Federal Employee Medical Retirement: The Process of Decision-making

It is both informative and interesting to observe various personalities in the thought-process of decision-making.

Some will merely be silent and ponder for hours, days, and weeks (or longer), as if time alone with resolve an issue; others will be proactive and aggressively inquire, gather further facts; still others will make a quick and decisive stand, with little thought or reflection.

Then, of course, there are those who rely upon “gut instinct”; others who apply a methodological paradigm where each criteria must be satisfied and checked off before a decision is made; and some who “hedge their bets” and make a contingent decision, which is often no decision at all.

For Federal and Postal employees who are contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the luxury of time often works against them.

Time is the great decider of fate; for, whether because of financial reasons, Statute of Limitations, or impending adverse actions proposed by the agency, time constraints must always be factored into the process of decision-making. Wait too long, and it may be too late; wait not long enough, and an opportunity presently unforeseen may have manifested itself.

Time, in its essence, is both the outside influence and the internal trigger, and the time one takes in pondering the proper decision is often the indicator of whether it is the right or wrong decision.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Targeted Use of Collateral Evidence

Case-law from the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, as well as judicial opinions rendered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, maintain the standard of acceptable proof for a Federal Disability Retirement case submitted to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, for Federal and Postal employees under either FERS or CSRS.

The primary basis for a Federal Disability Retirement application is clear:  A medical condition which exists, which prevents the Federal or Postal employee from performing at least one, if not more, of the essential elements of one’s job; that a legally viable accommodation is not possible; that reassignment to another position at the same pay or grade is not reasonably feasible; that the medical condition will last a minimum of 12 months; and that the Federal or Postal employee must file for such benefits during the tenure of one’s employment as a Federal or Postal Employee, or within 1 year of being separated from Federal employment.

The core of one’s proof is generally based upon the treatment and opinion of one’s treating doctor.

Every now and again, however, there are “collateral” sources of proof which should be considered, and for various reasons, which must be relied upon for establishment of one’s eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  Such proof may include: opinions rendered by Second-opinion or “referee” doctors in an OWCP case; percentage ratings provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs; SSDI approval determinations; separation from the Agency based upon one’s medical inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job; medical notes for FMLA; and even (sometimes, but rarely) a decision granting disability benefits by a private insurer; and other such collateral sources of proof.

Such proof, of course, should never replace the centrality of one’s own treating doctor, and further, should always be targeted and submitted with discretionary judgment.  Sometimes, it can be the “other evidence” which makes the difference in a case; other times, if used indiscriminately, can be an indicator of the weakness of one’s case.

Be careful; be targeted; use discretion.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Legal Arguments

Legal arguments represent a peculiar form of persuasive argumentation; by appealing to statutory authority, precedents as set by prior court cases and administrative legal opinions, as well as decisions rendered in previous decisions — the foundation of a legal argument rests upon the validity of that which occurred prior to one’s own case.

That is why, in making a legal argument, lawyers argue “by analogy” — via similarity of factual context, as a logical proposition:  X resulted in Y; the factual circumstances in A are similar to X; therefore, A should similarly result in Y.  It is not, in terms of pure syllogistic logic, a valid one to make; for the dissimilarities between A and X may well determine the outcome as to Y.

Further, familiarity with the underlying reasoning of a legal opinion is essential to making a valid legal argument.  That is why non-lawyers who attempt to cite case-law and legal authorities as a basis for their Federal Disability Retirement often fail, and fail miserably:  while it may be the right case-law to cite, the analogy may not fit the context.  In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, it is not only important to create the nexus between one’s medical condition and the positional duties of the Federal or Postal job; moreover, it is essential to make the logical and legal argument in a persuasive, effective manner.

According to an Aristotelian approach, man is indeed a rational animal, and rationality is effectively pursued through a logical methodology; but what is not stated in such an approach, is that rationality and logic do not constitute the entirety of the universe of human persuasion; legal argumentation is merely one facet of the society within which we must live; in the context of a Federal Disability Retirement application, it may play a major part; and that is why citing the right case, making the proper analogy, and creating the logical nexus between facts and “the law”, is essential to a successful outcome in a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Sparing the Legal Argument

In preparing, formulating, and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, there are multiple discretionary decisions to make.  By “discretionary decision“, is meant that there may be differing priorities of values which must be placed in the very process of deciding whether or not to include or exclude a medical document, legal argument, etc., and the prioritizing of the value placed upon such evidence is what will determine the decision itself.  There may ultimately be no “correct” decision on the matter, as opposed to an incorrect one.

Further, one may never know (or care, once an approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application is received) whether or not the Office of Personnel Management made a positive or adverse decision on the Federal Disability Retirement application (whichever the case may be at any given stage of the administrative process) based upon the same priority of values assessed upon the decision itself.

For example, sometimes the evidence itself — whether medical or non-medical documentary evidence — may be compelling enough in and of itself, that making a long and tedious legal argument may in fact detract from the prima facie strength of the evidence itself.  Or, it may be that a short sentence or annotation in a medical document may be so significant that a particular legal argument, however long and involved that may be, should be stated, and stated at length, and argued boldly.

Discretion dictates a restraining of a reactionary response; sometimes, the shorter the statement, the more effective is the presentation.  Length and verbosity alone do not constitute effectiveness in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from OPM.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Undue Focus upon Minutiae

It is like the story of the man who rushes in breathlessly and declaratively warns others of the impending tornado, and with only minutes to spare, he is stopped and asked, “But will we still be able to watch our evening shows?”  The focus upon relevant details; of the “larger picture“; of logical and sequential sets of facts, as opposed to getting irrelevant information correctly stated, is often a problem in writing effectively.

The ability to use discretionary choices in separating factually important descriptions from those which are tertiary at best — will result in having the reader focus upon the essential aspects of one’s presentation, in any context or forum.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, it is vitally important to separate and bifurcate that which is primary in importance, that which is secondarily of relevance, and those factual minutiae which, even if left out, will make little or no difference to the substantive content of a Federal Disability Retirement application.

Often, Federal and Postal employees who suffer from severe psychiatric conditions will unduly focus upon minutiae which, in the context of their medical conditions, are exponentially quantified in magnified importance beyond reason or rationale.  One must understand that such is the very nature of the psychiatric condition itself; but recognizing it as such, and trusting in the wise counsel and advice of one’s attorney, is the best first step in making sure that one’s Federal Disability Retirement application will have a fighting chance for an approval.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Discretionary Extraction

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, there is often the question of whether X should be included, or Y should be left out.  Whether certain elements, issues, substantive descriptions, etc., should be included, excluded, extracted or otherwise inserted, largely falls into discretionary decision-making; sometimes, however, personal or professional discretion should not be the guiding criteria; rather, the compelling necessity directed by the legal requirements should dictate the decision itself.

Making such decisions often fall into three basic categories:  Substantive; ancillary; an admixture of the first and second.  Obviously, “which” medical conditions should be included will normally fall into the substantive category; the “history” of the medical condition, the circumstances under which the medical condition came about, and certain medical conditions which one might suffer from, but which have little or no impact upon one’s ability/inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job, might be considered ancillary; and lastly, the admixture of the two — of agency-induced issues which may have resulted in an EEO action; stress-related conditions from a hostile work environment:  these must be considered carefully, and should rarely be included in a Federal Disability Retirement application.

Ultimately, the guiding principle should be:  Don’t muddy the waters.  But the true guide should always be “the law”, and what purports to uphold that which proves by a preponderance of the evidence a Federal Disability Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire