Federal Employee Medical Retirement: The Bureaucratized Process

One cannot expect any entity, organization, or group of individuals to reinvent the wheel for each product, service or response; streamlining and repetitive conformity of a product, issuance or completion of a case is the way of the world; it is how the Model T became a successful capitalistic venture; it is how China dominates the world of marketing.  But in the world of Due Process, one cannot formulate a mass production of effective advocacy without trampling upon the rights of an individual.

Thus, on both sides of the process of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, each case must be responded to in accordance with the specific, unique facts as constrained by the individual circumstances.

Conversely, one should expect — and demand of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management — that something more than a mere template of a response should be issued, after a careful and thorough review of a Federal Disability Retirement application.

If a FERS or CSRS Disability Retirement application is approved by OPM, then of course one can expect merely a letter of approval which is identical to thousands of others.  If denied, however, the denial letter should reflect a careful, thorough and individualized letter, reflecting the scrutiny of one’s particular disability retirement packet.

Anything less would be to trample upon one’s due process rights as a Federal or Postal employee.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Initial Application, Reconsideration & MSPB Appeals

Each Stage of the process in attempting to obtain a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS offers a distinct, yet similar, challenge.  Do not be fooled by responding to a “template” approach; while the Office of Personnel Management may respond in an indifferent, antiseptic manner, a Federal or Postal employee who must respond to OPM’s denial at each stage of the process must pinpoint what OPM is looking for, and respond appropriately.  Indeed, it is the distinction which one observes, which makes all of the difference in the case.  

Often, it is clear that OPM’s denial at the Initial Stage of the process, as well as a denial at the Reconsideration Stage of the process (which then compels an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board), is merely a regurgitation of thousands of previous denial letters, with some minor insertions which are meant to appear “as if” the denial letter has been tailored to a particular case.  

Thus, references to a particular physician’s letter, and even extrapolating a quotation from a doctor’s note or narrative (often something like, “Your doctor stated that you were recovering well from your surgery,” or “Your psychiatrist stated that the medications were working”) have the effect of personalizing a denial letter.  Yet, the remainder of the denial letter is in an antiseptic, template form, and it is clear that you are merely one of hundreds & thousands of responses written by OPM’s representative.  However, while OPM has the power to generate such template-driven denials, the individual Federal or Postal Worker must respond in an independent, individualistic manner.  It must be based upon one’s particular case, and thus the response must not be a “generic” one, but one based upon the uniqueness of the case.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Expectations

One would expect that there would be a correlative input of effort on the part of the Office of Personnel Management, something like a 1-to-1 ratio of effort reflecting the amount of care put into formulating, preparing, and submitting a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, with the ratio being met by a corresponding amount of effort on the part of OPM.

If only for the sake of appearance; to give some justification, some acknowledgement of the medical reports submitted; of the time expended in preparing the Applicant’s Statement of disability, etc.

One would expect — or at least, should expect, in a denial letter issued by the Office of Personnel Management, enough of an indicator that the OPM Representative reviewed all of the medical reports, and attempted to remain objective.  Yet, more often than not, a mere paragraph is issued, with a great percentage of that paragraph a regurgitation of a template from multiple other decisions.

Expectations are often nothing more than an imaginary line where one perceives a professional standard to be; but, more often than not, only to have the expectation set at a standard of performance too high to achieve.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: Responding to the Template Approach

While the Office of Personnel Management issues template approvals and denials, what must the individual applicant who receives such a template denial, do?  Obviously, it cannot be a “template” response, because any response by an individual applicant is going to be an individualized response.  Often, however, OPM’s response takes a shot-gun approach in denying a Federal Disability Retirement application — it uses every device in its template, touching upon every issue and sub-issue, without any apparent (or obvious) rhyme or reason.  Whether purposeful or not, the extent and quantity of reasons for denial become almost insurmountable, and unable to “sort out”. 

One thing that a Federal Disability Retirement applicant should not do, is to take the denial letter to his or her doctor to respond to.  It will only confuse the doctor.  Instead, the denial letter must be reduced to a comprehensible set of criteria which can be answered.  Sub-sets of issues need to be identified and consolidated; the minor (but often irritating) references to peripheral issues, often touched upon but of no real consequence, must be ignored; and the focus must be placed upon the central 2 or 3 issues which seem to be the overriding concerns in the denial letter.  In other words, the denial letter must be deciphered and extracted to be “made sense of”.  Only then can OPM’s template denial letter be answered — with reason, aggressive attack, and a rational grounding in the law.  In other words, irrationality must be met with clarity of mind.

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