FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Legal Tools

Few disciplines and classes of artisans create their own tools.  Musicians do not fashion their own instruments; accountants do not produce calculators or computers; painters do not manufacture their own brushes.  The blacksmith does, however, form and mold his own ironworks.

Similarly, the lawyer formulates the tools upon which he crafts his arguments; for, as most Judges are lawyers themselves, and the vast majority of legislators are also attorneys, so the statutes which are issued, and the judicial opinions which are rendered, are analogously “created” by those who are members of the class identified as “lawyers”.  Once created, it is how the tools are used which makes all the difference.

In Federal Disability Retirement law, the multiple tools available must be utilized for the very purpose of their making.  Thus, application of the Bruner Presumption must be invoked where appropriate, and “stretched” to their logical extension wherever possible; the “Trevan” rule concerning SSDI approvals should be pointed out whenever it has been approved during the process of waiting for a decision on a Federal Disability Retirement application; and the restatement of the applicable legal criteria in Henderson v. OPM should be emphasized when OPM attempts to misinterpret the applicable statutory criteria in being eligible for Federal Disability Retirement as requiring a 1-to-1 ratio between medical conditions and positional duties; and multiple other legal tools.

The issue of “where” a tool was manufactured, unless poorly constructed, is rarely one of importance or relevance; rather, it is how the tool is applied which is the issue of greater import and significance.  For it is precisely the “how” and the efficacy of the utilization of a tool which results in the intended consequences of such use.

For the blacksmith, a well-fitting horseshoe; for the accountant, a tax savings; for the artist, a masterpiece; for the lawyer, a victory.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: The Legal Standards

Recent decisions issued by the Full Board of the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board — specifically, Henderson v. OPM, decided on January 31, 2012, reestablishes the two general standards of applicable evidentiary approaches in proving a Federal Disability Retirement case, whether under FERS or CSRS.  Whether or not the U.S. Office of Personnel Management will “comply” with the applicable standards as set forth by the MSPB is another question.

Often, the “trickle-down” effect of a legal opinion can take years to accomplish — and by that time, further refinements by the courts and by the MSPB may have made such legal opinions moot, irrelevant or otherwise restrictive in its practical application, anyway.  For the time being, however, the two legal approaches can be generally stated thus:  One must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence in all Federal Disability Retirement cases, either (A)  That certain specific medical conditions prevent one from performing certain specific essential elements of one’s job (somewhat like a 1 – 1 correspondence, or more generally, a medical opinion showing that medical condition X prevents job duties Y because of Z) or (B) as stated previously in Bruner and multiple other cases, there is an “inconsistency” between one’s medical condition (or multiplicity of medical conditions) and the type of positional duties one must engage in to perform the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal job.

The former criteria to satisfy may be deemed “particularized”; the latter may be seen as a more “generalized” approach.  While there is certainly a conceptual distinction between the two, in pragmatic terms, such a distinction may be without too much difference, if only because doctors will often go back and forth between the two approaches, anyway, in writing a medical narrative report.

The conceptual distinction is not as apparent as one between “explicit” and “implicit”, but certainly the former approach encapsulates a greater specificity of detailing a connection between X and Y, whereas the latter requires the reader or reviewer (i.e., OPM or the Administrative Judge) to think through and analyze the entirety of the issue.  But that life would not be so complicated.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Annotating the Record

It is always important, in contemplating a Federal Disability Retirement application either under FERS or CSRS, to annotate the record where possible.  Remember that the Merit Systems Protection Board has previously found that “an appellant’s application for disability retirement in the face of an impending removal for misconduct may cast doubt upon the veracity of his application.” Henderson v. OPM , 109 MSPR 529 (2008).

As such, in preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application, a successful outcome may depend upon a “war of memorandums” between the applicant and the Agency.  If the Agency is attempting to remove a Federal or Postal employee based upon “performance” or “conduct” issues, without regard to any medical evidence submitted to the agency, and thereby attempting to characterize the absences, the lack of productivity, warnings and suspensions as mere intransigence and insubordination, then it is important to annotate the record and memorialize the contacts, the submissions, etc., by writing confirming emails, letters, memorandums, etc., where the agency was informed about the medical conditions, which medical documents were submitted, to whom they were submitted, and even the content (perhaps in summary form) of what the doctor has stated.  The only way to remove a shadow of a doubt is by allowing the sunlight in (sorry for the trite analogy/metaphor).

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire