Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Fear and the Masking of Medical Conditions

Fear can exacerbate, and simultaneously hide the underlying cause.  The Western philosophical quest for the essence of a thing never considers whether the human element of fear is part of the problem; instead, the focus has always been to unravel and lift the veil from the world of appearances by either recognizing the imperfection of perceptual engagements, or by acknowledging that the objective world is unreachable and unknowable.

But fear is the penultimate human emotion of irrational masking; and when an individual has a physical or psychiatric condition such that this medical condition begins to deteriorate and debilitate, and impacts upon one’s workplace relationships, social engagements and family security, the exponential magnification of fear can mask the condition itself — or, at the very least, deliberately cover the symptomatologies which trigger alerts daily.  But the underlying motivation prompted by fear can only conceal for a time, until a flash-point occurs where the seriousness of the medical condition exceeds the ability of fear to mask; and when that crisis-point reaches fruition, the condition itself becomes a point of crisis.

Yes, fear can mask for a time; man has the unfathomable capacity to lie not only to one’s self, but to lie to the self which lies.

For Federal and Postal employees who walk with fear because of financial and workplace security, who are beset with a progressively deteriorating medical condition, fear is a factor of which one must contend.  Filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, is a great leap of faith.  But faith should first be reinforced with information; and so the best medicine to treat fear is to initially gather the information on the entire process.

Preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement; understand, reflect, and battle against the fear of ignorance.  That is the proper methodology and approach.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Prospective Affirmation versus Retrospective Correction

Moving forward with the right tools is generally more effective than looking back and trying to correct deficiencies; thus, the age-old adage of being penny wise, pound foolish applies; and in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is important to make a determination early on to clearly assess the strength of a case, the needs required to optimize such strengths, and to obtain assistance where necessary.

As to an objective assessment of a case:  one is normally not the best evaluator in analyzing the strength or weakness of one’s own Federal Disability retirement case.  This is because of a self-evident principle operating in each such Federal Disability Retirement case:  the subject who suffers from the medical condition cannot objectively evaluate from a third-party’s perspective the viability of a case in terms of proving by a preponderance of the evidence the coherence and compelling nature of the evidence to be presented.

Most believe that his or her case is a “slam-dunk”; few in actual reality ever are.  To get denied by OPM at the First Stage; then at the Reconsideration Stage; then to go pro se before the Merit Systems Protection Board; then to obtain a lawyer — while it is good to get a lawyer at any stage of the process — is it wise to attempt a retrospective correction of one’s mistakes?  At what stage does it become too late?  Where in the process does “correction” override “mistakes”?  Compare that to a prospective affirmation of one’s inadequacies — that it is difficult, if not impossible, to objectively evaluate one’s own case; that an effective compilation and presentation of a Federal Disability Retirement case is necessary in order to win in a Federal Disability Retirement case; and that providing a legal citationin support of one’s case is an essential element of a compelling case:  combining it all, it would seem that being wise for the pound is preferable than being foolish for the penny (to make an inverse adage applicable).

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The Anxiety of Procrastination

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, there are numerous issues, points, time-frames,etc., during the administrative process, when a Federal or Postal employee’s anxieties may become exacerbated — both because of the inherent complications resulting from the process itself, as well as because of what others do.  Many of the complexities which arise are beyond the control of one’s capabilities.  Thus, if one is accustomed to having some “control” over events and circumstances, it can quickly become a process full of anxieties, exasperation and frustration.  

Time is often beyond one’s control — the time the Agency takes to fill out their portion; the time a doctor responds to a request for a medical narrative; and, finally, the time that the Office of Personnel Management takes in reviewing and rendering a decision on a Federal Disability Retirement application.  

One point of frustration which often builds without ceasing, however, is within the control and capacity of all Federal Disability Retirement applicants — procrastination.  Procrastination merely delays the inevitable, and compounds the complexities because it merely allows for outside difficulties and problems to continue to build, without resolution.  If the need arises to begin filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, procrastination should not be part of the game plan.  This is especially true because the Office of Personnel Management is a bureaucracy which takes a long time itself, and procrastinating at the front-end of the process will only delay things further at the back-end.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: Learning from Experience

The problems inherent in filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS are multi-fold and multi-tiered.  Even today, after years and years of practicing in this particular area of law, there is rarely a day which goes by that I haven’t learned something new — whether a slight wrinkle in opm disability law; whether in a nuance of a description of a particular medical condition; or in simply how a doctor has described a specific condition and its particular and unique impact upon a patient.  Experience comes from making mistakes; mistakes can be human, technical, or a combination of both.

Unfortunately, for the Federal or Postal worker who is filing, or contemplating filing, for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the process itself is essentially a “one-time” endeavor.  Yes, a person can theoretically file, then refile at a later time (side-stepping the issue of res judicata, which can, in most instances, be gotten around); but for the most part, a Federal or Postal employee who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is doing it once, and only once.

As such, it is NOT the time to obtain “experience” — i.e., there is little room for “learning” from “mistakes”.

There is “good experience” and “bad experience”, but both are experiences nonetheless.  In filing an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, however, it is the former which needs to be experienced, and not the latter, and in such a filing process, there is indeed a difference between the two.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Mistakes Made

There is obviously an assumption to be made that if a case is denied at the initial stage of the process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, that a “mistake” must have been made.  The mistake, then, is given an opportunity to be “corrected” at the Second, or Reconsideration Stage, of the Federal Disability Retirement process.  Further, if the mistake is not properly corrected, or corrected to the satisfaction of the Office of Personnel Management, and it is again denied — at the Reconsideration Stage of the process — then there is the cumulative assumption that further mistakes were made in the application.  Just as success distinguishes between winners and losers, the general assumption is that a denial by the Office of Personnel Management means that there was something inherently wrong with the Federal Disability Retirement application at its inception. 

Yet, if this were true at each turn, for every case, then there would never be a case where, at the Third Stage of the process, in filing an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, that the Representative from the Office of Personnel Management would not reverse a denial and grant the disability retirement after listening to the legal arguments made by the attorney for the applicant.  Many times, it is the pointing out of overlooked aspects of a case which makes the difference between an approval or a denial — and not necessarily something that is inherently wrong, or that a “mistake” was made.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Knowledge

It has often been noted that “knowledge is power”, which necessarily and logically implies, of course, that lack of knowledge leaves one with weakness.  Preparing a Federal Disability retirement application under FERS or CSRS requires a vast amount of knowledge.

After practicing in this area of law for over twenty (20) years (with my first 10 years involving not only Federal Disability Retirement law, but also including a heavy trial practice, appellate practice and employment law and general practice — with the last 10 years devoted exclusively to disability retirement law), the consistent and persistent need to keep updated on any changes; on case-law updates; on nuances of cases which I may have previously missed — one might think that the practice of law in a specialized field might get easier over the years.

I find that, to remain on top of the constant changes and shifts in the law is an ever-present, all-encompassing endeavor.  One cannot, and must not, put a “generic” case before a Merit Systems Protection Board Judge.  To do so becomes transparent and phony.  The same goes with submitting a generic application to the Office of Personnel Management.  There is no such thing — all Federal Disability Retirement applications must be tailored to fit the individual, and knowledge — and more importantly, greater knowledge — allows for such tailoring.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Attorney Representation

I am still often asked about whether or not, or how helpful, legal representation would be in a Federal or Postal Disability Retirement case.  To ask an attorney such a question is often unhelpful, for there is always the question as to how much “self-interest” an attorney has in answering such a question.  What I can state, however, is the following:  Remember that everyone believes that his or her case is a “sure thing” — this is natural, because the very individual who is filing for disability retirement is the one who is suffering from the medical condition, and so it is a very “personal” matter, and a sense of objectivity is difficult to maintain in these matters.  Second, remember that when you hire an attorney, you are not just hiring someone who “knows something” about FERS & CSRS disability retirement; instead, you should be hiring that lawyer for his or her reputation, his knowledge of the administrative & legal process with the Office of Personnel Management and the Merit Systems Protection Board, and how well he is “thought of” by OPM (i.e., how long has he been practicing in the field of Federal Disability Retirement law, does he know the people at OPM, and more importantly, does OPM know him/her?).  Finally, always keep in mind that, while attorneys can be expensive, you must always do a cost-benefits analysis, and look at the benefit you will be receiving (or not receiving) if you do or do not hire an attorney.  Disability retirement benefits are essentially a means of securing one’s financial future, and as such, the benefit to be secured is important enough to consider hiring an attorney.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire