CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: Common Mistakes

There is of course the old adage (and old “sayings” are neatly formulated, refined over time, and revised and updated for applicability and relevance to the significance of the current times), stated in its variety of forms, that those who fail to study history, are condemned to repeat it.  But what if the historical repetition of such foolhardiness results because of the disparate nature of history, scattered among thousands, and never based upon a common essence from which all can draw?

A corollary of the previous words of wisdom is the following (made up by this author):  Historical mistakes repeat themselves because everyone believes that he or she is smarter than the ones before.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, common mistakes abound, and repetitively reveal themselves throughout the process.  Writing to preempt what one thinks a Supervisor will state or not state; listing every medical condition without prioritizing the impact upon one’s inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job; writing long, meandering narratives; including “red flag” concepts such as “hostile work environment“; simply giving to the doctor the 3112C with the return address of one’s Human Resources Department at one’s agency; and multiple other such follies.  Yet, such mistakes are not only common; they are to be expected.

The administrative process of Federal Disability Retirement is constructed to appear “simple”.  The questions asked on the standard forms appear straightforward, if not cleverly uncomplicated in their very formulation.  Yet, the laws which govern the benefit identified as “Federal Disability Retirement” is amassed in a compendium of statutes, regulations and case-law, all of which have evolved in interpretive significance over many years.

History does repeat itself; for Federal and Postal employees who are contemplating or have initiated the filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS, the age-old adage concerning history not only confirms the truth of such a saying, but reinforces it daily.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Each Step as a Building Block for the Next

Of course, the penultimate approach would be to have the first stage of the process in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, to be the first and final step of the process.  But life in general is imperfect; particular lives are generally in disarray; and to expect any administrative process — especially one at the Federal level — to be one of attaining perfection at the First Stage, is to expect that there are no ancillary motives, purposes or quota-driven mindsets behind the decision-making process.

The very concept of a “building block” is itself an interesting one, for it is a metaphor used to convey a sense of progress.  And that would be the key.  One does not purposefully leave out any single building block in the process of constructing a foundation.  Instead, each block is an addition to the greater expanse of the structure, solidifying its base, preparing for the completion such that the end product will withstand weather, elements, unforeseen circumstances and potential challenges to the structural integrity itself.

Similarly, if the U.S. Office of Personnel Management questions an issue or aspect of one’s Federal Disability Retirement application, the entire structure of the application should not be in danger of crumbling; rather, it may be a question which leads to an easy resolution, or a clarification which can be answered, challenged or expanded upon.

That is why time expended at the initial stage of the process before the filing itself — the pre-formulation part of the process, if you will — is important.  Old adages die hard, and thus to be penny wise and pound foolish is perhaps the most appropriate, wisdom-filled statement which proves itself perennially valid.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Misreading the Law

As the old adage goes, a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.  The Bruner Presumption is one of those legal tools which is often misunderstood and misapplied. The legal presumption stems from a Federal Circuit Court of Appeals opinion which basically declared (among other things) that when a Federal or Postal employee is separated from Federal Service for his or her medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, that there is a “presumption” that the Federal or Postal employee is entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management.  

Does this make it a certainty that one will receive an approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application from the Office of Personnel Management?  No. Does it enhance the chances of obtaining an approval from the Office of Personnel Management?  Maybe.  

One must remember that the Office of Personnel Management, at least for the first 2 stages of the process, does not assign attorneys as Case Managers to review a Federal Disability Retirement application.  As such, relying too heavily on the “Bruner Presumption” would be a mistake.  Further, to wait for the agency to terminate you based upon your medical inability to perform your job so that you can argue that you “have the Bruner Presumption” would be foolhardy.  It is a legal tool.  In order to use it, you must apply it in the right manner.  It would be like using a screwdriver to open up a can of peas.  As another old adage goes:  “Leave it to the professionals“. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Differing Perspectives

The old adage, “Walk in your fellow man’s shoes for a mile” is a saying which is meant essentially to teach a child (and many adults) to have a different perspective than one’s own, self-centered universe.  In practicing law, it is a good idea to attempt to obtain a perspective from the multitude of differing “shoes” — and this is especially important in putting together a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS. 

The gathering of such differing and different perspectives — that of the treating doctor; that of the applicant; that of the Agency (the Supervisor and the Agency in its determination that accommodation or reassignment is not available or appropriate for a given employee, given the particular medical conditions and the type of positional duties of the specific job which the Applicant must perform, as well as taking into account what constitutes “efficiency” in the Federal Service, etc.); and further, that of the Office of Personnel Management. 

It is the job of the Attorney representing a Federal or Postal employee in preparing a Federal Disability Retirement packet under FERS or CSRS, to pull together the various perspectives; write up and prepare, and gather the information from the multiple and differing perspectives; to neutralize those perspectives which may impact negatively upon the Federal disability retirement application; then to present the fullness of the different perspectives such that it meets the legal criteria and “perspective” of the Representative from the Office of Personnel Management:  that “ultimate” perspective which determines a “yes” or “no” in determining the viability of a Federal Disability Retirement Application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The OWCP Danger of Complacency

I have had far too many calls by individuals who were complacent with being on OWCP/DOL temporary total disability compensation. The old adage, “Ignorance of the law is not an excuse”, is still generally true. It is the responsibility of the Federal or Postal employee to file for Federal Disability retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS in a timely fashion — within one (1) year of being separated from Federal Service.  The fact that an individual is on the rolls of Worker’s Comp, receiving Worker’s Comp, receiving a scheduled award, going through rehabilitation or job retraining does not protect or extend the Statute of Limitations of 1 year.  Many people, especially Postal Workers, become separated from service without being properly notified.  A hint:  If you all of a sudden stop receiving those “Zero-balance” pay checks, chances are, you have been terminated & separated from service.  The burden is on the Federal employee to keep on top of things:  ask for your PS Form 50, or SF-50, whichever the case may be; call your agency on a regular basis to make sure that you are still on the rolls of the Agency.  If you have been separated from service, a personnel action should have been initiated.  From that moment — when you have been separated from Federal Service — you have one — I emphasize and reiterate — ONE YEAR from the date of separation from Federal Service to file for disability retirement benefits.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: Applicant’s Statement of Disability

In most instances, when I am asked to represent an applicant at the Reconsideration Stage, after he or she has attempted to obtain an approval at the Initial Stage without an attorney, I find that the prevailing mistake made is the exaggerated verbosity of the statement itself. The old adage from Shakespeare, which (I know) is too often quoted (and misquoted), from Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2, where Queen Gertrude responds by saying, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks,” is indeed appropriate and applicable to this issue.

While the applicant’s statement of disability must be detailed, complete, and accurate, it must not be “overstated”. It should reflect the factual and medical integrity of the medical opinions and findings as delineated in the medical records, documents and notes; it should never exceed the medical evidence in assertions, claims or scope. Overzealous self-advocacy is often the problem in cases of disability retirement where the disabled individual represents him or herself. To this, of course, another common adage is applicable: “A person representing himself in court has a fool for a client.”

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire