Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Understanding a Differing Perspective

Sometimes, all that one can do is scratch one’s head.  That common statement — to “scratch one’s head” — is meant to convey puzzlement or disbelief over an action, statement, or occurrence which belies rational explanation.  As rationality has been the foundation of thoughtfulness and considered formulations of explainable actions, so logic and reason have been the joists which provide the bridging support for acceptable discourse.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, one assumes that there will be a fair and reasoned review of each Federal Disability Retirement application.

If a Federal Disability Retirement application is approved, then of course the level of rational discourse need not be extensive — for, implicit in the approval itself is an acknowledgement that the legal nexus between the medical conditions described and the statutory criteria required to be met, have been adequately constructed.  But in a denial, one would expect a well-reasoned discourse of “why”, as opposed to a standard template of identifying various documents submitted, and multiple declarative statements (with barely a rational explanation) of, “You do not meet criteria No. X”.

Often, it is a waste of time to try and understand the perspective of OPM.  The Office of Personnel Management is an agency which is busy and overwhelmed with a volume of cases.  Time constraints often betray the proper application of the law.  It is well that the old saying did not refer to scratching one’s back; for, there are many places where one simply cannot reach in order to scratch, and that is the sense one is left with in reading some of OPM’s denials.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: Cornering OPM’s Malleable Stance

At the initial stage of the process identified as “Federal Disability Retirement” from the Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is often difficult for the Federal or Postal worker to grasp the various components which must be gathered, formulated, prepared and consolidated, in order to meet the legal criteria for eligibility.

Once submitted, if an approval is received from the Office of Personnel Management, then one need not be further concerned with whether or not the legal criteria was “met” (although one should still be vigilant in doing those tasks and preparatory work in order to retain and maintain one’s right to Federal disability retirement benefits).

If a denial is received from the Office of Personnel Management, then it is necessary to file a Request for Reconsideration within the thirty (30) day time period, and begin to determine which of the multiple issues OPM has delineated as being the basis of a deficient Federal Disability Retirement application.

Some attempt to do this via a “shotgun” approach — of spraying every answer available and hoping that some of the arguments, supplemental documents, statements, etc., hit the mark in some way.  A different approach is to selectively choose those issues which appear to be central to the case, and answer the essential ones, allowing for such answers to concurrently address the peripheral points brought out by OPM.  A third approach is to identify and consolidate OPM’s alleged basis for the disapproval, consolidate the issues into 2 or 3 main points, then “corner” the arguments by addressing them, concluding that the Federal or Postal employee has addressed the concerns of OPM and therefore OPM should not be able to change them at the Merit Systems Protection Board.

While an MSPB appeal is conducted “de novo” (“anew” or “afresh”, without regard to any previous determinations), it is nevertheless an effective methodology to point out the malleability of OPM’s varying stances, and thereby effectively streamline that which needs to be proven at the MSPB level.  A leopard which changes its spots too often loses its credibility, and making sure that OPM stays in one place is a useful tool in winning a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Crossing Lines

The question has been posed:  How can one Federal Agency make a determination of disability while another, separate Agency can deny a determination of disability? Contained within that question, of course, is an answer of disability from each Federal Agency, which was further preceded by multiple questions requesting the agency to make a determination of disability.  

A simple answer to the question posed would be:  Each Agency is independent and separate, and thus has the authority to make an independent determination.  That is what is deemed a “power” answer.  But there are further nuances of an answer which go beyond the mere authority or power of an agency to make a determination.  

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the question of another agency’s determination on disability is often asked:  How can one…?  The full answer to the question would require a complex analysis of the various laws, statutes and criteria, which would include the following:  Each Federal agency which provides a particular disability benefit is mandated by a specific statutory authority which sets out a specific set of criteria, and is different from the statutory authority defining another agency’s particular benefits; some legal criteria are based upon a determination of percentage ratings, while others are based upon employability or whether a particular kind of job can be performed.  

Given all of this, one may still “cross the lines” by making arguments utilizing statements from one agency, as persuasive authority in arguing for another agency’s disability benefits.  In crossing such lines, however, it is important to maintain the integrity of the role, the criteria, the specific citation of the law, and what Judges actually have stated concerning the extent and authority of the influence which one agency determination may have another another.  Thus, if one attempts to cross the lines, do so with knowledge and understanding of the law.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: OPM and the 7-Part Criteria

In any denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the Office of Personnel Management incessantly refers to their 7-part criteria of eligibility, in making their determination as to the legal viability of a case.

The criteria, as stated, can be both helpful, as well as result in a negative determination, for multiple reasons.  To the extent that it extrapolates and extracts from the relevant Code of Federal Regulations, it minimally states the fundamental legal requirements for eligibility of a Federal or Postal employee who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

However, because such a basis only extracts from the originating statutory foundation for eligibility, what it completely ignores is the continually evolving cases which clarify, interpret and define the very terms which constitute the criteria.  To that extent, OPM’s adherence to the strict and narrow application of the original “law” can often result in a negative determination, precisely because such an application ignores the subsequent clarifications which have evolved and progressed from various cases which have been litigated, both in the Federal Circuit Courts as well as at the Merit Systems Protection Board level.

Beware of the 7-part criteria; if followed, it can backfire; if not followed, it can backfire.  The 7-part criteria is a Catch-22 in sheep’s clothing.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement from the Office of Personnel Management: Legal Criteria

There is “The Law” — the originating, statutory authority which is passed by Congress — then, the compendium of the entirety of the legal arena, which includes decisions handed down by Administrative and Federal Judges, which comprise the expanding and evolving interpretation, clarification and extension of “The Law”.  

Unfortunately, in making its decision on an Application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the Office of Personnel Management constrains itself (and its knowledge of the law) to a template based upon a “7-part criteria” which is extrapolated from the Code of Federal Regulations.  

This 7-part criteria is a simplistic and misleading application of the law.  It is not so much that it is an “error” on the part of the Office of Personnel Management to apply such a criteria; rather, it is that, in evaluating and determining the sufficiency, viability, and meeting of the standard of proof of “preponderance of the evidence” of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it simply does not go far enough.  Because the 7-part criteria fails to include the interpretive evolution of the entirety of the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement, it fails by excluding many Federal Disability Retirement applications which are based upon legal criteria which fall outside of the delimited circumference and parameters of what OPM has set forth. 

In short, they are “behind the times” in many instances, and so when a denial is based upon a misapplied criteria, it is important to point out to OPM that X law applies in particular case Y — where “X” is outside of the scope or knowledge of the Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire