Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The Corresponding Bridge

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the Federal or Postal employee must always keep in mind the overriding connection throughout the entire administrative process — the correspondence between the medical condition and one’s positional duties.

Thus, redundancy and reiteration of the impact and connection between the two elements should be seen at every turn — in the medical reports; in the applicant’s statement of disability; in the Supervisor’s Statement (if possible); in the SF 3112D, Agency Efforts for Reassignment and Accommodation, etc.  

As Social Security bases its decision in determining the disability of an applicant upon factors which involve the medical condition itself and its impact upon daily living abilities, so Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS takes a different focus and approach:  it emphasizes and evaluates the necessary connection between the medical condition one suffers from, and the impact upon one’s positional duties in the official slot held by the Federal or Postal employee.  

As the law focuses upon that “necessary connection,” so the evidence which is presented to the Office of Personnel Management, in meeting the legal criteria by a preponderance of the evidence, must emphasize and repetitively, where possible, delineate such a connection.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: A Bridge Too Far

The step-by-step process which the Federal or Postal employee must engage in for purposes of formulating an effective Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, is defined by the bridge, or “nexus”, which one must formulate, connecting the two separate entities:  on the one side are the medical issues; on the other, one’s positional duties which one has been engaging in and successfully performing all these many years for one’s agency or the U.S. Postal Service.  

The job of the potential Federal Disability Retirement applicant is to bring the two separate and distinct entities together, by preparing and formulating a connecting “bridge” or “nexus” between the two.  This is because one of the most important evidentiary showings that one must prove, by meeting the legal standard of “preponderance of the evidence“, is that the Federal or Postal employee is no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s official positional duties.  

The problem with any such bridge which must be constructed and carefully formulated, however, is that many Federal Disability Retirement applicants put forth too much information, to the extent that some information may in fact defeat or otherwise damage the connection, by providing information which may be irrelevant (less damaging, but creates peripheral problems and confusion), of ancillary legal issues (may be more damaging, depending upon whether the Federal Disability Retirement applicant has brought in work-related issues which may point to a description of “situational disability”); or, provide information on certain medical conditions which contradict other information provided (again, often more damaging to a case).  

It is always important to provide enough information to the Office of Personnel Management to meet the burden of proof, of a preponderance of the evidence, in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application; too much information will sometimes be damaging; too much of the wrong kind of information may be very damaging.  As the title of the well-known book implies, one must be careful not to construct a “bridge too far”.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: OPM’s Standard of Proof

In reviewing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the mandate of burden is determined both by statute and regulation, and the Merit Systems Protection Board reiterates the burden of proof in each of its decisions — that of proving one’s case by a “Preponderance of the Evidence“.  

This is a relatively low standard of proof — of showing that one is eligible and entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS based upon a showing that, with all of the evidence considered, it is more likely than not that the Federal or Postal employee has shown that he or she cannot perform, because of one or more medical conditions, one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  

There is often a question as to whether this same standard of evidentiary showing applies to the Office of Personnel Management, and this question is posed because of the statements made in many of the denial letters (which then prompts a necessary request for Reconsideration, or an administrative appeal to the 2nd Stage of the process; or, if denied at the 2nd Stage — the Reconsideration Stage — then an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board) issued by the Office of Personnel Management, to wit:  The evidence you submitted did not show a “compelling” reason why you could not…; The medical evidence did not show that you had to be “excluded from the workplace completely”; and other statements which seems to require a higher showing than that of “preponderance of the evidence“. 

OPM is supposed to follow the same standard of proof — that of preponderance of the evidence.  Sometimes, they need to be reminded of it.  

However, inasmuch as the safety mechanism for review of an improper standard is an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, such a reminder often must take the form of an appeal.  Without the appeal basis, the Office of Personnel Management can ignore the relevant statutory burden of proof.  But then, that would not be the first time that an agency acted in a non-compliant manner.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Applying the Legal Standard

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application with the Office of Personnel Management, it is important to understand the legal criteria of “preponderance of the evidence”, to attempt to meet the legal criteria; to state and argue that the legal criteria has been met, and to reiterate and show how the legal criteria has been met.

Thus, as the Office of Personnel Management is a bureaucracy with multiple levels replete with clerical and administrative staff, it is important to present, to show, to reiterate, and to affirm:  the point to get across must be established in a succinct, effective, efficient manner, but it must be firmly established.

“Preponderance of the evidence” can be quite subjective, but within the context of such subjectivity, it encompasses the conceptual analogies of:  X is more likely than not; the quantitative weight of the evidence shows that the burden of proof has been met; the qualitative whole has proven that one is entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits; the compendium of evidence, both medical and supporting, shows that Mr. Y’s medical condition does indeed prevent him from performing one or more of the essential elements of his job; and similar conclusions to be reached as a result of the entirety of the evidence presented.

Of these analogies noted (which is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but merely an attempt to illustrate the meaning of the concept of “preponderance of the evidence”), the one which is most dangerous for people to embrace, is the “quantitative weight” of evidence.  For, ultimately, gathering a thick stack of medical documentation is the easiest way to put together a Federal Disability Retirement application, but the least effective.  And in the end, it is effectiveness which we seek, and not ease of completion.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Attorney

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: OWCP & OPM

The distinction between the Office of Workers’ Compensation Program (OWCP) and Federal and Postal Disability Retirement benefits under either FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is one which must be clearly made so that a Federal or Postal worker does not confuse the two; for, in confusing the two, there are numerous instances in which the Federal or Postal worker believes that he/she is receiving one or both — as the Statute of Limitations has already run out or is about to run out.  OWCP is a separate, distinct, and independent benefit from OPM Disability Retirement benefits.  

It is administered by the Department of Labor, and is designed to provide for temporary compensatory benefits based upon an on-the-job injury (as opposed to the issue being “neutral” and irrelevant in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS), or an occupational illness or disease, and is meant to allow for a period of time in which the injured Federal or Postal Worker can recuperate or become rehabilitated, then return back to work.  There is no designated time-frame as to how long a medical condition must last (whereas for OPM Disability Retirement benefits, a medical condition must last for a minimum of 12 months).

The distinctions are important to keep in mind for many reasons, if merely to understand that a person who has filed for OWCP benefits has NOT concurrently satisfied the filing requirements for OPM disability retirement benefits.  One must affirmatively file for,and prove by a preponderance of the evidence, that one is eligible and entitled to OPM disability retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  Complacency in the receipt of OWCP payments may shockingly come to an end one day; it is a good idea to prepare, formulate, and file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

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