Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Experience & Secrets

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, there are no “secrets” to the pathway of success (“success” being narrowly defined as receiving an approval from the Office of Personnel Management); rather, there is only the experience of knowing the law, applying the law, stating the facts, creating the nexus between the medical condition and the positional duties which one occupies with the Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service, and understanding the few but important issues which can defeat a Federal Disability Retirement application.

The latter portion, of course, is just as important as the former issues — of knowing the negative consequences of entering certain arenas of issues, despite every temptation to do so. Thus, as have been more thoroughly discussed in previous articles and blogs, focusing upon collateral work-place issues of harassment, discrimination, subsequent EEOC complaints, etc.; of characterization of one’s medical conditions which comes perilously close to being described as “situational”; and some questions concerning accommodations, and especially at the first two stages of the administrative process, where the Office of Personnel Management will often fail to understand the legal distinction between temporary modified duties, and what constitutes a legally viable accommodation — all of these are able to be dealt with through experience and application of that experience.

Very few “secrets” are truly that; rather, the secret to a successful outcome turns out to be rather mundane:  experience, tempered by careful preparation, formulation, and timely filing.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Certainties and Presumptions

Life presents conundrums of certainties and presumptions; the former in order to retain sanity; the latter in order to appear sane.  A certain event is one which is expected to occur because of a natural law, a habitual repetition of reliance, or because the daily routine has engrained it upon our consciousness.  A presumption is a wish for certainty which may not even be rationally-based, but one in which we conclude will likely occur because of past events, contextual probabilities, and a sense that the present should reflect the historicity of the past.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, it is best to establish the strict bifurcation between certainties which are clearly so, and avoid presumptions.

It is certain that Federal Disability Retirement is a process which will likely require multiple stages to obtain; it is certain that the Office of Personnel Management will scrutinize each Federal and Postal employee’s application and find it deficient or inadequate; it is certain that one’s agency will likely be two-faced and feign loyalty and support but act in ways which defy such declarative embracing of the Federal or Postal employee.  Conversely, one should never presume that one’s case is a “slam-dunk”; nor that OPM will make a decision sooner than later; nor that OPM will provide a rationally-based reasoning for denying a case.

Hume and Berkeley aside, we live in a world where cause-and-effect are relied upon, and where the world does not merely depend upon our perceiving it; but certainties should always be tempered with an understanding that Federal Disability Retirement is an administrative process which must be fought for, then protected, and presuming an easy path with any Federal agency is to defy the logic which both Hume and Berkeley took to the extreme.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Extrapolating Carefully from “The Law”

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is important to recognize the major legal cases (those “landmark cases”) from which many other cases derive their foundational basis.  Such cases form the fundamental and overriding criteria of a legal arena, and this is no different in arguing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, either for Federal or Postal employees.  Furthermore, in citing a case to argue for one’s position of eligibility and entitlement, it is equally important to have read the cases carefully, and to argue the merits of an issue persuasively and accurately.  

One of the worst things that a lay, non-lawyer applicant can do is to mis-cite a case or a statute, and its meaning and ancillary conclusions.  For, when the Office of Personnel Management reviews a case and refutes a particular issue, and further points out that a legal precedent or statutory authority has been mis-applied, one’s credibility as to the substance of the application is not only undermined, but further, the viability of one’s legal argument has been subverted.  As such, it is normally advisable to leave the law to lawyers — and in Federal Disability Retirement cases under FERS or CSRS, to leave it to lawyers who specialize in the field. For, to do little or no harm to one’s self is certainly better than to saw off the branch which one has grasped onto, no matter how tenuous the position to begin with.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Sometimes, It’s “The Law”

An assumption is often made that the “Disability Specialist” at the Office of Personnel Management who reviews the Federal or Postal Disability Retirement application understands, comprehends, and applies the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement applications.  Now, such an assumption may be logical and reasonable, to the extent that one thinks (A) that those who aspire to working in a specific specialty have some knowledge or understanding of the specialty, and (B) if a decision is made which involves discussing “the law”, one presumes that the mere discussion of it proves some knowledge of it.  

The problem with such reasoning, however (apart from the popular tripartite acronym which originates from the word “********-u-me”), is that it betrays the facts:  often, from reviewing the denial letters generated from the Office of Personnel Management, it is painfully clear that the administrative specialist, the legal specialist, or whatever other “specialist” designation has been embraced by the worker at the Office of Personnel Management, simply fails to apply all of the applicable laws which govern Federal Disability Retirement applications.  This is understandable, to this extent:  OPM representatives (other than those representing OPM at the MSPB level) are not lawyers, and as such, do not keep up with the latest evolution of the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement issues.  Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing, is another matter altogether.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: Content & Substance

Form, Content & Substance.  Form is the appearance and the general approach & methodology of a Federal Disability Retirement packet; Content is the essence of that which makes up the materials in the packet; and Substance (hopefully) is the “meat” of the packet itself.  Make sure that what is stated is substantive.  

OPM Representatives have multiple cases.  From the perspective of the Federal Disability Retirement applicant, it is a singular case, because it is one’s own case, and the personal nature of such a case makes it of paramount importance.  From the perspective of the OPM Representative, however, it is one of multiple cases, and it is part of his or her job.  If one has to wade through a generous amount of fluff before getting to the content of the Federal Disability Retirement application, the energy expended may be a distraction from a serious review of the substantive content.  A descriptive narrative bridging the medical condition with the type of job one performs is a necessary component; but as between a concise short story and a novella, the former is to be preferred in preparing and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS & CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Reconsiderations

There is a line to be drawn between arguing the law within a boundary of integrity, and arguing the law beyond any reasonable interpretation of the law.  This principle is no less true in administrative law, which is what Federal Disability Retirement law is considered.  I often see non-lawyers make “legal arguments” in an initial application to the Office of Personnel Management, which is then denied, and I then enter my appearance in the case at the Second, Reconsideration Stage of the process.  That is fine — some applicants want to try and save the cost of hiring an attorney, and then decide it is necessary after it has been denied. 

However, as I often explain to clients:  while most mistakes in a Federal Disability Retirement application can be amended or explained, I do not have the magical ability to place “blinders” upon the eyes of the OPM Representative for legal or other arguments or statements made to them at the First Stage of the Process.  While my website and my articles & writings provide a good bit of information on filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, and anyone can use it to his or her advantage, one bit of caution:  Don’t make legal arguments if you don’t fully know what you are talking about.  To do so more often than not results in a loss of credibility, and if your case goes before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board, the Judge may not look favorably upon a case where a spurious argument was made at the initial stage of the process.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire