CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: Some Basics

Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, is an administrative process which one must undergo if a Federal or Postal employee is medically unable to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s position.

It is a benefit which is accessible only if proven; and proof must meet the legal standard of “preponderance of the evidence“, through a tripartite methodology:  Evidence of the existence of a medical condition; the nexus of that medical condition impacting upon one’s ability/inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job; and that such a medical condition(s) cannot be legally accommodated by the agency such that the Federal or Postal employee can perform all of the essential elements of the Federal or Postal job.

While the Federal or Postal employee has up until one (1) year from the date of separation from Federal Service to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, the proof of when the nexus formed between one’s medical condition and the impact upon the position of one’s Federal Service, must have occurred during the Federal Service.

These are just some basics of Federal Disability Retirement law; the complexity, of course, resides in the details, and it is always the details which provide the fodder for an OPM denial.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: “It May Sound Good”

There is the statutory legal criteria which is mandated by law, by case-law, and by regulatory dictum as to the proper application of review in making a determination on a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS.  Yet, the question is whether or not the Office of Personnel Management has applied the proper legal criteria in making its determination, and the answer to such a question can only be evaluated based upon the language which is utilized by OPM in its denial letter. 

An approval letter issued by the Office of Personnel Management is entirely unrevealing, precisely because it is simply a template letter advising the approved Federal Disability Retirement annuitant of the next steps to follow.  However, when a denial letter is issued by the Office of Personnel Management, often the Claims Representative will insert language which “sounds good” and proper, and even convincing — but ultimately, wrong as far as the proper application of the law is concerned.  For example, OPM may assert with unequivocal brevity that there lacks “compelling medical evidence” in the Federal Disability Retirement application.  “Compelling” is not a legal criteria required by statute, case-law, or regulatory dictum.  As such, it is a meaningless word-usage.

Moreover, it is harmful to a case because it means that OPM applied a standard of review which is nowhere found in any statute.  Further, it gives an appearance of authenticity and authoritative credibility where none exists.  What to do about it?  It needs to be addressed and pointed out — but diplomatically.  Diplomacy is nothing more than a forceful rebuttal clothed in the finery of courtesy, but it is a necessary ingredient in establishing the proper tone and tenor of a response to OPM.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Government Employees: The Duration of a Medical Condition

In being eligible for a Federal Disability Retirement annuity from the Office of Personnel Management, one of the basic criteria which must be met for eligibility determination is that a medical condition, its symptomatologies and impact upon one’s ability/inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job, must last for a minimum of 12 months.  

As a practical matter, the medical condition normally lasts for much longer, and is quite often a chronic, progressively deteriorating condition.  If the medical condition is expected to last for a short period of time, then the Federal or Postal employee must seriously consider whether filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is “worth it”, inasmuch as it often takes 8 – 10 months to obtain an approval from the Office of Personnel Management for the First Stage of the process.  

As such, for most Federal and Postal employees who are contemplating preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS, there is an implicit acknowledgement and understanding the the medical condition itself is one of chronicity, debilitating in nature, and often progressively deteriorating.  

The fact that a medical condition must last for a minimum of 12 months, however, does not mean that a Federal or Postal employee should wait for the 12 months to pass before filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  That would, upon reflection, be a cruel absurdity — to have to wait for 12 months, then to file and wait about 10 months before the Office of Personnel Management makes a decision, and all of this, only at the First Stage of the process. No — the legal standard is that the medical condition must be “expected” to last a minimum of 12 months; meaning, thereby, that a doctor can normally make a reasonable prognosis as to the duration, chronicity and future behavior of the medical condition; and this can normally be accomplished soon after the identification of a particular medical condition.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: OPM and the 7-Part Criteria

In any denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the Office of Personnel Management incessantly refers to their 7-part criteria of eligibility, in making their determination as to the legal viability of a case.

The criteria, as stated, can be both helpful, as well as result in a negative determination, for multiple reasons.  To the extent that it extrapolates and extracts from the relevant Code of Federal Regulations, it minimally states the fundamental legal requirements for eligibility of a Federal or Postal employee who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

However, because such a basis only extracts from the originating statutory foundation for eligibility, what it completely ignores is the continually evolving cases which clarify, interpret and define the very terms which constitute the criteria.  To that extent, OPM’s adherence to the strict and narrow application of the original “law” can often result in a negative determination, precisely because such an application ignores the subsequent clarifications which have evolved and progressed from various cases which have been litigated, both in the Federal Circuit Courts as well as at the Merit Systems Protection Board level.

Beware of the 7-part criteria; if followed, it can backfire; if not followed, it can backfire.  The 7-part criteria is a Catch-22 in sheep’s clothing.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement from the Office of Personnel Management: Legal Criteria

There is “The Law” — the originating, statutory authority which is passed by Congress — then, the compendium of the entirety of the legal arena, which includes decisions handed down by Administrative and Federal Judges, which comprise the expanding and evolving interpretation, clarification and extension of “The Law”.  

Unfortunately, in making its decision on an Application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the Office of Personnel Management constrains itself (and its knowledge of the law) to a template based upon a “7-part criteria” which is extrapolated from the Code of Federal Regulations.  

This 7-part criteria is a simplistic and misleading application of the law.  It is not so much that it is an “error” on the part of the Office of Personnel Management to apply such a criteria; rather, it is that, in evaluating and determining the sufficiency, viability, and meeting of the standard of proof of “preponderance of the evidence” of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it simply does not go far enough.  Because the 7-part criteria fails to include the interpretive evolution of the entirety of the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement, it fails by excluding many Federal Disability Retirement applications which are based upon legal criteria which fall outside of the delimited circumference and parameters of what OPM has set forth. 

In short, they are “behind the times” in many instances, and so when a denial is based upon a misapplied criteria, it is important to point out to OPM that X law applies in particular case Y — where “X” is outside of the scope or knowledge of the Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire