OPM Disability Retirement: The Response to the Denial & Properly Reading the Signs

Responding to an OPM Disability Retirement application denial is fraught with dangers of addressing the right issue; whether such a response does so adequately; and the determination of the extent of what constitutes “adequacy” in such a response.  Properly reading the “road signs” is the key to a successful response.  For, to begin with, cogency and brevity are not characteristics which are common in an OPM Disability Retirement denial.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management utilizes multiple templates in referring to the sufficiency of legal and documentary proof, and will often shift arbitrarily in declaring why, and to what extent, a Federal or Postal disability retirement application did not meet the standard of proof required, which is governed by a “preponderance of the evidence”.  They will, of course, often cite various legal “criteria”, and number them accordingly, as in:  “You did not meet Criteria Number 4 in that…”

In responding, it is important to address the critical issues which OPM regards as central to its decision, and as all roads lead back to Rome, so it is with a response to a denial from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in a Federal Disability Retirement case: All roads lead back to the original nexus of whether a Federal or Postal employee can perform all of the essential elements of one’s job within the context of the severity and extent of one’s medical conditions, and to the issue of whether or not a “reasonable” accommodation could have been provided by the individual’s agency.

Broken down into its foundational components, the pathways can be ultimately discerned, and the proverbial fork-in-the-road leading one to the right way back to Rome will often depend upon how the traveler interprets the signs.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: The Agency, FMLA and LWOP

Because filing for Federal Disability Retirement is a process which may take 6 – 8 months, and sometimes longer, there is always the question of what the Agency will do during this time.  Of course, a Federal or Postal employee will often continue to work for as long as possible, and for as many days during each enduring week as possible, in order to survive economically during the process of preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  The medical condition itself, however, will often dictate the feasibility of attempting to continue to work. 

During this period, a Federal or Postal employee may have limited options — especially when Sick Leave and Annual Leave have been exhausted.  Protection by filing under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) will accord temporary protection and a buffer against a demanding agency.  A further request to be placed on LWOP beyond the 12 weeks which FMLA will allow for, will often be granted at the discretion of the Agency. 

If an agency places one in AWOL status, such an action by the Agency should be countered with documentation from one’s doctor which justifies the continued absence of the Federal or Postal employee.  Unfortunately, there is often no clear answer to the question, “What if my agency fails to cooperate while I am filing for Federal Disability Retirement?”  There are only responsive steps to take in order to protect the ultimate goal — that of obtaining an approval from the Office of Personnel Management.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Affirmative Approach

The road which leads to one’s future financial security is irreversibly tied to the extent of how affirmatively one takes one’s future into one’s own hand (now, that was indeed a mouthful).  By this, I mean merely that, in preparing an application for Federal Disability Retirement, there are going to be all sorts of “outside forces” which pull you towards every different direction.  Friends will tell you one thing; your Agency will tell you something else; your coworkers will give you stories (both good and bad); your Human Resources Department may give you advice; ultimately, you must take an affirmative approach and make sure that your application is coherent, logically structured, and medically supported. 

By way of example, an Agency’s Human Resources Department will often insist that the Physician’s Statement, SF 3112C, is a “required” form.  It is not.  They will often give you the form with the return address of the Agency stamped in the upper blank box, for the medical report and records to be returned to the H.R. Department.  Upon receipt, the H.R. Department simply includes the medical documentation (without review or determination that it is helpful to your case), and forwards the packet to the Office of Personnel Management.  This would be the “non-affirmative” approach of doing things. 

To take the affirmative approach would be:  Make sure that the medical documentation you submit to OPM is the extent, type, and quality that you want to submit.  Remember:  the applicant has the burden of proof, by a preponderance of the evidence, to show that you are entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  Don’t let third parties (i.e., friends, coworkers, Agency, H.R. Department personnel, etc.) make the decisions for you.  Take the affirmative approach — either by yourself, or through your attorney.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: The Agency

I have written on this particular topic in the past, but certain issues seem to be “recurring thematic issues” which need constant vigilance in approaching it in the proper manner. Filing for disability retirement requires an affirmation of two foundational hurdles: (1) acknowledgment and acceptance that one has reached a point in one’s life that he/she can no longer perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  This is the “psychological hurdle” which must be overcome.  And, (2) dealing with the Agency — trying to get the Agency to be “on your side” or, short of that, to render any potential agency action to become irrelevant or inconsequential. 

As to the first hurdle, the Federal employee must always remember that filing for disability retirement is not a “shameful” thing — it is a pragmatic business decision:  No longer a good “fit” for one’s job, it is a benefit which one has had as part of the “employment package” that one accepted when one became a Federal employee.  Remember that, in the private sector, an employee may get a greater salary compensation package; in the Federal government, the employment package includes more than salary:  it includes health insurance, life insurance, disability retirement benefits, annual & sick leave, etc.  Filing for disability retirement is simply part of that compensation package.  As to the second, once an employee decides to file for disability retirement, it is important to try and convince the Agency that any adverse actions contemplated (putting you on a PIP; suspension actions; negative performance ratings; contemplated removal actions, etc.) will be vigorously contested — unless it is removal based upon a medical inability to perform one’s job.   Hurdles often arise through inaction and fear; this is your life; take the affirmative road, and begin tackling the issues “head-on”.  The time to file for disability retirement is now — not tomorrow.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Proper Response to the Agency

It is often difficult to inform an Agency of one’s decision to file for disability retirement. On the one hand, it is often a place where a Federal Employee has spent many years working for; with multiple years of interaction, both good and bad, it is a place which has grown to play a prominent role in the employee’s daily life, with necessary interpersonal infusions of personalities, playing such an influence as important as one’s personal family life — and, because a person may spend 8 – 10 hours a day, week after week, month after month, like life in a family, it has come to embrace a place of primary importance in one’s life. As such, to inform such a place of one’s decision to file for disability retirement is, in effect, to inform them of one’s separation from that primary location of importance. Such separation can be as psychologically devastating as a “divorce” which, in many respects, it is similar to. That is often why the role of an attorney can be important. An attorney can be a “middle-man”, an arbiter to soften the strain of such a separation from a federal employee from his or her “family”. Remember, this is an administrative process; it need not be an adversarial process. An attorney experienced in disability retirement law should know the process, and act to soften the separation which has been long in coming, and work to garner a sense of “teamwork” between Agency and employee, to attain as amicable a separation as possible.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill,Esquire