Federal Employee’s Disability Retirement: The Non-standard Approach to Standard Forms

Standard Forms are created, produced and promulgated precisely for their stated and intended purpose:  to streamline and conventionalize (yes, that is really a proper word, and spellcheck did not put a red line beneath it) the formatted receipt of information by an agency of the Federal Government.  Without Standard Forms, there would be no confining methodology of what to say, how to say it, and how much to say it.

The theory behind standard government forms is simple:  By providing the space, the questions and the apparent limitations, ease of processing will be expedited.

Of course, in pragmatic terms, the reality behind the theory is that Standard Forms create an intended limitation on space, as well as the content of what a person states or desires to state.  Yet, by self-confining the answers and information provided, the applicant for Federal Disability Retirement is essentially depending upon government lawyers to properly interpret what the statute for eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement requires.

While staying somewhat within the confines of what the Standard Forms request is a “good” thing (for Federal Disability Retirement purposes, SF 3107 series for FERS applicants; SF 2801 series for CSRS applicants; SF 3112A, SF 3112B, SF 3112C, SF 3112D, and SF 3112E for both FERS and CSRS applicants), it should not limit or otherwise prevent the submission of relevant information.  “Relevancy”, of course, is a relative term, and should be noted and applied by those who understand the statutory underpinnings of the legal requirements for a successful Federal Disability Retirement application.

Ultimately, one should approach the standardization of the administrative process called “Federal Disability Retirement” as merely a piece of the larger puzzle, and not be precluded from submitting non-standardized information in an effort to prevail in the preparation, formulation and filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS, from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Proving the Standard

In approaching how to prove a Federal Disability Retirement case, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is best to try and meet a higher standard of proof, and not be lulled into thinking that because the applicable standard of proof is the lower “preponderance of the evidence” standard, that the mere necessity of proving one’s case is reflective of that standard.

Standards of proof on a theoretical level are for academics; in the practical world of law, one must actually persuade and convince the individuals who are authorized to approve a Federal Disability Retirement application, that the Federal Disability Retirement application merits an approval.  This would include the personnel at the Office of Personnel Management, as well as an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board.

One can shout all one wants that the standard of proof needed in a Federal Disability Retirement case is the “preponderance of the evidence,” and that all that is necessary to meet that standard is that X is more likely to be true than not.  However, in the “real” world of law, people, and persuasive authority, one’s case should always strive to meet the highest standard — that it is so persuasive that the deciding authority has no choice but to approve the case.  For, as the higher standard logically subsumes all lower standards, the inverse is not true, and the interpretation of what constitutes meeting the “preponderance of the evidence” test can have a wide margin of error.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Double Standards

Double Standards have always been applied throughout history; it is the mark of a bureaucracy and administrative process to apply one set of standards (normally, the prevailing legal criteria) upon the population at large, but be satisfied with an application of a different (albeit normally a less onerous) set of standards (a “watered down version”?) upon itself.  

Thus, in a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS, there are multiple self-contradictions and conundrums which cannot ultimately be reconciled, but must be lived with, but perhaps pointed out to the Office of Personnel Management in one’s rebuttal arguments.  For instance, when a denial is received from the Office of Personnel Management, the set of legal standards applied in the denial letter will often require multiple criteria which fails to comply with the substance of the law.  Thus, for example, the insistence upon “objective” medical testing; higher standards of proof than the prevailing “preponderance of the evidence”, such as “compelling evidence”; a medical condition which keeps a person “out of the workplace”; and other such standards which are nowhere to be found in “the law“.  

In parallel fashion, the Office of Personnel Management will often rely (without directly stating so or quoting from their “expert” source) upon “contract doctors” to render an opinion.  The puzzling contradiction here, of course, is the fact that while the law favors “treating doctors” and the opinions of treating doctors, nevertheless, if a “contract doctor” who merely reviews the medical documentation renders a negative conclusion, then OPM will rely upon that negative conclusion as opposed to the treating doctor’s opinion.  

Such is the world of bureaucracies, the the beauty of double standards:  from OPM’s viewpoint, it is merely the ability to assert power and authority, as OPM is the “arbiter” of all Federal Disability Retirement applications for Federal and Postal employees, whether under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Burden of Proof

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS & CSRS, one is often asked (and should also ask of one’s self) the following question:  What does it take to be eligible?  What proof proves my case?  How much proof must I submit (quantity) and is the proof I submit sufficient (quality)?  All of these questions fall under a generic rubric in law, termed as “burden of proof“. 

Every legal process — and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS is no different — applies a legal standard:  a set of criteria in determining whether or not a Federal or Postal Worker is eligible for — qualifies for — Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS. 

In applying a statutory set of criteria, there is the general application of what constitutes, or meets the needs of, the evidence, documents, and proof that is submitted for review.  The overriding standard that is supposed to be applied for determining the process, is a standard of law called, “Preponderance of the evidence.”  It is a relatively low standard used in civil law — where, if the proof submitted shows that it is more likely so than not so, then one has met “by a preponderance of the evidence” that a Federal or Postal employee is entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits. 

Does this standard apply at the administrative level — at the Office of Personnel Management?  The answer is “Yes”, but not necessarily consciously.  One only effectively argues that the standard of proof has been met when one encounters a Judge — at the Merit Systems Protection Board.  But, nevertheless, OPM is supposed to follow “the law” and the burden of proof, and it is simply one more argument that one can, and should, make to the Office of Personnel Management when filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under either FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Discretionary Judgments

There are many things in the long process of getting a FERS Disability Retirement application approved, which are purely “discretionary”, based upon one’s experience, sense of a case, an ear to listening to a client, and based upon a compendium of factors, facts and circumstances, to come up with the “best” decision on a particular issue.  A person who tries to go through the process alone, without the ear, mind, experience or judgment of an attorney who knows the process governing Federal Disability Retirement under FERS, has to make such discretionary decisions without the benefit of past experiences. 

Such decisions can range from small issues of:  how and when a treating doctor should be approached in the request for a medical narrative; how much guidance the doctor would need or want in preparing a medical narrative report; when and how to inform the agency of the pending decision to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, etc.; to the larger decisions, such as which medical conditions and reports to include in the final packet to be submitted to the Office of Personnel Management; and many other such discretionary decisions.  Yet, when grouped together, the complex interactions of the multiple “discretionary judgments” can often make or break a case.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire