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

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Persuading with Persuasive Arguments

The question is often asked concerning whether or not and to what extent other collateral agency decisions can impact a Federal Disability Retirement application filed with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), whether under FERS or CSRS.

The only answer which can be provided is the standard, “It depends…”  The reason why “it depends” is precisely because utilization of any persuasive information or evidence is primarily dependent upon the persuasive efficacy of the evidence itself.

There is certainly legal case-law support for collateral evidentiary submissions, including SSDI, Department of Veterans Affairs ratings, Military Board findings, and DOL/OWCP second opinion and “referee” findings, etc.  Thus, the issue is not whether or not there is a basis for using such third-hand sources to support the primary evidentiary foundation of a Federal Disability Retirement application; rather, the issue becomes one of how effectively should one use such evidence.  Such a question, of course, can only depend upon the particular and unique circumstances of each case, by analyzing and reviewing the strength, applicability, and relevance of the documented information.

Sometimes, use of such collateral evidence can somewhat backfire, in that OPM will actually point to such evidence and discuss it in a way which supports a denial.  Care and discretion must always be taken in using collateral information; it is always the primacy of the primary information which must be used, and used effectively.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Use of Collateral Sources

Context is important.  Identifying the relevance of importance, however, is discretionary, and requires some insight into the impact which a differentiated distinction might require.

Allow for some expansive explanation:  In attempting to obtain OWCP/DOL benefits, one may want to argue against the validity of a medical evaluation — i.e., by attacking the claimed “independence” of the medical evaluation (argument:  the doctor is being compensated by the Department of Labor; 25% of his practice is devoted to such evaluations, and out of that, 95% of his evaluations are found to be in favor of the Department of Labor, etc.).  But the fact that one may want to attack the relevance and validity of an  independent medical examination within the context of the Office of Worker’s Compensation, does not mean that when one files for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, that one should necessarily and unequivocally discard the received report from OWCP.

There may well be statements contained in such a report which may be useful in arguing to OPM that one’s Federal Disability Retirement application should be approved.  Can one argue positively that it is an “independent” medical examination?  Absolutely.  In fact, the contrary argument should be made:  that because the doctor was selected by another government agency (Department of Labor), it is all the more so that the medical opinions of the particular doctor are relevant and of significant impact.  One must be careful, of course, in using such collateral sources for support of one’s Federal Disability Retirement application, but so long as the proper context is identified and understood, one should always consider the use of such “other” sources of support — but never to replace the primary importance of one’s treating doctor.  Context, properly understood, can result in substantive argumentation of relevant and significant import.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: Those Intersecting “Other” Determinations

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 useful to understand the impact — if any — provided by the approval of any of the “other” compensation programs available to all Federal and Postal employees.

Thus, inasmuch as a Federal or Postal employee filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS must also file, sometime during the administrative and bureaucratic process, for SSDI benefits, in the off-chance that SSDI approves the application before OPM makes a decision on a Federal Disability Retirement application (which, because of OPM’s extended timeframe for making decisions, is less rare these days than one may think), can it have any impact in the Federal Disability Retirement process?  And what about OWCP/FECA?  Does the fact that a Second-Opinion doctor, or what is sometimes euphemistically referred to as a “Referee doctor”, rendering a medical opinion (and therefore a narrative report) stating that the injured Federal or Postal worker is “permanently” disabled, or that he or she is unable to go back to one’s job, relevant to a Federal Disability Retirement application?  How about a VA Disability Rating?  Does the determination provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs have any relevance to the Federal Disability Retirement application?

These are all potential “tools” to be used in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, and the Federal or Postal employee should be aware of the case-laws which provide for persuasive impact — not determinative — to the Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: Collateral Impact

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, there is the question of whether collateral or parallel venues of disability benefits can be applied for; whether there is a conflict between such “other” filings; and further, what impact each of the alternative sources have on each other.  

Such other venues of applied benefits could include the Office of Worker’s Compensation, under the Federal Employees Compensation Act/Department of Labor (OWCP/FECA/DOL); Social Security Disability; Unemployment compensation; VA Disability benefits, private disability policies, etc.

As a general rule, there is no reason why all of such benefits should not be applied for concurrently.  Is there a conflict between each?  By the term, “conflict”, would imply something negative or improper in the mere filing.  To that superficial question (and by “superficial” is merely meant an initial, fundamental question, and not as to the depth of any complexity), the answer is a simple “no”.  There is nothing improper in filing for multiple and concurrent benefits, so long as the questions asked by each benefit/entity is answered honestly and truthfully.  

As for “impact” between one or the other, some benefits have exclusive compensation (OWCP & FERS or CSRS disability annuities cannot be paid at the same time), some have offsetting benefits (FERS & SSDI offset each other); some have no impact on each other at all (VA benefits & Federal Disability Retirement benefits can be received concurrently, for example), while still others depend upon the language of the contract (e.g., private disability policies).  

A still further question concerns whether or not medical reports and benefit determinations from one source can impact, and in what way, another source.  That subject will be discussed in another blog.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Continuing Issues with Collateral Impact

It is sometimes asked whether or not other issues which are concurrently and concomitantly filed can, and to what extent, impact the viability of a Federal Disability Retirement application submitted for approval to the Office of Personnel Management.

In order to comprehend such a question, it is important to view the answer from the various perspective of the parties.  First, from the viewpoint of the Office of Personnel Management — unless they are specifically made aware of such collateral issues — such peripheral “other issues” would have no bearing upon a Federal Disability Retirement application unless it concerned the potential offset questions of Social Security Disability.  

Whether a court filing which concerns a discrimination issue; or an EEOC filing, or perhaps a grievance procedure; all such collateral issues, from the viewpoint of the Office of Personnel Management, would have no relevance.  Then, of course, there is the perspective of the “other” forum — perhaps there is an ongoing case at the Merit Systems Protection Board, or with the EEOC, or even a Federal Court case.  

Whether, from the “other” forum, there may be an interest as to whether the Federal or Postal employee has filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits with the Office of Personnel Management, is a question which only the other forum can answer.  

If a claim is made in the alternate forum where the requested relief involves getting one’s job back, and at the same time, one has declared by the mere filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS with the Office of Personnel Management, that one is no longer able to perform all of the essential elements of one’s job, then from the “other” perspective, what has been filed with the Office of Personnel Management may be of some interest to the other forum.  However, remember that seemingly contradictory concurrent filings are not necessarily negatively viewed, especially if such actions are engaged in order to preserve one’s right to assert a legal standing.  

Ultimately, however, it is a rare case indeed that an alternate, concurrent, concomitant filing with another forum has any relevance or impact upon a Federal Disability Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Details

Ultimately, it is not the “devil” which is in the details; rather, the details of a Federal Disability Retirement application often determine the success or failure of a case.  

Attention to the details — of coordinating the Applicant’s Statement of Disability with the submitted medical reports and the legal/analytical arguments to be made; of distinguishing between “facts” and “arguments”; of anticipating any issues which an Agency might bring up; of making the determination as to which anticipated issues should be focused upon and preempted (if at all); of whether to utilize collateral sources of documentation, whether they be statements from a denied SSDI application or the ascription and allocation of a Veterans Administration disability rating; whether, if a concurrent OWCP case has generated a Second Opinion or Referee Medical Report; which medical reports to request and submit; which legal and analytical arguments to engage in at the outset; whether or not additional, non-medical but (potentially) supportive documentation should be attached — these are the details which make up for a devilish time.  

In preparing, formulating, and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is not a question of whether the details make any difference; for the most part, they constitute all the difference.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire