OPM Disability Retirement: Technical Application of Terms

Wittgenstein’s contribution to Western Philosophy was twofold:  On the one hand, his insight into the role of language and how much (if not all, according to him) of philosophy’s substantive problems and complexities could be unraveled through the analytical dismantling of linguistic confusions, and secondly, the idea that philosophy as an academic discipline should not be given greater stature than any other — in other words, he believed that philosophy was a waning and anachronistic field which would eventually wither on the vines of history, and properly so.

While the undersigned disagrees with the latter assessment, it is the former contribution concerning “language games” and their import to society, daily living, and even to the technical world of legal jargon, which is of interest and relevance.  Lawyers necessarily have a “language game” of their own.  Within the peculiar universe of legal terms, the technical application of such “legalese” has direct and dire consequences if not understood properly and applied narrowly.

In the world of Federal Disability Retirement law, the term “accommodations” is often and profusely applied by agencies and Human Resources Personnel, but more often than not, in a loose and inappropriate manner.  Agencies bandy about the term, to wit:  “Mr. X. was accommodated by allowing for temporary light duty“; “We provided him with an accommodation by letting him take liberal sick leave and LWOP”; “Ms. Y was accommodated with instructions not to lift over her medical restrictions”; and other such implied applications of the term.

Which of the previously-cited statements constitute a technically correct use of the term “accommodation” within the context of Federal Disability Retirement?

Answer:  None of them.

Language games have inherently peculiar traits and rules of application; within the parameters of Federal Disability Retirement, too often the rules of usage are not complied with.  The consequences of non-compliance, unfortunately, is that Federal and Postal employees actually believe that they are being “accommodated”, when in fact they are not.

Further, believing that one is being accommodated by an agency may lead to the mistaken belief that one is ineligible for Federal Disability Retirement, when in fact one has always been eligible precisely because the agency cannot or has failed to provide a legally viable accommodation.  Look into the proper use of terms, and the technically correct application of terms.

In the end, Wittgenstein was right:  Language games reveal more about the competence of those who play them, than about the lack of precision exhibited by human behavior.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Pragmatism

The practice of the philosophical school of “Pragmatism” is what many Americans associate themselves with — precisely because America was, and continues to be (as of late, anyway), a country which invents, manufactures, creates, etc., and prides itself on its technological “forward-thinking” ways.

Pragmatism is a uniquely American philosophical approach — one in which William James (an American) had an influence upon, where the methodology of determining truth consisted in the combination of the correspondence theory of truth and what he considered a “coherence” theory of truth, where not only did a given statement need to have a correspondence with the physical world, but moreover, the entirety of the statement had to “cohere” with other statements asserted.  Pragmatism is an “applied” approach.

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 always important to remember the “nuts and bolts” of putting together a Federal Disability Retirement application.  In other words, one must take a very “pragmatic” approach to the entire administrative process.

From dealing with doctors who may be skeptical about his or her ability to relate a medical condition to one’s positional duties in the Federal government or in the Postal Service; to making sure that the Human Resources department assists in processing the Federal disability retirement application; to writing an effective and compelling Applicant’s Statement of Disability — these are all considerations where the subject of the application — the very person who is suffering from the medical condition — must set aside the anxieties, frustrations and fears, and set about to pragmatically put together an effective Federal Disability Retirement application.

As “pragmatism” finds its roots in the Greek word pragma, from which we get the words “practical” and “practice”, so it is important to consult with those who have the experience in the very practice of Federal Disability Retirement law.  Indeed, coherence and correspondence are two traits which the Office of Personnel Management looks for in a Federal Disability Retirement application.  William James would have been a good lawyer for Federal Disability Retirement law.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: A Semantic Battle?

One may wonder, in any process of the stage of preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, as to whether an approval is based merely on a “semantic” battle with the Office of Personnel Management.  

Inasmuch as a submission of a Federal Disability Retirement application to the Office of Personnel Management is a “paper submission” (yes, I know, we are quickly moving towards an age of paperless technology, but you know what is meant by the term), and no actual presentation or contact will be made with the personnel at OPM (unless it goes to a Hearing before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board); as such, the query is sometimes posed as to whether it is merely a semantic battle.  

In the days of Plato and Aristotle, “lawyers” were called “sophists” or “rhetoriticians” — thus, the modern terms of “sophisticated” or “sophistry”, and “rhetoric” or “rhetorical”.  Either or both of the terms imply a negative connotation, that through semantic sleight of hand, one can be fooled into being persuaded to adopt a certain viewpoint or opinion.  

While it may be true to a certain and limited extent that obtaining Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS may involve some semantic quibbling, the underlying substantive basis in granting or denying a Federal Disability Retirement application, either under FERS or CSRS, continues to remain in “the law” — based upon statutory and regulatory criteria, upon legal opinions from cases decided by the Merit Systems Protection Board and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.  

While “how X is said” may have some persuasive effect, it is ultimately still “what is said” that retains the most powerful impact.  Substance over appearance still wins the day — the identical philosophical concerns of Plato and Aristotle continues to remain true today.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal & Postal Service Disability Retirement: The Level of Objectivity

I was trained in Philosophy, first; obtained my undergraduate degree in Philosophy; then went on to graduate school to study Philosophy.  Somewhere along the line, I decided to switch lanes and go to law school.  However, the training I received in philosophy — of symbolic logic; of the analytical discipline of evaluating the logical consistency, force, soundness and validity of argumentation and methodology of argumentation, has remained with me throughout my legal career.  In recent years, I have found that logic, validity, soundness of arguments, and consistency of argumentation, has become a rare breed.  Whether this has more to do with a greater lack of rigorous education, or the belief that there is little to distinguish between “objectivity” and “subjectivity”, I do not know.  I do know, however, that there remains, even today, a sense of the “integrity” of an argument.  An argument’s integrity is found in an objective, dispassionate description of a case. 

That is the role of an attorney — to give the narrative of the Federal Disability Retirement applicant under FERS & CSRS a sense of proper context, a picture of objective validity, and a substantive presentation of the issues which are relevant:  medical, life, impact, occupation, and the intertwining of each issue with the others, without undue and over-reaching emotionalism which can often undermine the very integrity of the narrative presentation.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Doing Philosophy and Law

Is wisdom determined by the answer, or the question? Or is the circularity of such a question in and of itself the key to its own answer? How does one attain a state of character, a state of being, such that one has become “wise”? Is this even a relevant question anymore? Are men today attempting, through a life of virtuous activity, to attain a sage-hood stature? Should that not be the goal of each man? Have we become so lazy that we no longer aspire to such a status? I once had a professor who began the class by telling us that he was not interested in our opinions; we had no right to opinions until we gained sufficient knowledge to form such opinions. That systematic methodology is no longer upheld today; with deconstructionism and the post-modern view that all opinions are equal; that relevance and weight of logical force, recognition of facts, truth, and validity – all are subjugated to the overarching primacy of the value of “equality”.

But despite the subjugation of Truth to relativism; the absolute anarchy of ideas today, where blurring of distinctions between facts and opinions, between a logically sound argument and an emotionally-charged slogan of vacuity – the primacy of truth may still emerge, when the extreme of mediocrity is once again recognized. I am always profoundly struck, each time I reread Aristotle, by the sheer force of his wisdom. For example, meditate upon the following excerpt from Book III, Chapter 1, (995a – b) of Aristotle’s Metaphysics:

We must, with a view to the science which we are seeking, first recount the subjects that should be first discussed. These include both the other opinions that some have held on the first principles, and any point besides these that happens to have been overlooked. For those who wish to get clear of difficulties it is advantageous to discuss the difficulties well; for the subsequent free play of thought implies the solution of the previous difficulties, and it is not possible to untie a knot of which one does not know. But the difficulty of our thinking points to a ‘knot’ in the object; for in so far as our thought is in difficulties, it is in like case with those who are bound; for in either case it is impossible to go forward. Hence one should have surveyed all the difficulties beforehand, both for the purposes we have stated and because people who inquire without first stating the difficulties are like those who do not know where they have to go; besides, a man does not otherwise know even whether he has at any given time found what he is looking for or not; for the end is not clear to such a man, while to him who has first discussed the difficulties it is clear. Further, he who has heard all the contending arguments, as if they were the parties to a case, must be in a better position for judging.

At its most fundamental level, of course, the doing of philosophy (if there is such a thing) is nothing more than the pursuit of wisdom – to love knowledge, to go after paradoxes and thought-provoking conundrums; to love wisdom for the pure joy of meditative challenges; and part of that process is to confront those ‘knots’, those difficulties; for it is the tackling of those difficulties beforehand which then clears the path for greater knowledge. In this day and age, knowledge is no longer revered; intellectual laziness abounds, for the individual believes that that which he does not know, he can always google. But you cannot google the untying of a knot; you must take the time to attain knowledge by meditating upon the untying of knots; and in that process, one is doing philosophy.

Prior to becoming an Attorney, my first love was Philosophy. I studied Philosophy at Catholic University, then went on to the Graduate School of Philosophy at the University of Virginia, where I had the opportunity to study under Richard Rorty, who was in the Humanities Department at the time. But the practical problems of life intervened, and to become an Attorney was, for myself, the perfect melding of an intellectual component with the practical aspect of being able to make a living. It was a knot of life which I contemplated for quite some time; now, twenty years later, I love the life of law; of the intellectual component of researching Court opinions; the logical component of making sound legal arguments; and the practical aspect of actually helping my clients secure their financial future by obtaining disability retirement benefits for them. And during these twenty years, I have had the freedom to continue to read philosophy, to meditate upon multiple philosophers – from Plato and Aristotle, to Kant, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Popper, Putnam, et al, and to continue to untie the bounds of knots, within the loving circle of my wife and three wonderful kids.