Misnomers and the OPM’s Disability, Reconsideration & Appeals Division

The problem with misnomers is not just the inaccuracy of designation which is either explicitly or implicitly conveyed, but the unintended consequences of the string of reactions and responses which can occur as a result thereof.  Sometimes, interpretive mistakes occur purely on a subjective basis; in which case it is not truly a case of a misnomer, but rather merely the misunderstanding by the recipient of the information.  Other times, a word or designation can be open to multiple meanings, where reasonable people can differ on the inferences to be made.

For Federal and Postal employees who have filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether the Federal or Postal Service employee is under FERS or CSRS (such acronyms have specific, esoteric meanings only to Federal or Postal employees, and as such, cannot constitute an objective misnomer, but rather a potentially subjective one), the complexity of the administrative and bureaucratic process can result in the failure to recognize and properly respond to various misnomers throughout the process.

For example, when a Federal Disability Retirement case is assigned to an Administrative Specialist at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and one receives a letter informing the Federal or Postal Disability Retirement applicant that X is further needed — the identification of the OPM Representative that he or she is from the “Disability, Reconsideration & Appeals Division” is both confusing and a misnomer.

For, the recipient of the letter (and just to receive any correspondence from OPM other than an approval letter or a denial letter is an amazing fact in and of itself) can well infer from the designation that his or her Federal Disability Retirement application has already been denied without notification (i.e., because it is in the “Reconsideration & Appeals Division”). In fact, all cases fall under the aegis of “Disability, Reconsideration & Appeals” section of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Misnomers may be unintended. It is the recipient and the responder who must, unfortunately, live with the consequences.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: The Issue of Discretion

A Federal or Postal employee who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS may also be undergoing concurrent disciplinary proceedings, or engaged in corollary grievances, EEO Complaints, or involved in a lawsuit in a separate forum, either in the Federal Circuit Courts or at the Merit Systems Protection Board.  

In either event, the question often comes to the fore as to whether such collateral issues should be brought up in the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (SF 3112A) or perhaps in a legal memorandum or cover letter which argues the merits of the case, the legal basis for eligibility, etc.  The answer to the question as to whether, how and where is one of discretionary choice, and there is never a singular answer.  

A separate question to be asked of one’s self (with no obvious answer) is whether or not, if the applicant who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS does not bring up the fact of a collateral issue being litigated in a separate forum, will the Agency bring it up and discuss it in a way detrimental to the Applicant, and further, will the fact that the issues was not brought up make it appear as if the Applicant is somehow trying to hide the issue?  As with all such hypotheticals, the answer to all of the above is:  It all depends…  

Often, not mentioning a potential “red flag” until and unless it becomes a red flag is the best approach.  Sometimes, making a passing reference to the collateral issue may be appropriate.  In all instances, unless a connection can be made between the collateral issue and the issues central to a Federal Disability Retirement application — the medical basis and the impact upon one’s medical inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job — it is normally best to leave it alone.  In any case, such discretionary decisions should be made with the advice of an attorney.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The Irony of Favorable Laws

In certain areas of “the law”, statutes, regulations and case-laws have developed which tend to favor the individual seeking to obtain a benefit through such laws.  For the Federal or Postal Worker who is seeking Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, one could easily argue that the laws governing the process of seeking Federal or Postal Disability benefits from the Office of Personnel Management “favor” the applicant.  

Think about it:  a Federal or Postal worker (under FERS) needs only 18 months of minimum eligibility; light duty, or modified duties, do not preclude one from obtaining Federal Disability Retirement benefits; one has up to a year after being separated from Federal Service to file for the benefit; a Federal or Postal Worker who suffers from a medical condition only has to show that it prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job; one does not need to show “total disability”, but only disability as to one of the critical elements of one’s job; and so on.

The irony of such “favorable” laws governing Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS is, however, that such favor often invites greater scrutiny.  Thus, the fact that the substantive laws governing a legal process may provide an advantage to the seeker, does not in any way mean that the process itself is any easier.  On the contrary, one could argue that because the substantive laws governing a legal process favor the applicant, that the process itself is made all the more difficult.  Such ironies often arise in various facets of life, and it certainly seems to be the case for Federal and Postal workers seeking to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire