Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: The Independence of Each Program

The disparate nature of each Federal program, with little to no intersecting coordination amongst them (with the exception of SSDI and FERS Disability Retirement benefits in the coordination of payments upon approval of each) betrays the unplanned, thoughtless creation of each program, as well as a sense that each agency wants to maintain its feudal control and assertion of independent power.

That perhaps explains, in part, why each program ignores the extent of persuasive authority the approval of another program should logically have, upon an approval and acceptance by the “other” program.  Does it make sense that being granted “unemployability” status under the Department of Veterans Affairs ascription of percentage disability ratings would only have a nominal impact upon a FERS Disability Retirement application?  Or that an SSDI approval would have, at best, a persuasive effect upon a FERS Disability Retirement?

It is somewhat more understandable that a case accepted by OWCP/Department of Labor would have minimal impact upon a FERS or CSRS Disability Retirement application, precisely because the former is set up as a program of rehabilitation in an effort to return the Federal or Postal employee back to his or her job.

The only true “coordination” of benefits occurs between SSDI and FERS — and that, only if both are approved, and payments are received concurrently; but even then, there are often overpayment problems, lack of the left hand knowing what the right hand is doing, etc.

Thus Coordination and intersection between departments, agencies and various programs rarely occurs.  Agencies tend to want to remain independent.

Such lack of coordination, however, does not mean that the FERS or CSRS Federal or Postal employee should not force a legal argument upon OPM when a significant finding is made by another agency or program.  For, in the end, it may not be the U.S. Office of Personnel Management which listens, but an administrative judge at the MSPB, or a 3-judge panel on the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals; in which case, a precedent will have been set, for all to (hopefully) follow.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: The Left and Right Hands

Having two hands in and of itself does not guarantee cooperation of effort or a manifestation of symphonic coordination.  If the two hands (or more) are contributed by two or more people, without a central cognitive control center, there can be an undermining of efforts precisely because each hand is attempting to engage in an activity independent of the other.

Thus it is with the attempt by an injured or disabled Federal Worker to formulate a Federal Disability Retirement application through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS; and, similarly, the identical concept of cooperative efforts applies to the agencies themselves, if seen as entities with “hands”.

The problem, of course, is that OPM is a separate agency from the Federal or Postal entity through which the Federal or Postal employee submits an application.  While the Federal Agency may believe that certain actions definitively settle an issue regarding Federal Disability Retirement, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is neither bound by, nor even required to acknowledge, the validity of any such determination.

Thus, for example, a particular agency may search for a way to “accommodate” a Federal Worker’s medical conditions, and may assert that they cannot provide a reasonable accommodation.  OPM may look at that and declare that the mere fact that an agency says so, does not mean that the Federal Worker cannot still engage in “useful or efficient” service.

Contradiction?  Inherent confusion?  Or misunderstanding of the law?

It is like the man with the bionic arm:  until the arm can become in sync with the mind of the operator, it is the same as if one only has one arm.  Ultimately, such questions are a “matter of law”, and OPM is almost always wrong with respect to the law.  It is up to the applicant, or his/her attorney, to point it out, and to make sure that the two hands become coordinated in arriving at an approval of a Federal or Postal Disability Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Agency Independence

Each agency is tooled with a statutory mandate as to its mission and purpose, and from the origination of the statutory mandate, Federal Regulations and policies are formulated.  The independence of each agency within the Federal Government results in the anomaly of a patchwork of Federal Agencies, few of which are coordinated in their efforts or purposes.  

Conceptually, this is thought to be a good idea — precisely because by preserving the independence of each agency, it can singularly focus upon the mandated purpose and goal — and better accomplish its “mission”.  But the flip-side to the positive consequences of such conceptual formulation is that there is often an overlap between missions, and where the logical result of one action should almost automatically (logically) result in another, such is not the case because of the wall of separation between agencies, preserving their independence from each other.  

In Federal Disability Retirement issues, one would think that where a stricter standard of eligibility is imposed in one agency (e.g., the Social Security Administration for disability determinations), an approval based upon that stricter standard should automatically result in an approval by the Office of Personnel Management for purposes of evaluating and deciding upon a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  

Such is not the case, however.  

Hypothetically, it is possible to conceptualize a case where a Federal or Postal employee is deemed “totally disabled” by a doctor, but still be able to perform all of the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal job.  Conversely, it is possible to think of a case where an individual is no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job (FERS or CSRS Disability Retirement) and yet not be considered “totally disabled” (SSDI).  The latter, of course, happens all the time; the former continues to occur — although, to actually come up with a true case involves mental gymnastics which exists only in the world of myths and language-games.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Agency Actions Are Merely Persuasive

Whether it is one’s own agency which acts, or some third-party agency, the effect of such actions upon a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is merely persuasive, and not determinative, from the viewpoint of the Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS.  

Such actions may include:  Disqualification based upon a medical condition, whether because of the primary, underlying medical condition, or a secondary condition resulting from a prescription medication; determination by the Agency based upon a fitness for duty review; failure to pass certain physical fitness standards; declarative statement by the Agency that no accommodations can be accorded, whether because of one’s medical condition or other influencing factors; a conclusion reached by an Occupational Nurse or doctor; acceptance of a case by OWCP, Department of Labor; approval by the Social Security Administration, the Veterans Administration, etc. — all of these “third party” determinations can be persuasive for a Federal Disability Retirement application, but are not necessarily determinative in coming to a conclusion of approval by the Office of Personnel Management.  

Why “persuasive” as opposed to “determinative”?  Because of two fundamental reasons:  (1)  The Office of Personnel Management is an independent agency, mandated by statute, regulation and case-laws, to make its own determination of eligibility of each Federal Disability Retirement application, separate and apart from any other agency, and (2) such agencies which make such determinations are not medical facilities (although a doctor or nurse may have some involvement in the decision-making process), and this is ultimately a “medical” disability retirement, and not an agency retirement system mandated by law.  

As such, one must still prove by a preponderance of the evidence that one is eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, based upon the nexus between one’s medical conditions and one’s essential elements of the Federal or Postal job.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire