Federal Employee Medical Retirement: NRP, the Flight Surgeon and others

What do the National Reassessment Process for the U.S. Postal Service, the Flight Surgeon for the Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, and other entities/personnel from other agencies have in common?  

With respect to Federal Disability Retirement applications under FERS or CSRS, the commonality which weaves throughout all is the ability to declare an effective end to a Federal or Postal employee’s career, by asserting that the Federal or Postal employee can no longer perform one or more of the essential elements of his or her job, and because the agency is unable to accommodate the Federal or Postal employee, the resulting option left is to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits with the Office of Personnel Management.

Logically, one would assume that such an agency action would result in essentially an automatic approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  Such an assumption would be erroneous, and to proceed to prepare, formulate and file a Federal Disability Retirement application based upon the erroneous assumption could result in delay, detriment, and ultimate denial by the Office of Personnel Management.  

One must always remember that, separate and apart from what the Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service does, the Federal or Postal employee must always be the one to affirmatively prove one’s case, by gathering and presenting the proper medical documentation, and formulating the nexus between the medical condition suffered and the essential elements of one’s job.  

Whether the Flight Surgeon at the FAA medically disqualifies you; whether the National Reassessment Process makes a declarative statement that no jobs are available to a particular Postal Worker; or whether the Federal Agency states that they are separating you because of your medical inability to perform your job — while the commonality between them exists, it does not extend to the Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Periodic Clarifications

Clarifications are needed to be periodically made, based upon questions which Federal and Postal employees continue to ask.  There is often a confusion concerning the “one year” issue — whether it concerns the Statute of Limitations in filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, or the length of time a medical condition must last. 

A Federal or Postal employee must file a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS within one (1) year of being separated from one’s Agency.  The confusion often arises because a Federal or Postal employee is unsure of whether or not such separation from service has actually occurred.  Especially for Postal employees, where the U.S. Postal service will often continue to keep a Postal employee “on the rolls” despite having been on OWCP for many years, the confusion can be understandable.  However, one indicator is that if a Postal employee is continuing to receive zero-balance pay stubs, then in all likelihood that Postal employee has not yet been separated from service, and the 1-year tolling of the Statute of Limitations has not yet begun. 

Because obtaining an approval from the Office of Personnel Management on a Federal Disability Retirement application can take an extraordinary amount of time, however, it is wise to begin the process sooner, rather than later, whether one has been “officially separated” from service or not.  For Federal employees, an SF 50 (Personnel Action) form would systematically be issued showing that a Federal employee has been separated from Federal Service

As for the 1-year issue concerning the extent of a medical condition, we will address that issue at another time.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Early Retirement for Disabled Federal Workers: The “Almost” Medical Inability to Perform Termination

Often, Agencies will proceed to propose a removal of a Federal or Postal employee based upon reasons which clearly “imply” one’s medical inability to perform one or more of the essential functions of one’s job, but explicitly, based upon other stated reasons — e.g., “Failure to Maintain a regular work schedule” or “Being Absent Without Official Leave (AWOL)“.

Then, the frustrating scenario is when the Agency — in the body of the proposed removal letter — refers to and acknowledges the existence of multiple medical conditions which form the foundation, reason and justification for being unable to maintain a regular work schedule or being absent from the job (whether with or without official sanction or approval).

The key in such circumstances, of course, is to try and attempt to make the “implicit” (references to one’s medical conditions and their impact upon one’s inability to perform one’s job) “explicit” (having the Agency change or amend the reasons to instead state:  “Removal based upon the employee’s Medical Inability to Perform his or her job”).

Such a change, of course, would be helpful in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, precisely because it would invoke the Bruner Presumption, which would then make it that much more difficult for the Office of Personnel Management to deny a Federal Disability Retirement application.  For, that is the ultimate goal:  to obtain an approval of the Federal Disability Retirement application; and any such advantage gained brings the Federal or Postal employee one step closer to that ultimate goal.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Using an Agency’s Action

Agencies will often act in predictable fashion; they act based upon prior actions engaged in; they act as an organic constituent of procedures and policies previously followed (often blindly and without thought) in the past; they act in self-interest, and often with a very narrow, myopic path and goal.  

If an agency ignores the medical conditions and the documentation submitted showing the medical conditions of a Federal or Postal employee, and removes an individual from his or her Federal position based upon reasons other than one’s medical inability to perform one’s job (whether intentionally or because no one bothered to look at the medical documentation), then the resulting action can obviously impact a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  Often, the Agency’s general counsel will be the first person to finally listen to reason, and by then an appeal has been filed with the Merit Systems Protection Board, for the sole and narrow purpose — not of overturning the termination or getting one’s job back, but — of rescinding the adverse decision of removal and reissuing a removal based upon one’s medical inability to perform one’s job.  

This course of action, however, is not always necessary.  Often, the adverse action, the delineation of poor performance, etc., can be directly tied to one’s progressively deteriorating medical condition, and the Agency’s own actions can be used to one’s advantage in proving a Federal Disability Retirement case.  Each case is different, and discretion in fighting for that which is helpful, and recognizing that what may “appear” to be adverse, is actually to one’s benefit, is the key to winning a Federal Disability Retirement case under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Termination (Part 2)

There are times when an Agency will proceed and terminate a Federal or Postal employee based upon adverse grounds — of “Failing to follow proper leave procedures”, for being AWOL, for Failure to do X, Y or Z.  Such adverse actions may be the “surface” reason for the actual, underlying reason — that of one’s medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  Once a proposed termination becomes an actual termination, then the course of action to take, of course, is to file an appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board.  An Administrative Judge can often be of great assistance in defining and narrowing the issues, and in gently persuading and convincing the Agency to consider changing and amending the “surface” reason to the true, underlying reason of medical inability to perform the job.  The goal here, of course, is to do everything to help in “weighting” a disability retirement application in your favor, and while obtaining the Bruner Presumption in a case is not critical, in many cases, it can be helpful.  And the way to get the Administrative Judge on your side, so that the AJ will then try and persuade the Agency to consider amending a removal, is to obtain well-documented, well-written medical narrative reports from the doctors.  As is almost always the case, the underlying basis for any disability retirement application begins and ends with a well-written medical report.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Service Disability Retirement: After Separation from Service

It should be well established for anyone who has looked into Federal Disability Retirement issues, that a person has one (1) year from the time of separation from Federal Service to file for Federal Disability retirement benefits.  Separation from Federal Service can take many different forms:  Resignation; separation for cause; administrative separation based upon one’s medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job; etc.  The latter of these delineated forms (separation for medical inability to perform) is obviously the most beneficial to one contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement (first and foremost because it allows for the Bruner Presumption to be applied). 

On the other hand, separation based upon a resignation is often neutral for issues concerning disability retirement (unless, of course, one has been foolish to put into his or her letter of resignation that the reason for the resignation is to go and become a professional poker player for the next year — but even then, if a medical condition existed prior to resignation, one might still be eligible for disability retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS); and, obviously, if the resignation was accompanied by a medical reason, and that particular medical reason was reflected in the SF 50, all the better.  Even separation for adverse actions — if there was a medical condition which existed prior to separation — can be explained away and fought for.  The point here is, regardless of the nature, reason and expressed rationale for separation from service, if a medical condition existed prior to separation from service, such that the medical condition prevented one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, there is a viable basis for filing for, and fighting for, Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability retirement: End of Summer and Postal VER

Summer is almost at an end. The Postal Service, through the auspices of the Office of Personnel Management, is offering Voluntary Early Retirement (VER). For many, this is a positive thing; the decision to take the VER should be a financial decision. An analysis comparing the monetary return should be made between what an employee would receive under the VER and under disability retirement; if the financial difference is great, then obviously the employee should consider filing for disability retirement after the VER has been approved.

Remember that the employee would have one (1) year to file for disability retirement benefits, after the individual has been separated from service. Steps should be taken now, however, before accepting/filing for the VER, to establish the medical condition and disability prior to separation from service. This can be done by discussing the medical condition with one’s treating doctor, before the VER is applied for. Such early steps will help ensure the success of a future filing for disability retirement benefits — because the employee must establish that the medical condition impacted one’s ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job prior to separation from Federal Service.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire