Federal Disability Retirement Representation: Substance and Process

In any bureaucratic, lengthy administrative process, one can become embroiled in the procedural aspects of an endeavor, and overlook the substantive elements which form the foundation of any case.  Conversely, one can make the mistake of approaching a case and declare to one’s self, “This is so obviously a good case,” and take shortcuts in the process of putting together an effective and persuasive case.

Either approach is one fraught with grave errors, and for Federal employees and Postal workers who are beginning the process of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Medical benefits, first through one’s own agency (if still on the rolls of the Federal agency or the U.S. Postal Service or, if separated, for not more than 31 days), and ultimately submitted to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in Boyers, Pennsylvania (directly, if the Federal employee or U.S. Postal worker has been separated from Federal service for more than 31 days), it is important to keep the balance between the substance of a case, and the process of the case.

Substantive issues involve everything from the factual, informational content required on all standard forms (SF 3107, along with Schedules A, B & C, and the required attachment of one’s DD 214 showing prior active military service; SF 2801 for CSRS employees; and the substantive content of the description of one’s medical conditions to be considered, as required in SF 3112A, etc.), as well as the medical documentation needed to provide the evidentiary support for one’s case.

“Process” issues involve the timeframe in filing a case, the administrative procedures of where the disability application must be submitted through, as well as the myriad of sequential steps required for satisfaction of accommodation issues with one’s agency.

Substance and process — they are the necessary sides of a single, inseparable currency of an administrative reality known as Federal OPM Disability Retirement, and both must be attended to in order to reach the heights of efficacy mandated for a successful outcome in the preparation, formulation and submission of an OPM Medical Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

OPM Disability Retirement: The Administrative Process

Ultimately, Federal Disability Retirement must be viewed as a “process“, as opposed to a singular procedure whereby a triggering mechanism automatically allows for receipt of benefits.  The former requires an affirmative approach which involves submission of proof, argumentation, an expectation of resistance (in many cases), and an analysis by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management as to whether or not all of the legal criteria have been met.  The latter is merely a formality of filing.

As a process, filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management has various steps, procedures, and Stages for appeals.  There is, first and foremost, the initial application Stage, where one has the opportunity and right to submit proof of eligibility, and make legal arguments for entitlement.  If one’s Federal Disability Retirement application is denied at the first Stage of the process, then one has a right to have it “reconsidered” by filing a “Request for Reconsideration” within 30 days of the date of denial, or receipt of the letter of denial from OPM, whichever is later.  If denied a second time, then the Federal or Postal employee who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management has a right to file an Appeal to the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board.

There are, in addition to the 3 stages described, two (2) additional stages of appeal, but the three main stages of filing are what have been previously described.

With such a “process” in mind, it is wise to prepare for the long haul.  An expectation of a quick and easy approval, even if obtained, should not be embraced at the outset, precisely because one must take into consideration the potential length of time which the entire process may take, and prepare accordingly.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: The MSPB and Beyond

An application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS should always be prepared for the “long haul“.  Thus, it should be formulated, argued and prepared as if it will be denied at each stage, and will end up before the Merit Systems Protection Board.  

Does this take any “special” preparation?  To some extent, the answer is “yes”, inasmuch as the stages beyond the Initial Application stage before the Office of Personnel Management, then the Reconsideration Stage of the process, then a Hearing before an Administrative Judge at the MSPB, involves whether or not an “error of law” was made.  As such, because each of the preceding three stages of the administrative process would essentially involve foundations for a later stage of an administrative appeal, it is obviously important to know what “the law” is.  One can hardly argue in the later stages what “errors of law” were made if one is not familiar with what “the law” is comprised of in the first place.  By establishing certain key foundations, and inserting legal precedents and arguments throughout the process, one has a better chance at arguing that legal errors were made by the Administrative Judge. While a Federal or Postal worker should certainly expect that his or her Federal Disability Retirement application should be approved at any given level because it has been properly prepared, it is always wise to look beyond the present, and prepare for future contingencies.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Decisions during the Process

In making decisions during the process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, it is obviously important to make the “right decision” at each stage of the process.  Thus, for example, if a person files for Federal Disability Retirement, at the first stage it is important to determine which medical conditions to identify and base the application upon; at the Second, Reconsideration Stage, it is important to first identify what substantive concerns which the Office of Personnel Management is proposing (in any given denial of a Federal Disability Retirement case, it is often not that obvious what the OPM Representative is actually stating), and how to go about rebutting and answering the concerns (as opposed to taking a “shotgun approach” and trying to answer each and every concern expressed by the OPM Representative), and further, at the Merit Systems Protection Board, it is vitally important to place all evidence, legal precedents, arguments and objections on the record, so that if the Administrative Judge in the case denies your claim, you have a legal basis to file an appeal.  As always, it is important to see the entire application submission, from beginning to end, as a “process”.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: OPM May Say So, But…

I often wonder how many unrepresented disability retirement applicants there are who, having received a denial letter at the First Stage of the process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS, never file a Request for Reconsideration because they believe what the Office of Personnel Management stated in the Denial Letter.  Sometimes, I will get telephone calls from people who want to file, and during the course of the conversation, it will come out that they had filed a few years previously, and had been denied.  “Did you file a Request for Reconsideration, at the time?” I ask.  “No,” is the answer.  “Why not?” I ask.  The typical answer?  “Because I just thought there was no way to fight them on it.” 

I used to be amazed at such answers, but after some thought, it makes sense.  As an attorney, my first instinct (both trained and natural) is to always take something to the next level, with the firm belief that I will prevail just by pure persistence, and by using the law as “a sword” in the process of fighting for my clients.  But most people are not lawyers (some would say, thank goodness for that, we have enough lawyers in the world), and when the Office of Personnel Management writes up a denial letter, then allegedly cites “the law”, and makes bold conclusions such as, “You do not meet the eligibility criteria under the laws governing disability retirement…”  It all sounds convincing.  It all sounds like any further action will be an act of futility.  But just because OPM “says so” doesn’t make it true, doesn’t make it right, and certainly doesn’t make it unwinnable.  They may say you don’t meet the eligbility criteria; I would argue otherwise.

Sincerely,
Robert R. McGill, Esquire