FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: The Purposeful Statement

Some narratives are written for the pure beauty of style and art; quiet in tenor, like the bamboo hollow whistling in the serenity of a morning breeze as the sun reaches the crest of the distant mountains, the place where wizards and warlords gather in solemn conferences around a fireplace of cooling ashes.  Then, there are informational pieces — direct lines of communication, shot at the reader like an arrow and with words to pierce the intended audience.

One’s Statement of Disability, written for purposes of inclusion in a Federal Disability Retirement application by the Federal employee or the U.S. Postal worker, and whether the Federal or Postal employee is under FERS, CSRS or CSRS Offset; the admixture of history, story, situation and persuasive argumentation, constitutes the purposeful narrative.  Stories reveal a truism; in the classical sense, a conflict, and an unfolding until it reaches a pinnacle of a resolution.

A statement of disability, written in response to questions posed by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management on Standard Form 3112A, may not yet have a resolution; otherwise, the need for filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits would be somewhat meaningless.

But be not fooled; the narrative as delineated on SF 3112A, in the Applicant’s Statement of Disability, is a story filled with compelling drama and mixed with facts, circumstances, and contextual significance, no less than the great works of literature or the purposeful articles in technical journals and compendiums of esoteric writings; it is just that the particular narration as detailed on SF 3112A pinpoints a select audience, and is written from the soul of a Federal or Postal employee,  reaching out to a nameless bureaucracy in a world where numbers are assigned to faceless and nameless workers who have toiled for years without accolades and ceremonies, but where need is the basis of the written statement submitted for an approval from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: Sounds Good

There are various stages of the administrative process designated and defined as “Federal Disability Retirement” — the initial application stage of the process, where one must attempt to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that one is eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits; if disapproved and denied, then the Reconsideration Stage of the process (where one may submit additional medical and other documentary evidence to persuade the Office of Personnel Management to reverse themselves); an appeal to the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, where the Federal or Postal applicant’s Disability Retirement application is taken out of the hands of OPM and transferred to an Administrative Judge, who will hear the case anew, without regard to what OPM has decided in the past; a further appeal to the Full Board of the MSPB in the event that the Administrative Judge issues an Initial Decision which affirms and upholds OPM’s denial of the case; and a further appeal to the Federal Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Throughout this process, and especially in the administrative stages before the Office of Personnel Management, one should make a distinction between “sounding good” and “being right”.  Hopefully, the Federal or Postal employee who has filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, is both right and sounding good. But there is a distinction to be made.  For example, OPM will often — in their denial letter — “sound good” but be completely wrong on the law.  They will cite medical textbooks which skew the legal standard of review; creep into the discussion of a denial letter such terms as “no significant disability rating to speak of,” or that you don’t suffer from a disability which “incapacitates” you.  It all “sounds good”, but it is not true precisely because it is not the applicable standard of law to be applied.

At the initial stages of the process, OPM can get away with such nonsense, because most people don’t recognize the untrue and inapplicable standard of law being applied.  In the later stages of the process, however, when an Administrative Judge hears a case, it becomes important not only to “sound good”, but to also apply the right legal criteria.

Appearance versus reality — it is the argument of Western Civilization from the pre-Socratics onward.  As Alfred North Whitehead once observed, all of philosophy was already written by Plato and footnoted by Aristotle.  That statement both sounds good, and is indeed right on point.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Systematic Preparation for the Process

As has been stated many time previously, in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management, it is important to view the engagement with the entirety of the application procedure as a “process“, as opposed to a singular event.  

The multiple stages of this administrative process — from the Initial Stage of the preparation and filing; to the Reconsideration Stage (in the event of an initial denial); to the appeal to an Administrative Judge with the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board; to an appeal with a Petition for Full Review (PFR) with the MSPB; and finally to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals — it is a “process” because each of the forums or legal venues cannot be viewed in a vacuum.  

While it is true that a Hearing before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board will receive the information, testimony, and conduct the Hearing as “de novo” — meaning, “anew” or “freshly all over again” — nevertheless, it is quite apparent that the reason why such a stage as having a Hearing before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board is precisely because of the evidence filed in the prior portion of the process, and the one before that.

Thus, retrospectively, one must understand that the Federal or Postal Worker who finds himself or herself in any part of the administrative process, is there precisely because of its interdependence upon a prior, other part of the process.  Therefore, prospectively — looking forward at the start of the process — it is important to recognize this point, and to prepare and formulate one’s Federal Disability Retirement application with this in mind:  that each Stage of the administrative process identified as a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS cannot be viewed in a vacuum, but instead, must always be analyzed with a view from “on high” — meaning, preparing for the potentiality that it will be reviewed and heard before a judge.  

This often changes the perspective, and should give pause to the lay person who believes that his or her case is a mere “slam dunk” which will entail a singular event.  Systematic preparation for the entirety of the process is a perspective worth noting, and such notation may be the needed grammatical mark for a successful and persuasive presentation to the Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Time

Attempting to order life in accordance with a schedule which one has manufactured is often an impossible task to perform; when dealing with a Federal bureaucracy, it is moreover an unwise thing to attempt.  

Preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS necessarily and inherently takes time.  In addition to time, it requires foresight into possible delays, both predictable as well as unintended.  While a general timeline of 8 – 10 months from the start of the process (meaning, the initial gather of the medical documentation and narrative reports, compiling the evidentiary documentation necessary to prepare a case; formulation of the Applicant’s Statement of Disability, etc.) to the time when an approval letter is issued by the Office of Personnel Management in response to the First or Initial Stage of the Process, is a realistic assessment of the time involved, there are multiple events, issues and intervening pitfalls which can interrupt and disrupt such a generalization.  

A cushion of time should always be considered.  More than that, however, the Federal or Postal employee who becomes frustrated with the lengthy process avoids thinking about the months and months of delay and procrastination which was engaged in at the “front end” of the entire process — where, for months and months, the Federal or Postal employee kept putting off starting the process to begin with.  

Remember that preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is a process involving a Federal bureaucracy and, as such, the inevitable virtue of patience must be stored in plentiful quantities, to be harvested during the waiting time.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Early Retirement for Disabled Federal Workers: The Timeline

The timeline is an extensive one.  Beyond the period from start to finish of the initial process (6 – 8 months minimum for just the First Stage of the process, assuming everything goes “right” in receiving prompt responses from the medical providers, obtaining the records; having the agency process everything in a timely manner, etc.), there is then the possibility of a glitch in the process on the part of the Office of Personnel Management.  

Filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management must necessarily entail an acknowledgement and recognition of being prepared for a long and arduous wait.  Then, of course, if the case is denied at the First Stage of the process, one must expect a minimum of 90 – 120 days for the Reconsideration Stage of the process; if it is denied a second time by OPM, then a minimum of 120 – 150 days at the Merit Systems Protection Board.  

Further, if a Petition for Full Review is filed, it can often taken 10 months.  And an appeal to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals?  You don’t even want to consider that…  

As such, when one is preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the operative focus should be upon the first conceptual link in the sequence — “preparing”.  The first order of business in a Federal Disability Retirement application is in mentally preparing for the long haul.  I will reiterate an oft-used quip:  Patience is a virtue; ergo, Federal and Postal employees filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS must by definition be the most virtuous of people.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: The Process of Eligibility

The problem with possessing power is that it must be accompanied by truth, validity and rational foundations, if it is to be effective over the long term.  

In filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, there is the process of proving one’s eligibility by meeting the burden of proof, termed as the “preponderance of the evidence“.  A disagreement can occur during the process, in that the Representative from the Office of Personnel Management can deny the Federal Disability Retirement application.  

Such a denial can occur twice at the OPM level — at the Initial Stage of the process, then at the Reconsideration Stage of the process.  OPM possesses the power to approve or deny each Federal Disability Retirement application.  Often, however, the denial itself fails to be accompanied by a rational discourse which strives to meet the high standards that a Federal Agency should always adhere to — guided by the truth and validity of any claims made in a denial letter.  Too often, the discourse which is the basis of the denial merely regurgitates a series of template-like statements, and then the OPM denies the claim.  

Fortunately, however, OPM is not the only Agency which makes the determination during the entirety of the process.  After the second denial, it then loses its jurisdiction over a case, and an appeal can be made to the Merit Systems Protection Board.  

The integrity of the entire process depends upon the independence of the MSPB in reviewing all such cases, and indeed, the Administrative Judges at the MSPB review each case carefully, with an open mind, and with the proper application of the law.  Each Judge must render a decision which contains the rational basis of a decision, based upon precedents and statutory legal underpinnings.  To have the full benefit of the process is indeed the basis of a system with integrity.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: The Wait Seems Longer

For those waiting for their Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, pending before the Office of Personnel Management, the wait seems to be getting longer and longer.  Whether at the initial stage of the application process, or at the Reconsideration Stage, OPM is taking longer to make a decision on a pending application.  Everyone, of course, wants his or her application to be the next in line; and, indeed, it is all the more frustrating when an applicant is told that a decision will be made “within the next 2 weeks”, and after the 2-week period comes and passes, still no decision. 

What makes it worse is that, even after an approval, there seems to be longer delays in processing the approved application before payment is received.  Further, even after the “interim” payments begin, there appears to be a longer wait before a case is “finalized” for payment processing.  Each period of delay results in a ripple-effect throughout the system as a whole, and indeed, in these economic times of hardship, it  places an even greater burden upon those who need the financial benefit most — those who are disabled, and who rely upon the benefit of disability retirement payments for their very livelihood.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire