Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Algorithms & Human Peculiarities

In maneuvering through the process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, there are potentially multiple stages that one may encounter:  The First Stage of the process — the initial filing; if denied, one has a right to have the denial “reconsidered” by filing a Request for Reconsideration within thirty (30) days of the denial; if denied by OPM a second time, then one has a right to file an appeal to the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, before an Administrative Judge.

There are, beyond the three stages identified, additional appellate stages of the process, including a Petition for Full Review before a 3-Judge panel of the MSPB, as well as an appeal to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.

At each stage of the process, the Federal Disability Retirement application is reviewed and evaluated for sufficiency of proof and satisfaction of the statutory criteria for eligibility; and, moreover, a different person looks at the application at each stage of the bureaucratic process.

Thus, there is no singular algorithm — no application of a computer model which is identical across the board — in the evaluation of one’s Federal Disability Retirement application.  Instead, a different person reviews and evaluates the Federal Disability Retirement application at each stage.  This is probably a positive approach, and one which would be deemed “fair” by any objective standard.  For, while an application of a standard algorithm may be deemed objectively impersonal and unbiased, whereas human beings, in their inherently fallible nature may indeed possess biases and inclinations; nevertheless, it is the peculiarities of human imperfections which are still the trusted traits for procedural determinations.

That is why there is such a hue and cry over the increasing use of video replays and electronic line judges in sports; for some reason, we still trust in the human perspective, as opposed to the cold hardware of computers.  Perhaps, in our collective childhoods, we all became paranoid from watching HAL 9000 in Kubrick’s 2001:  A Space Odyssey.  A shivering thought.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Application of a Neutral Legal Criteria

The application of law upon determination of a Federal Disability Retirement application is based upon a set of criteria which focuses upon the impact of a medical condition on the Federal or Postal employee’s ability or inability to perform all of the essential elements of his or her job.  Thus, it is different from other government programs or compensation benefits, in that it ignores such issues as causality or prima facie accepted medical diagnoses.

Indeed, one can have a serious medical condition and still be denied one’s Federal Disability Retirement application if one fails to show the nexus, or the impacting connection, between the serious medical condition and one’s ability/inability to perform all of the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal job.  In that sense, the applicable legal criteria is neutral in its very essence:  first, the Office of Personnel Management should (obviously) apply the law in a “neutral” manner, without regard to the person who applies, or be influenced in any way by the agency; but, moreover, and more importantly, the law itself is neutral to the extent that it makes no judgment upon the medical condition itself — only upon the medical condition in conjunction with the impact to one’s ability/inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job.

As such, in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the primary focus in attempting to prove this point — both from a medical perspective as well as from the applicant’s approach — should be to emphasize the connection between the diagnosed medical condition and the essential elements of one’s job, and not merely upon the seriousness of the former.  Only in this way can the neutrality of the legal criteria properly assess the viability and force of one’s Federal Disability Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal & Postal Service Disability Retirement: Differing Legal Criteria

Similar benefits, at the State, Local, Private levels, and at the Federal level, each contain differing legal criteria for eligibility. Thus, for instance, Social Security Disability benefits require one set of standards of eligibility; private disability insurance policies require a different set of standards; and state disability benefits often differ from state to state.  This is of course true of Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS and CSRS — where the legal standard of eligibility is different from Social Security, Worker’s Comp, and State or private disability criteria.

Often, a question is asked whether a medical narrative report which is prepared for submission to the Office of Personnel Management can be used for submission for other “similar” benefits.  The short answer is, “It all depends”, but the long answer is that, in most cases, one must be very cautious.  When I represent a Federal or Postal employee under FERS or CSRS, one of the first steps in preparing a viable case is to request of the treating doctors a detailed medical narrative report.  One must understand that the treating doctor has, generally speaking, next to no idea as to the legal criteria that must be met under FERS or CSRS.  Furthermore, the treating doctor has no legal knowledge as to the differences between private disability insurance policies, State, Social Security, OWCP or FERS & CSRS.  It is the job of the Attorney to make sure and guide the treating doctors as to the criteria which must be met as to the particular and specialized field for which the medical narrative is being prepared.  This must be done with care, and with detailed guidance.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire