Federal Employee Medical Retirement: OPM & the Legal Argument

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, as with all venues of applications, it is important to recognize who the “audience” is, and to appropriately tailor the submission to the targeted audience.  However, when one engages in an administrative process — which involves various levels and stages comprised of multiple administrative and governmental procedures — it is important to always look beyond the initial audience targeted, and prepare for any subsequently receiving entities.

Thus, because Federal Disability Retirement is an administrative process which involves not only multiple levels of personnel at the agency level (i.e., the Office of Personnel Management for the Initial Stage of the determination process and, if denied at the initial level, then the Reconsideration Stage of the process), possessing varying levels of sophistication with respect to recognizing the applicability of legal citations, arguments, precedents, etc., but further, it involves multiple layers of legal arenas (i.e., Administrative Judges at the Merit Systems Protection Board, both at the appeal/hearing stage, as well as potentially for a Petition for Full Review; then, beyond, to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, where one will be before a Judge of the Circuit Court of Appeals) — because of the potential involvement of many such venues, it is important to prepare the initial stage of the application with a view towards addressing the later stages of the process.  

While everyone believes that his or her Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is a “sure thing,” the wise man prepares for every eventuality, and when it comes to having someone at the U.S.Office of Personnel Management review a Federal Disability Retirement application, it is best to consider the possible eventuality of an initial denial.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Basic Elements

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is important for the Federal and Postal worker who is contemplating filing for such benefits to keep in mind certain basic elements before engaging in the entire process:  

First, it is a long and arduous process, involving multiple stages (potentially) and requiring a great amount of patience.  

Second, the Federal or Postal employee should mentally expunge from one’s mind any view that Federal Disability Retirement is an entitlement — it is not.  The conceptual distinction between an “entitlement” and a “benefit” should be clear from the outset.  The former requires one to simply satisfy certain requirements in order to obtain the benefit; the latter requires that one prove all of the legal criteria, and submit evidence showing that one is eligible by a preponderance of the evidence.  The former requires nothing more than meeting certain basic requirements, which are normally automatic (age, for example); the latter mandates that one prove one’s eligibility.  

Third, there is almost never a “slam dunk” case, where one merely gathers the most recent medical records and reports, fills out the forms, and sends in the application.  Yes, there are certain limited cases, perhaps — i.e., of a Letter Carrier or a Special Agent who becomes bedridden — but these are rare and unique cases, and even then, it is still possible that the Office of Personnel Management will find a reason to deny such a case.  

Fourth, one must always prepare a case both for success at the First Stage of the Process, while at the same time laying the foundation for subsequent stages of the process.  

And Fifth, one should attempt to avoid inconsistencies, both internal and external, in the application, as OPM always targets inconsistencies as the basis for a denial, and likes to extrapolate and use such issues to base their denials.  

These are just some basic elements to keep in mind in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

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

Federal Disability Retirement: The Entirety of the Process

There is a common understanding, based upon comments and statements made by people over several years, that when an individual files for Social Security Disability benefits, most such cases are denied at the initial stage.  It is almost understood as an “automatic” denial at the first stage of the process. 

Whether this is true or not or, more importantly, whether or not there are some who get it approved at the initial application stage and therefore betray the truth of such a belief, is besides the point.  What is important is the perception that it is so, and therefore, the approach which individuals take in filing for Social Security Disability benefits is altered and adapted accordingly. 

Similarly, in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, whether or not most cases get approved at the Initial Stage of the Process, or at the Second, Reconsideration Stage of the process, is ultimately besides the point.  It is important to understand and approach the entirety of the administrative process with a proper frame of mind:  a denial at the Initial Stage of the process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS is not the end of the process; rather, it is just the beginning. 

By approaching the entirety of the process with a correct frame of mind — and reference — one can maintain one’s sanity while waiting for the conclusion of the long and arduous process to unfold.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Recognizing the Process & the Necessity for Patience

In filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, it is important to recognize that the entire application endeavor — the initial preparation, formulation and filing; if denied at the First Stage, the ability to file a Request for Reconsideration within thirty (30) days of the denial; the appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board; a further appeal to the Full Board; then, if necessary, an appeal to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals — constitutes a “process”, and one which must be prepared for from the very beginning.  

Recognizing that the entire endeavor is a process will help to prepare one for the long haul — not only in being patient with the Office of Personnel Management at the first two stages of the process, but further, with the Administrative judicial process at the Merit Systems Protection Board; then (if necessary) with the Federal Court system.  Without such recognition, one will only experience frustration and anxiety.  As has been stated many times, Patience is a virtue; as such, Federal and Postal employees must be the virtuous of all classes of people, because of the constancy of patience they must endure.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Each Step is a New Review

There are only one of several ways in which a Federal disability retirement application under FERS or CSRS can be lost: Either a Judge at the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals renders a final opinion denying a Federal or Postal Employee his or her disability retirement, or the Federal or Postal employee simply gives up.  As to the former:  Even then, if the Federal or Postal employee has not been separated from service for more than one (1) year, he or she may file a new application for disability retirement. 

Thus, we are left with the latter:  a disability retirement applicant simply gives up.  By “giving up” is meant:  the next step is not taken; the time-frame within which to file a Request for Reconsideration or an appeal is allowed to “lapse”; or, if an appeal is taken, it is done with resignation and surrender.  Nothing good can come out of such an approach.  Each step of the process in a Federal disability retirement case must be attacked aggressively.  Each step must be looked at as a potential place for a new review. Think about it in reverse:  If you don’t take the next step, then nothing good will certainly happen, so what is there to lose?  Indeed, there are times when a client hires me to file a Request for Reconsideration or an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, and the mere filing of my appearance into the case persuades and convinces the OPM representative to reverse course and grant the disability retirement application.  The point of making such a statement is not to “brag”, but to make the larger point:  good things can happen only if you affirmatively act.  Otherwise, you are left with what King Lear said to his daughter Cordelia, that “nothing can come from nothing”. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Pre and Post

Issues revolving around the initial application stage, during the application stage, and after the approval, are often of equal importance.  This is because the approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS will ensure the financial and economic survival and viability of the Federal or Postal employee.  Thus, in the pre-approval stage of the process, it is often good to engage in some future planning:  How hard will I fight for Social Security Disability?  Will I be getting a part-time job to supplement my income?  Where will I live?  During the process of obtaining disability retirement, there is the long wait, and the ability to remain financially afloat while receiving little or no financial support.  Post-approval, there are issues of the potential for receiving a Medical Questionnaire from the Office of Personnel Management.  Whether the current doctor will continue to be supportive, or will I move and need to find another doctor?  Because getting Federal disability retirement benefits is a life-long process, it is important to get sound legal advice from a competent attorney throughout the process — pre, during, and post process.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Patience During the FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement Process

It is now post-Labor Day Weekend. Summer is essentially over. The Office of Personnel Management will be back in “full force”. The inclination will be to call up OPM and impatiently — imprudently — demand that one’s disability retirement application be reviewed, because it has been sitting on Mr or Ms. X’s desk for the last 90 days. Be cautious of what you request, or demand — because you may get your wish, but with an outcome you do not desire — a denial. I often remark to my clients that if patience is a virtue, then Federal and Postal Workers must be the most virtuous people in the world, because you are the ones who must be most patient — during the years of service you have given, during the process of dealing with a demanding public, and finally, during the process when you need the Federal Government to act quickly — the disability retirement process. Be patient; thereby, be virtuous. Unfortunately, OPM does not have a statutory mandate during the administrative process. If you must call OPM, be courteous in your inquiry, and inquire only if necessary.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire