OPM FERS/CSRS Disability Retirement: The Law & Life’s Pragmatic Reality

In a Federal Disability Retirement case, one of the ways to establish the nexus between one’s medical condition and the inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, is to show a “service deficiency”. But as most Federal and Postal employees systematically receive satisfactory or higher ratings of workplace appraisals, and are passed through without thought in order for managers and supervisors to avoid contentiousness and adversarial encounters with their employees, it is rare that anyone can show poor performance and tie such a service deficiency to one’s medical condition.

Does one need to go to the supervisor and point out the service deficiencies and ask that the supervisor rate him or her as sub-par?  No.

Does one have to grieve or contest a superior appraisal?  Again, the answer is, No.

The intersecting contradiction between law and life often manifests itself in such circular absurdities.  But how the law is read; the knowledge of a myopic understanding of the law without the greater context of the entirety of the evolution of case-law opinions and further expansive interpretation of the originating statute, can leave one to believe that the law makes no sense, and fails to reflect the pragmatic issues of reality.

Hint:  Most Federal and Postal employees do not have a service deficiency; but since Federal Disability Retirement rules, regulations and statutes require that one’s medical condition must last for a minimum of 12 months, does that mean that one must show a devastation of one’s work ethic for a full year before you can even file?  No.

The conflict between law and the pragmatic reality of life is merely an apparent one; once the truth is unraveled, there really is no conflict at all, internal, apparent, or otherwise, and Medical Retirement applications submitted to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, in fact reflects the reality of life quite well.  One needs to merely figure out and think away any such apparent self-contradiction.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: The Only Real Standard

In legal parlance, there are various and multitudinous “standards” — of proof; of evidence; of law, etc.  Some have higher, more stringent requirements; others are considered fairly de minimis, and can be satisfied with sufficiently targeted evidence.  All, however, share a common thread — that of persuading the trier of facts.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the standard of proof to be applied is one of “preponderance of the evidence”, which is considered a fairly low standard.  However, the only real standard of proof in any case — whether in administrative law, such as Federal Disability Retirement, or in civil litigation, criminal court, etc. — is one of pragmatic reality:  whoever hears the case, it is necessary to persuade the decision-maker.

Obviously, there is a distinction between an onerous standard, such as “beyond a reasonable doubt”, in comparison with a lower standard of proof such as “preponderance of the evidence”.  Whether, if and when, one has met a standard of proof, is not based upon a scientific calculus, and indeed, that is precisely why in closing arguments, an attorney will repeatedly argue that one has met the X-standard of proof, and these Y-reasons are why.

Theoretically, persuasive argumentation is not necessary if the facts themselves prove the argument.  In reality, however, it is the argument which brings the facts together into a coherent whole, and presents them to the viewer within a context and a specific perspective, such that the viewer or recipient of such information and facts can make a logical connection between a disparate conglomeration of facts, and reaches a conclusion that yes, the purpose for providing such facts has met its goal, etc. The key is to argue without seeming to argue.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is important to understand this point of pragmatism:  One can get lost in the morass of legal parlance, and worry excessively about meeting the legal requirements; in the end, it all comes down to presenting an effective, persuasive Federal Disability Retirement packet, such that one receives a letter of approval from the Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The Clash of Theory & Application

It is important in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, to understand, at least on a rudimentary level, the “theoretical construct” of the applicable law, before jumping into the morass of answering questions and gathering the medical documentation for submission of a Federal Disability Retirement application with the Office of Personnel Management.  

The problem with many applications which have been prepared without the assistance of someone “in the know”, is that no effort was expended at the “front end” of the process. Such lack of expenditure at the front end of the process often leads to wasted effort and time at the “back end” of the process.  Or, in old adage verbiage, one has been “penny wise but pound foolish”.  

Theory before application is often discarded because a medical condition has progressively deteriorated one’s ability to wait any longer.  Rarely does a medical condition, whether by slow progression or by catastrophic acuity, allow for the leisure of being an armchair philosopher.  The very nature of a medical condition dictates the necessity of a person’s actions.  Federal and Postal employees don’t desire to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits; the very nature of their medical conditions mandate that they do so, and to end their productive and upwardly mobile careers in a manner unwanted, undesired, and often unexpectedly.  

But theory is always of importance; understanding the law is essential to later success; reading and attempting to understand the “burden of proof”, the legal criteria and requirements, and perhaps even perusing the cases decided by the Merit Systems Protection Board — they are all “front end” helpers.

Just make sure that the “back end” of the application for one’s Federal Disability Retirement is not without support (yes, another double negative, meaning, “with support”), lest the entire process flip over.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Attorney

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

OPM Disability Retirement for Federal and Postal Employees: Administrative v. Adversarial

That is often the line of argument:  Since it is an “administrative process”, it is not adversarial.  This presumes quite a bit — such as, the term “adversarial” is constrained to applying only in such cases where a trial, a courtroom, and witnesses exist.  But if that is the case, then doesn’t that occur in a Hearing before the Merit Systems Protection Board? But that, too, is an “Administrative Process.” 

Such an argument, of course, is often used by Human Resources personnel to attempt to dissuade Federal and Postal workers of the necessity of retaining an attorney to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  Yet, further presumptions & assumptions would have to be made if one were to accept the argument that an “administrative process” is “non-adversarial”, such as:  the personnel who review and evaluate Federal Disability Retirement applications are “objective” and have no interest in approving or disapproving a case (this assumes that having or not having an interest in X makes the process “non-adversarial); or, that the Office of Personnel Management is merely applying the law in reviewing a Federal Disability Retirement application (this presumes that such application of the law is performed and accomplished correctly).  The concept of determining that a process is “administrative” does not exclude the reality that the same process is also “adversarial“; the two concepts are not mutually exclusive, and is not defined only within a universe where there are two or more contrary or opposing interests involved. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Imperfect Law

Law is an imperfect science; indeed, one could dispute the ascribing of law as a “science” at all, except in a generic, loose sense of the word.  Like the sciences, it is an observation and gathering of empirical evidence (“just the facts, please’); like science, it is an application of a hypothesis (proposing an applicable theory of law upon the gathered facts); and like science, the results of applying the hypothetical model upon the empirical evidence must take into account the factors of error, the possibilities of various elements which may impact upon a perfect study (i.e., the personalities and quirks of a jury or a judge, for example).   But that is where the resemblance between science and law end. 

More often than not, the practice of law is nothing more than what Hume’s famous argument concerning causality entails:  repetitive observation of an event does not necessarily result in the same effect the next time around; it is merely experience which guides the observer to predictably conclude certain end-results.  To that extent, administrative law, and specifically Federal Disability Retirement law for Federal employees under FERS or CSRS is no different.  Law, as engaged in actively by an attorney of law, is the acute observation of the facts, the application of the proper hypothetical model, and the combining of both — with the exception of taking into account one’s experience, the experience of past cases, and making discretionary decisions based upon all of the facts and circumstances.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The Law

Technically, the law does not have to be applied at the administrative, agency-level of the Office of Personnel Management.  Let me clarify:  one likes to always think that when an applicant for Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS is filing for the benefit, that the agency which oversees the application will review it with an overarching umbrella of criteria which is governed by an objective foundation deemed as “the law”.  Thus, in a perfect world, one might imagine an efficient line of technocrats sitting in cubicles, all with a reference book containing the relevant laws governing the eligiblity criteria for Federal Disability Retirement.  But that would be in a perfect world; and since such a perfect world fails to exist, what we have is an arbitrary sprinkling of various personnel, who collectively comprise the Office of Personnel Management, some of whom apply the law well, and some of whom apply the law less than competently. 

To some extent, the arbitrary methodology applied at the agency level is counter-balanced with the threat of a review by an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board, followed by a Full Review at the MSPB, then to be further appealed to at the Federal Circuit Court level; but it is nevertheless sometimes disconcerting that, at the Agency level, this peculiar animal called “the law” is not uniformly applied in all cases, at all times.  And sometimes rarely.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire