Early Medical Retirement for Disabled Federal Workers: Those Important First Steps

It is often the period of initial preparation of a process which is important in setting a solid foundation for the insurmountable security and solidity of a case. That truism is arrived at through retrospective reflection; but when one is frantically attempting to reach the end-goal, the frenzy of trying to get there is the very problem which derails a case.

When the Federal or Postal employee finds that a medical condition impacts and prevents one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, and further, that the Federal agency or the U.S. Postal Service is beginning to voice “grumblings” about one’s performance, to include excessive use of SL or LWOP; or, worse, one finds that a PIP has been issued, and one is thus subjected to the microscopic assessment of one’s work, including the number of times you use the restroom — panic sets in.

But quickly compiling a volume of medical records and hastily submitting a Federal Disability Retirement packet through one’s Human Resources office is the wrong approach.  For, ultimately, it is not one’s own agency which has anything to do with a Federal Disability Retirement application; rather, it is the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, a completely separate agency, which renders a decision on all Federal Disability Retirement applications, whether under FERS or CSRS.

That is why preparing the initial steps in compiling a persuasive Federal Disability Retirement application is crucial; it will determine the later consequences of success or failure.  Thus the age-old adage:  Penny wise but pound foolish; or more aptly, get your ducks in a row early.

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

Federal Disability Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: Which Medical Conditions to List

I am often asked that question — will all medical conditions be listed?  What happens if a medical condition is not listed, but later develops into something serious?  That is the essence of the problem of the unlisted medical condition, of course.  In a FERS or CSRS Federal Disability Retirement application, once the packet is submitted to the Office of Personnel Management and a CSA Number is assigned to it, you are precluded from amending the Applicant’s Statement of Disability by adding further medical conditions.

Thus, the problem in not listing a medical condition (or a symptom thereof) can have exponential significance.  In such a situation, one option would be to withdraw the Federal Disability Retirement application and resubmit it anew.

The loss of time involved, however, is one obstacle which often makes an applicant pause at such a drastic step.  Another problem — one which cannot be overcome — is if you have filed within the statutory timeframe, but the 1-year of separation occurs after you filed your application for Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS.  In that hypothetical, you are “locked in”, because you cannot withdraw your application.  To do so would leave you with no avenue to “refile”, because the 1-year statute has already passed and precludes you from filing again.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: Listing the Medical Conditions (Continued…)

If an individual who has filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS later finds, during the process of waiting for a decision or, between the time of an initial denial and during the Reconsideration Stage or an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board — that a previously unlisted medical condition has worsened, can he “add” that medical condition to his Federal Disability Retirement Application?  Can he file an “amended” SF 3112A, Applicant’s Statement of Disability?  The general answer is, “No”. 

However, one can certainly submit a medical report concerning such “previously-unlisted” medical condition if one can reasonably argue that the previously-unlisted medical condition was in fact listed, right there for everyone (i.e., the Office of Personnel Management) to see.  This issue comes up often enough to be of concern, especially because of the valuable time lost in being forced to “withdraw” an application for OPM Disability Retirement and to start all over again in order to add a “new” medical condition.  To safeguard against such a potential event, it is wise to read through the multiple medical conditions when putting together an OPM Disability Retirement packet, and decide which primary diagnoses to include, and at the same time, to “weave” into the narrative of the description of medical conditions, symptoms and areas of pain which can be reasonably interpreted to encapsulate potentially underlying medical diagnoses which may later become prominent and require greater focal emphasis.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: The Problem with Answering an OPM Denial

A denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management always leaves the applicant and his or her attorney at a disadvantage.  This is because OPM is never answerable to any resulting consequence of a denial; at least, not directly.  Think about it this way:  In the initial application, if an OPM Disability Retirement application is properly prepared and submitted according to, and within the parameters of the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement, one would assume that it should be approved.  If it is denied, then the case is sent to the “Reconsideration” division of OPM — meaning, to another person. 

Now, taking it out of the hands of one OPM Representative into the hands of another, has both the good and the bad mixed together:  the good is that it will now be reviewed afresh by someone else; the bad is that the person who denied the original application has no further responsibility for the denial.  This is true, incidentally, with respect to the Reconsideration Stage of the process; if a second denial is issued, the person who issues the second denial also has no responsibility to answer for the basis given in the denial. 

The “light at the end of the tunnel“, however, comes when it is finally taken up by an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board.  While the AJ cannot hold anyone at OPM responsible for a denial which never should have been, at the very least, when the AJ reviews the record and finds that the previous denials were unfounded or rationally without legal foundation, an immediate recognition of a baseless denial can help the applicant.  Ultimately, rationality and legal integrity has a chance to prevail; it sometimes takes more than one bite at the apple.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Approaches & Decisions (Continuation)

This is not to say that the Reconsideration Stage of the process, in the stage where there has (obviously) been an initial denial, should not retell a narrative; it is to simply point out the differences in where the emphasis should be — or, rather, where I place the different emphasis based upon the stage. 

How I approach each stage, in general terms, is as follows:  The Initial Stage (the initial application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS) focuses upon the narrative of the applicant — the description of the medical condition; the kind of job and the essential elements thereof; the interaction and impact of one upon the other, as well as some initial legal arguments.  If it is denied, then the Reconsideration Stage has a “shift of paradigm” on what should be emphasized.  The Office of Personnel Management will often question the adequacy of the medical documentation.  In that case, one needs to respond in a two-pronged attack:  (perhaps) an updated medical report, but concurrently, an aggressive legal attack upon the legally untenable position of the denial.  This methodology sets up for the Third Stage of the process, in the event that it becomes necessary — the Merit Systems Protection Board.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Denial at the First Stage

I would like to state that none of my cases have ever been denied at the Initial Stage of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits; not only would such a statement be untrue; it would also be unbelievable.  And yes — even the cases that I file on behalf of my clients, get a similarly formatted denial:  a restatement of the criteria for eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement under FERS & CSRS; a discussion with an elaborate reference to doctor’s notes, dates of treatment, targeted extrapolations of statements by the doctors which are not only selectively chosen in a narrow manner to favor the decision of denial, but further, which are often taken out of context.  Some might wonder:  Doesn’t OPM have greater respect for Mr. McGill?  The answer is:  At the First Level, the representative from the Office of Personnel Management is merely making a decision on one of thousands of files, and a template is being used to process and get rid of cases.  However, one must always remember (as I try to remind everyone) that this is a “process”.  A denial at the First Stage of the process is merely part of the greater process.  It is not something to get annoyed at, or concerned about; it is a stage and a decision which must be dealt with, argued against, and rebutted in the proper, rational, legal manner. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Long, Longer & Longest View

I have often spoken of the need to take the “long-term” view in filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS — both in terms of having patience for the inherently long process in terms of time, as well as in terms of preparing a case for not just the First Stage of the process, but further, for the second Reconsideration Stage, as well as for an Appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board.  This “long-term” view is meant to prepare a potential applicant for what it means to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits; to not be overly concerned if you are denied at the first, or even the second stage of the process; and to be prepared financially to weather the “long haul”.  In short, it is meant to prepare the potential applicant for the long, and longer, view of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits. 

It is also necessary, however, to prepare one’s self for the “longest” view — that of maintaining and keeping safe the disability retirement benefits once it is approved — by preparing to be randomly selected every two years or so with a periodic “review” with a Medical Questionnaire.  The Medical Questionnaire is an innocuous looking form, asking for an “update”, and giving you 90 days to respond.  Be cautious.  Be aware.  Take it seriously.  Don’t wait for the 89th day to begin responding to it.  None of my clients who have gotten his or her Federal Disability Retirement benefits has ever lost it; people who have gotten Federal Disability Retirement benefits on their own and have later lost the benefit, have come to me to regain it; I have been successful in recovering the benefit, in every case.  However, it is not always easy — if only because the disability annuitant initially thought that it was an “easy-looking” form.  Preparation for the “longest view” begins not upon receipt of the Medical Questionnaire; it begins at the very, very beginning — when one first decides to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire