CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: The Aggregate of Conditions

In debate, there are two primary methodologies of attacking:  the micro-approach, where each individual strand of an opponent’s argument is dismantled, leaving the opposition with no singular weapon to use; or the macro-approach, where — because some of the individual arguments may withstand scrutiny — the universal umbrella of the argument as a whole is attacked, thereby dismantling the entirety of the whole.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, OPM will utilize one of the two approaches.  At times, OPM will selectively choose one or two of the medical conditions, barely mentioning the rest, then attack the lack of documentary support on those particularized medical conditions.  Or, at other times, OPM will make sweeping generalizations and fail to specifically identify, and selectively ignore, the details of individual medical conditions.  Regardless of the methodology of approach, the ultimate result of either approach is a denial.

The question is how one responds to either approach.

The answer is often based upon the construction of the Applicant’s Statement of Disability.  This is where it is important to weave the particular with the aggregate, where the construction of each individual medical condition is argued to depend upon the greater whole, and where the cumulative impact of the various medical conditions constitute an inseparable whole.  The flexibility of language allows for this; the medical narrative report should reflect this.

This is why spending valuable time at the front end of a Federal Disability Retirement case is important; for the later stages of the administrative process may well depend upon it.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: The Syndrome of, “I Can’t Understand It”

In all aspects of life, both professional and personal, it is easy to get stuck in a rut where one cannot walk away from a particular irritant.  

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, one cannot afford to engage in the luxury of pausing for too long in attempting to understand the reasoning, rationale, or alleged justification for a denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, as issued by the Office of Personnel Management.  

It is easy to get caught up in attempting to “figure out” the foundational basis of an OPM denial.  One can get stuck in a self-pity mode of asserting to one’s self that everything had been carefully gathered; the medical documentation was impeccable and irrefutable; even the Agency supported the Federal Disability Retirement application by acknowledging and conceding the fact that (A) the Federal or Postal employee’s medical documentation was of a severity such that (B) it prevented him or her from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  

Yet, while listing each of the medical evidence and recognizing the extent of the symptomatologies, the prior surgeries, the medication regimens, etc. — despite all of that, the concluding sentence by the Office of Personnel Management states:  “We cannot determine by the evidence presented that you are disabled under the law,” or, “The medical evidence submitted is insufficient to meet the criteria for Federal Disability Retirement purposes.”  

What?  However, it is best to simply “move on”.  

It does little to no good to remain entrapped in the syndrome of, “I can’t understand it,” because that same syndrome inevitably leads to, “I am going to waste my time trying.”  Extract what can rationally be understood; present updated medical information; prepare the best and most compelling legal arguments, and prepare for the long haul of the legal administrative process.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Reasons & Conclusions

In a denial letter from the Office of Personnel Management for a Federal Disability Retirement application filed under FERS or CSRS (which, if received, a Federal or Postal employee must file a Request for Reconsideration within 30 days of the date of the denial letter), the connection between the reasonings given, and the conclusions arrived at, will often be missing.  

Often, OPM will tangentially or in a cursory manner refer to various medical documents which were submitted with the original Federal Disability Retirement packet, or actually extrapolate a selective quote from a medical report or office note, and even make it appear as if a full and complete evaluation of the submission has been performed.  Thereafter, a conclusory statement will be proposed, often with a logical pretext of:  “Therefore, your application is denied.”

However, there is a vast difference between referring to various medical reports or statements, and evaluating such reports and statements in order to arrive at a proper legal conclusion based upon the evidence submitted.  It is rare that the Office of Personnel Management engages in the proper evaluative process in determining whether or not a Federal or Postal worker’s Federal Disability Retirement application meets the applicable legal criteria.  That said, such lack of evaluative and analytical process is legally required, and there must be a logical connection between the reasons given, and the conclusions reached.  Such lack of engaging in the process must be pointed out, but it must be done in a “diplomatic” manner.  Diplomacy is best engaged in by diplomats; similarly, legal issues are best tackled by lawyers.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal & Postal Disability Retirement: OPM's Words

It is a frightening thought that there may be a percentage of Federal or Postal Federal Disability Retirement applicants who read an initial denial from the Office of Personnel Management, and take their words at face value.  From statements such as, “Your doctor has failed to show that your condition is amenable to further treatments” (by the way, when did the Office of Personnel Management obtain a medical degree or complete a residency requirement?) to “you have not shown that you are totally disabled from performing efficient work” (hint:  this is not Social Security, and the standard is not “total disability”), to a full spectrum of error-filled statements in between, one may suspect that there may be a knowing strategy in rendering a denial, knowing that a small percentage of the corpus of disability retirement applicants will simply walk away and not file a Request for Reconsideration. 

Further, I suspect that this occurs more often with certain more “vulnerable” medical conditions — Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Major Depression, PTSD, anxiety, panic attacks; Chemical Sensitivity cases, etc.  Why do I suspect these?  Mostly because such cases are attacked for “lacking objective medical evidence” (see my articles on Vanieken-Ryals v. OPM, and similar writings) and failing to provide “diagnostic test results”, etc.  There was a time, long ago, when it used to mean something when someone said, “The Government says…”  In this day and age, I would advise that you take it to an attorney to review whether or not the words of the Office of Personnel Management are true or not.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: OPM’s Detailed Denial

Neither length nor detail constitutes legitimacy.  The spectrum of the types and styles of denial letters issued by the Office of Personnel Management in Federal Disability Retirement cases under FERS & CSRS range from a short paragraph under the “Discussion Section”, to 3 – 4 pages of apparent references to doctor’s notes, reports, etc. — with a lengthy lecture about the need for “objective” medical evidence, and about how a particular medical condition “may be” treated by X, Y or Z treatment modalities. 

Don’t be fooled.  One may think that, because OPM provides a seemingly “detailed” explanation of why a particular disability retirement application was denied, that such lengthy detail means that it is somehow “substantive”.  In fact, I often find the opposite to be true:  the shorter the denial, the greater the substance.  The lengthy denial letters contain “substance”, all right — but substance of the wrong kind.  They contain:  Mis-statements of the law; mis-statements of the criteria to be applied; inappropriate assertions of medical opinions (contrary to what one might think, the OPM representative does not normally have a medical degree, let alone a law degree), and a host of other “mis-statements”.  Sometimes, the weightier the denial, the more confusing as far as how to respond.  And, perhaps, that is one methodology as to how OPM wants to approach the case:  If it seems long and complicated, maybe the applicant will sigh, give up, and go away.  Don’t.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Service Deficiency & Medical Condition

The Office of Personnel Management will often use as a criteria of denial the argument/basis that despite the fact that an individual may have a medical condition such that the medical documentation states that the Federal or Postal worker can no longer perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, nevertheless, there has not been a showing that a “service deficiency” has occurred.  Often, agencies systematically write up performance appraisals without much thought or consideration; more often, Federal and Postal workers quietly suffer through his or her medical condition, and strive each day to meet the requirements of their duties. 

Whatever the reason for the lack of attention or perception on the part of the supervisor or the agency to recognize that the Federal or Postal worker has not been able to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, such basis for a denial of a disability retirement application by the Office of Personnel Management is not a legitimate one, because existence of a “service deficiency” is not the whole story:  if it is found that retention in the job is “inconsistent” with the type of medical condition the Federal or Postal Worker has, then such a finding would “trump” the lack of any service deficiency.  That is not something, however, that the Office of Personnel Management is likely to tell you as they deny your disability retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire