Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Lawyers and H.R. Personnel

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, one of the peculiar “events” which often erupts and surfaces is the interaction between a Federal or Postal employee, his or her attorney, and the interaction with the Human Resources Department of the particular agency.  

While the reaction of the H.R. personnel is not universal by any means, and while exceptions will surprisingly occur, nevertheless the pattern of recurrences leads one to conclude that there is an undertone of antagonism between the lawyer representing the Federal or Postal employee who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, and the Agency’s Human Resources Department.  

What is puzzling is the following:  (1)  The undersigned writer always attempts to approach all H.R. Personnel with humility and courtesy, with the view that both are working towards the same common goal of assisting the Federal or Postal employee, (2) the very existence of the Human Resources Department of the Agency is predicated upon the notion that they are there to assist the Federal or Postal employee in his or her employment endeavors, including filing for administrative benefits, and (3) since both the attorney and the H.R. Personnel are there to help the Federal or Postal employee, cooperation of efforts would be the natural course of action.  

Unfortunately, in most instances, the very opposite is true.  Whether because the H.R. Personnel believe that an attorney is antagonistic by nature, and therefore must be met with equal force; or because they believe that the attorney is somehow circumventing or undermining the role of the Human Resources’ work and role; nevertheless, it is important for the H.R. Personnel to understand and appreciate that the role of the Attorney in representing a Federal or Postal employee in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application through the Agency (first) and to the Office of Personnel Management (thereafter), needs to be a tripartite effort (the Federal or Postal employee; the Agency; and the attorney), all working together.  

If the Human Resources Department did its job, much of what the representing attorney needs to do would be diminished, and perhaps altogether unnecessary.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Agency Human Resources

Ultimately, of course, as has been stated mundanely by many sources, the most valuable “human resources” which any company, Federal, state or local agency possesses, are the employees which perform the essential elements of all of the myriad of jobs and duties required in order to accomplish the mission of the entity.

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, if the Federal or Postal employee has not been separated from Federal service for more than thirty one (31) days, the entire Federal disability Retirement packet must be submitted through the agency Human Resources office, whether at the local level or the district level, for further processing before being forwarded to the Office of Personnel Management.

Even if the Federal or Postal worker has been separated from Federal service for over thirty one (31) days, the agency H.R. Office still must prepare and complete certain forms for submission to the Office of Personnel Management (e.g., the Supervisor’s Statement — SF 3112B — as well as the Agency Certification of Reassignment and Accommodation Efforts — SF 3112D; Certified Summary of Federal Service, etc.).

Whether, and to what extent, the Human Resources Office is helpful in assisting the Federal or Postal employee in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is always up in the air. The feedback received over many years is one of uncooperative neutrality, at best, and open hostility at worst.

Exceptions to such an observation have certainly been encountered, with a satisfying sense of appreciation that, indeed, some individuals recognize that when the time comes that a Federal or Postal employee must by necessity file for Federal Disability retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, that is NOT the time to abandon the dictum that employees still “count” even though the worth of their work may have been somewhat (and temporarily) diminished.

A constancy of treating the Federal or Postal employee, at any stage of one’s career, is the key to fostering the loyalty of the workforce. Just a thought.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Basic Steps

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is often helpful to know the basic, physical procedural steps of filing.  It is the Office of Personnel Management which has the statutory mandate to make a decision of approval or denial on a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is located in Washington, D.C., with its intake office in Boyers, PA.  Thus, while the latter location is the central processing point where all Federal Disability Retirement applications are forwarded to by the various Agencies across the country, it is the former location which makes the decision of approval or denial on all Federal Disability Retirement applications.  

The various agencies themselves, from all across the United States, must process the applications by all current Federal and Postal employees by filling out certain portions of the application — the Supervisor’s Statement, Agency’s Efforts for Reassignment and Accommodation, Certificate of Service, Disability Retirement checklist, etc.  For Postal employees, the central H.R. Office is located in Greensboro, N.C.  

Once it is processed and routed through the National Finance Office, then it arrives in Boyers, PA where the initial processing of the Federal Disability Retirement packet begins.  From there, it is assigned a CSA Number (for FERS, the number begins with an “8”; for CSRS, it begins with a “4”), and sent down to Washington, D.C.  

For Federal or Postal employees who have been separated from Federal service for 31 days or more, the Federal Disability Retirement application must be filed directly with OPM in Boyers, PA, bypassing one’s former agency.

Some Agencies will have more localized Human Resources departments which comprise varying degrees of helpfulness and assistance; others have centralized H.R. offices with (again) varying degrees of efficiency and effectiveness.  As with all administrative processes in life, it is best to make “human” contact at each stage of the process, wherever possible.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Human Resources Personnel

The problem with relying upon one’s Human Resources department to help in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management (if in fact they are even willing to help, other than to provide the necessary forms — if that) is not based upon their lack of knowledge (some are fairly knowledgeable); rather, they work within the same mindset as the rest of government, and therefore unable to think outside of the paradigm of government regulations, rules, and statutory mandates.  

Furthermore, Human Resources personnel are not lawyers; as such, the moment there is a problem with an application — whether in its substantive presentation, or in the legal criteria which apply to the eligibility of any one Federal or Postal employee — they have a tendency to side with the Office of Personnel Management.  

That is not to say that there are not excellent H.R. Personnel — there are.  But H.R. Personnel are trained to assist in the procedural stream of making sure that the paperwork is all “in order”.  They do not comment upon — and nor should they — the feasibility or substantive credibility of a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS.  

Furthermore, the number of years a person has been a “Human Resources Specialist” is not indicative of the competency of that person in providing any guidance; those who have been in Human Resources often box themselves into a paradigm of repetitive labor, and perform a task “because this is the way it’s always been done”.  That is never a reason to do something, let alone a good reason.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Agencies & SF 3112C

Agencies have an amazing ability to be inquisitive, especially into those areas which really do not concern them.  Often, Agencies will insist that, despite all of the relevant, pertinent, and desired medical documentation already having been attached to a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the applicant/Federal employee “must” sign the Standard Form 3112C (“Physician’s Statement) , which becomes superfluous and irrelevant.  They insist that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) “requires” the form, which is an erroneous statement.  OPM has never required a signed SF 3112C so long as the Federal Disability Retirement application is accompanied by sufficient medical documentation to support the application.  Sometimes, the insistence by the Agency is merely based upon ignorance; other times, it is based upon an administrative and bureaucratic inflexibility to longstanding “procedures” which the Human Resources personnel cannot adapt to, or change, because “this is the way we’ve been doing it for X number of years”.  Still, there is a suspicion that in some instances, the “requirement” of SF 3112C is because of a more nefarious reason:  The Agency wants full access to all medical records, notes, treatment notes, etc.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Not all Agencies are Equal

No names will be named.  Not for purposes of “protecting the innocent”, because it is doubtful that there are any innocent entities, anyway.  Rather, the knowledge that there are some agencies which are worse than others, is widespread knowledge, anyway; and, indeed, if the agencies are “outed”, it would merely be a redundancy to name them.

There are Agencies which, when the name is spoken, it sends shivers down one’s spine, because of the mean spiritedness, the uncooperative attitude, and the sheer incompetency of the Human Resources Department which is designated to process a Federal Disability Retirement application.

Then, there are agencies where the H.R. Department — no matter who in the department is contacted — goes out of their way to assist throughout the entire process. They understand the traumatic nature of a Federal or Postal employee filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS. They realize that the designation, “Human” and “Resources” and “Department”, when taken collectively, means that it is the point where employees come to in order to obtain assistance, to engage in a process which may be very personal, and that the resources sought after require the understanding and compassion of individuals.

Ponder that for a moment — that one’s job may entail, as part of the “essential elements of one’s job” — a showing of understanding and compassion.  Imagine that.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: On the Other Hand

On the other hand, there is no such thing as a “lost cause” case.  To assert such a conclusion would be to presumptively admit defeat.  In Federal Disability Retirement cases, there is always a good chance of prevailing, whether or not a mistake was made; whether or not a doctor annotated, on a particular day in a moment of hope, that the patient showed “hopeful improvement”.  Yes, it is the job of the Office of Personnel Management to cling onto such peripheral statements, and to magnify such statements such that they appear to encompass the essence of the medical condition.

It is always with some amusement that I hear an agency Human Resources person state something to the effect of:  “Well, you know, Mr. McGill, this is not an adversarial process.  We and the Office of Personnel Management are merely here to determine the eligibility of the Federal worker, and to make sure that he or she fits the criteria.”

Not an adversarial process?  Is the Office of Personnel Management “there” to help you?  Is that why, in their template denial letters, they latch onto the most peripheral of issues and emphasize those points which allegedly present a problem, and ignore the rest of the medical evidence?  Any Federal or Postal employee who is contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS would be wise to see the entire Federal Disability Retirement process as one of an “adversarial process”.  If you don’t, you proceed at your own peril.  On the other hand…

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire