Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Selective Extrapolation

The game of selective extrapolation is played by many; there was a time when such a methodology — otherwise known as taking something “out of context” — was with simplicity and bluntness identified for what it is:  dishonest.  But in this day and age, it has come to be accepted, and even applauded, for such characteristics as “aggressiveness” and “smart play”.

Once, in an age where integrity and fidelity were upheld as character traits worthy of emulating, there was an affirmative duty to “tell the whole story” — that if X quoted from a document in fragmented form, it was one’s duty to provide the entirety of the context in order to be “fair”.  Perhaps it is the adversarial nature of the legal arena which allowed for this standard to change; or perhaps it is just part of the greater deterioration of the culture; in any event, in modern times, it is an accepted practice to merely take sentences, words, concepts and phrases out of context, and twist and mangle them to whatever form and usage will gain one’s advantage.

In Federal Disability Retirement law, especially in the context of a denial issued by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, one will often find the use of selective extrapolation — of taking a lengthy, comprehensive medical report of a doctor, and choosing to quote an almost-irrelevant statement which seems to support a negative or opposite conclusion from that which the doctor has stated.  At first glance, one merely scratches one’s head with puzzlement; but after the initial shock, it must be recognized for what it is:  an attempt to merely justify the denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application.

How to rebut it?  Fortunately, the rebuttal is not made to the same individual who played the game of selective extrapolation; that would obviously be an act of futility.  The rebuttal must be forceful and head-on; call it for what it is, and provide the correct content and context.

In Federal Disability Retirement law with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, one must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that one is entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  In order to do so, one must maintain a level of integrity which reveals the sharp contrast to those who engage in such games.

It is sometimes difficult to refrain from playing the other person’s game; but in the end, let’s hope that age-old standards of integrity and fair play will continue to win out.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: Sounds Good

There are various stages of the administrative process designated and defined as “Federal Disability Retirement” — the initial application stage of the process, where one must attempt to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that one is eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits; if disapproved and denied, then the Reconsideration Stage of the process (where one may submit additional medical and other documentary evidence to persuade the Office of Personnel Management to reverse themselves); an appeal to the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, where the Federal or Postal applicant’s Disability Retirement application is taken out of the hands of OPM and transferred to an Administrative Judge, who will hear the case anew, without regard to what OPM has decided in the past; a further appeal to the Full Board of the MSPB in the event that the Administrative Judge issues an Initial Decision which affirms and upholds OPM’s denial of the case; and a further appeal to the Federal Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Throughout this process, and especially in the administrative stages before the Office of Personnel Management, one should make a distinction between “sounding good” and “being right”.  Hopefully, the Federal or Postal employee who has filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, is both right and sounding good. But there is a distinction to be made.  For example, OPM will often — in their denial letter — “sound good” but be completely wrong on the law.  They will cite medical textbooks which skew the legal standard of review; creep into the discussion of a denial letter such terms as “no significant disability rating to speak of,” or that you don’t suffer from a disability which “incapacitates” you.  It all “sounds good”, but it is not true precisely because it is not the applicable standard of law to be applied.

At the initial stages of the process, OPM can get away with such nonsense, because most people don’t recognize the untrue and inapplicable standard of law being applied.  In the later stages of the process, however, when an Administrative Judge hears a case, it becomes important not only to “sound good”, but to also apply the right legal criteria.

Appearance versus reality — it is the argument of Western Civilization from the pre-Socratics onward.  As Alfred North Whitehead once observed, all of philosophy was already written by Plato and footnoted by Aristotle.  That statement both sounds good, and is indeed right on point.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

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