CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: Common Mistakes

There is of course the old adage (and old “sayings” are neatly formulated, refined over time, and revised and updated for applicability and relevance to the significance of the current times), stated in its variety of forms, that those who fail to study history, are condemned to repeat it.  But what if the historical repetition of such foolhardiness results because of the disparate nature of history, scattered among thousands, and never based upon a common essence from which all can draw?

A corollary of the previous words of wisdom is the following (made up by this author):  Historical mistakes repeat themselves because everyone believes that he or she is smarter than the ones before.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, common mistakes abound, and repetitively reveal themselves throughout the process.  Writing to preempt what one thinks a Supervisor will state or not state; listing every medical condition without prioritizing the impact upon one’s inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job; writing long, meandering narratives; including “red flag” concepts such as “hostile work environment“; simply giving to the doctor the 3112C with the return address of one’s Human Resources Department at one’s agency; and multiple other such follies.  Yet, such mistakes are not only common; they are to be expected.

The administrative process of Federal Disability Retirement is constructed to appear “simple”.  The questions asked on the standard forms appear straightforward, if not cleverly uncomplicated in their very formulation.  Yet, the laws which govern the benefit identified as “Federal Disability Retirement” is amassed in a compendium of statutes, regulations and case-law, all of which have evolved in interpretive significance over many years.

History does repeat itself; for Federal and Postal employees who are contemplating or have initiated the filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS, the age-old adage concerning history not only confirms the truth of such a saying, but reinforces it daily.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Appropriate Times

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, one of the issues which every Federal and Postal employee must consider is whether to hire an attorney.

“What kind” of an attorney to hire is a fairly self-evident proposition — one that specializes (exclusively) in Federal Disability Retirement law, or at the very least, whose practice involves a significant amount of Federal Disability Retirement legal practice.  Most local attorneys have no idea about Federal Disability Retirement, and indeed, the location of the attorney is irrelevant, precisely because it is a Federal issue, and not a State one, and everything must ultimately be forwarded to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, anyway — initially to Boyers, PA, then on to Washington, D.C.

“Whether” to hire an attorney is a more relevant issue.  As everyone believes that his or her own case is a slam-dunk case (because of the difficulty of bifurcating the subject of the Federal Disability Retirement application — the very “I” who is suffering from the medical condition itself — from the “object” of the Federal Disability Retirement application — the person of whom one is speaking about in medical reports, Supervisor’s Statement, etc.), it is often important to obtain a more “objective” assessment of the efficacy, objectivity, and coherence of descriptive delineation of the packet as a whole, from someone who can properly evaluate a Federal Disability Retirement application.

“When” to hire an attorney is also a crucial issue to confront; for, if one has already submitted a Federal Disability Retirement application, it is probably not a good idea to obtain the services of an attorney at that point.  It is best to put the investment in at the “front end” of a process, than to play catch-up for the remainder of the season.

That is what the Baltimore Orioles do each and every season — fail to put the necessary investment in at the beginning of each season — and that is why it is a hardship to be an Orioles fan.  Sigh.  But Spring brings new hope — only, not if you are an Orioles fan.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Meticulous Preparation

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is important to take the time, effort and care to prepare each element of the application for Federal Disability Retirement with meticulousness.  The term and conceptual implication of the word, “being meticulous” involves precision and the imagery of a methodical approach, of attending to the details and formulating the various aspects of the packet with thoughtful thoroughness.  

As a watchmaker who must attend to the minute details of his masterpiece (yes, it is a deliberate pun on using the term “minute” to infer both the idea of size as well as a quantity of time, but pronounced in different ways), it is in the very details of a Federal Disability Retirement case where the battle for approval or denial must be fought. It is often pointed out that ease of effort distinguishes between the professional and the amateur; that the professional makes it all look so easy.  Yet, the amount of preparation and practice which the professional undergoes prior to going on stage, or showing his or her abilities before a watchful crowd, is what the audience does not see.  

Similarly, when the Office of Personnel Management reviews a Federal Disability Retirement application and sees how everything logically “fits” together and proves by a preponderance of the evidence that a Federal Disability Retirement application has met all of the legal criteria for an approval, it is the meticulous preparation which has gone into fitting all of the “pieces of the puzzle” together, which provided the foundation for such success.  

Like those automobile commercials where precision driving through difficult obstacles ends with the cautionary statement:  “Beware, do not try this on your own, as the drivers in this ad were all professionals”; so it is a similar statement to the Federal or Postal employee who is attempting to formulate a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS:  it is not an easy matter, and meticulous preparation must be taken to formulate the medical, legal, narrative and multitudinous elements necessary to qualify for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: The Chasm between Denials

From the perspective of an individual Applicant for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS, the individual applicant does not normally observe some other person’s Federal Disability Retirement application, and therefore never has the opportunity to see the “greater process” at work, or patterns of behavior on the part of the Office of Personnel Management.  Yet, there are indeed patterns, and that is why an experienced attorney who has seen literally thousands of Federal Disability Retirement cases over numerous years, has an advantage in responding to OPM’s denials.  Experience lends itself to greater observation.  Experience over time reveals certain patterns.  And patterns of behavior can reveal important principles. 

Certain OPM Representatives provide detailed and (often) irrelevant factual references which can be ignored; others like to “cite the law” and believe that such citations appear irrefutable and authoritative; and still others give scant discussion to laws or to facts.  Thus, there often appears to be a great chasm between the types of denials.  Whether or not there are such differences, an applicant who has received a denial for his or her Federal Disability Retirement case needs to respond to any such denial with a three-pronged attack:  Medical refutation; Factual correction; Legal assertion.  Such an attack will cover any chasm which might exist between the different individuals who send out a denial letter.  More importantly, it will cover the necessary elements for winning a Federal Disability Retirement case.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Miscellaneous

Some cases take months to win; others, merely a week or so.  In some Disability Retirement applications under FERS or CSRS, a half-page report of substantive medical evidence is enough; in other cases, it is the compilation of voluminous material which must be argued and persuasively emphasized, in order to convince the representative at the Office of Personnel Management that the Federal or Postal employee is entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits. 

Professionally, it gives me no greater satisfaction when a case takes a week, or if it is approved based upon a half-page medical report, than if it takes months or volumes of medical evidence:  an approval by any means results in the satisfaction of a client.  There a some cases in which a client “grumbles” when I am hired, paid, and am able to reverse an OPM decision within a week; but I try and explain to all clients that when you hire an attorney, you hire the attorney not only for his professional competence, knowledge and experience, but also for the reputation that an attorney brings to the forum.  I have attempted to build a reputation of integrity with the Office of Personnel Management, and there are many times when OPM will reverse their previous decision upon my entering my appearance into a case.  I share this fact with great humility, and an appreciation that one’s reputation still means something in this world.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire