   The medical report will provide the substantive basis; a supervisor’s statement may or may not be helpful or useful at all; legal arguments will certainly place the viability of the application for Federal Disability Retirement into its proper context and arguments which touch upon the legal basis will inevitably have their weight, impact and effect upon whether one has met by a preponderance of the evidence the legal criteria required to be eligible and entitled.  All of that aside, the SF 3112A — the Applicant’s Statement of Disability — is where the heart of the matter resides in preparing, formulating, and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS. 

If a Federal or Postal employee is unsure of what to state, how to state it, or how much to reveal and state, that becomes a problem.  For, ultimately, the proper balance must be stricken — between that which is relevant as opposed to superfluous; between that which is substantive as opposed to self-defeating; and between that which is informational, as opposed to compelling.  Formulation takes thought and reflection.  Yes, the SF 3112A — the Applicant’s Statement of Disability — is the heart of it all.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Patient-Doctor Relationship II

Part of a patient-doctor relationship (and I intentionally placed the term “patient” before the hyphenation to “doctor”, because the primacy of the relationship should recognize the order of importance) should necessarily involve a commitment from the doctor.  That commitment should entail the desire to do that which is necessary, within reasonable bounds and within the law, as well as the integrity of the doctor’s medical opinions, in order to look after the best interests of the patient.  

It is always a puzzle and a disturbing bit of news to find that a doctor who has performed surgery, who has prescribed multitudes of pain or psychotropic medications, has prescribed multiple diagnostic tests and have the patient undergo test after test, physical therapy sessions, clinical evaluations, etc. — and at the end of it all, to have the “final straw” which severs the patient-doctor relationship to be a refusal to provide a medical narrative report in support of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  Think how preposterous that sounds.  Thus, it is not enough to get some vague support when the issue is first broached; no, what is needed is the same level of commitment from the doctor, as when he or she first said to you, “Yes, I am going to treat you for your medical condition…”

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Overstating and Understating

Overstating a case in a Federal Employee Disability Retirement case can have the effect of undermining the very credibility of the supporting medical documentation which is supposed to “prove” a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  It is similar to seeing a well-edited preview of a movie, where the scenes are cut-and-pasted to make it appear more exciting than the actual movie itself.  Then, when the viewer goes and sees the movie, it is a moment of sensory disappointment.  One does not want that same result to occur when the person at the Office of Personnel Management is reviewing your case. 

The inverse of that, of course, is understating a case.  This rarely happens, and even if it does, there is normally not a negative side to it — although, when I have taken over a case at the Reconsideration Level after an initial denial for an individual who attempted to file the application at the Initial Stage on his own, I found that there were numerous statements in the office/treatment notes that had been overlooked, and an older (but still relevant) evalualtion which had not been previously emphasized.  For the most part, an applicant for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS must strike a careful balance between the two opposites, and the tempering guide which should always be used is the medical report(s) itself.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: The Necessary Doctor

Ultimately, the doctor who is necessary is the one who will be supportive.  Whenever the question is asked of me whether it is “necessary” to have the support of this or that doctor, my answer is generic in nature:  It is better to have one excellent narrative report in support of one’s Disability Retirement Application, than to have 5 mediocre or lukewarm reports.  Excellence in a Federal Disability Retirement application is encapsulated by the level of passion and support by the treating doctor.  The character and texture of a medical report is not just a set of factual listings of medical conditions and a dry statement of an opinion; rather, the underlying sense of a doctor’s firm and passionate belief in a patient is often evident in the intangible underpinnings of a good report.  There are simply some reports written by a doctor where one knows that it is improbable that the Office of Personnel Management will want to entangle themselves in; the unequivocal voice, tone and tenor of such a report can make the difference between getting an initial approval of an Application for Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS, or a denial, resulting in the necessity of going to another stage of the process.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Approaches & Decisions (Continuation)

This is not to say that the Reconsideration Stage of the process, in the stage where there has (obviously) been an initial denial, should not retell a narrative; it is to simply point out the differences in where the emphasis should be — or, rather, where I place the different emphasis based upon the stage. 

How I approach each stage, in general terms, is as follows:  The Initial Stage (the initial application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS) focuses upon the narrative of the applicant — the description of the medical condition; the kind of job and the essential elements thereof; the interaction and impact of one upon the other, as well as some initial legal arguments.  If it is denied, then the Reconsideration Stage has a “shift of paradigm” on what should be emphasized.  The Office of Personnel Management will often question the adequacy of the medical documentation.  In that case, one needs to respond in a two-pronged attack:  (perhaps) an updated medical report, but concurrently, an aggressive legal attack upon the legally untenable position of the denial.  This methodology sets up for the Third Stage of the process, in the event that it becomes necessary — the Merit Systems Protection Board.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Developing a Case

In most cases, the normal process of disability retirement for the First Stage of the process is anywhere from 6 – 8 months; some fall towards the 6-month range; some take longer than the 8-month range.  The difficulty in most cases is that the potential disability applicant/annuitant obviously wants to get through the process as quickly as possible, most often in order to get a sense of security for the future, that he or she will have the certainty of the Federal Disability Retirement annuity.  All of this is understandable. 

The process — of preparing; of submitting; of waiting as it winds through the various Agency channels and finally to Boyers, PA and then to OPM in D.C. — is a process of high anxiety and anticipation.  Sometimes, however, cases must be patiently developed.  By “developed”, I merely mean that, at times, the doctor is not ready to provide the proper medical narrative report, or to state in explicit terms that a person is no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of his or her job, and that the medical condition will last for at least one (1) year.  Patience with the doctor as different modalities of treatments are applied, is often crucial in the development of a case.  My involvement in a case, even before it is fully developed, is preferred, only if to guide the client as the medical case develops, or — as is often the case — on issues involving how to respond to an Agency which is just as anxious for the whole process to begin and end, as is the client.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The End Goal

The goal at the end of the process is to obtain that “approval” letter from the Office of Personnel Management.  It resolves and sets aside the months of anxiety and stress compressed into a time of agonizing suspension from life’s ability to move forward; for, during that time of waiting, one cannot “move forward”, because without the knowledge of whether one can obtain the financial benefit of the Federal Disability Retirement annuity under FERS or CSRS, one cannot make the decisions in life to make plans for the future. 

It is of great satisfaction to an attorney to reach the “end goal” — to hear from the client that he or she has received the letter of approval from the Office of Personnel Management, and to hear the relief and joy in the voice of one who finally sees “light at the end of the tunnel” constitutes great professional satisfaction for the representing attorney.  It means that the proper medical narratives were gathered; that the description of the client’s medical conditions and their impact upon the essential elements of one’s job was properly formulated; and it means that the legal argument presented to the Office of Personnel Management was persuasive.  Client satisfaction means alot to an attorney; for one who solely specializes in Federal Disability Retirement Law, to see the end product — the obtaining of a Federal Disability Retirement annuity — is of great professional satisfaction.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire