Federal Disability Retirement Lawyer blog: Meeting the Legal Criteria

Lawyers often speak about “the law” as if it has the character of a science — of established principles which are objective, without the arbitrary influences of subjective interpretive devices or nuances. But even science itself fails any pure test of universal unalterability; one need only read Kuhn’s description of shifting paradigms in the history of science (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions) to understand that objectivity is merely another word for pragmatism. For, that which “works” or is “effective” in the eyes of the greatest number of people, is what matters to most people. That is why success is an irreplaceable harbinger of general opinion.

In the Federal government, one would like to expect application of rules, regulations, etc., somewhat in an algorithmic form, where favoritism is lacking, and where everyone has a “clean shot” at everything.

Especially when it comes to a benefit such as Federal Disability Retirement, which impacts those who are most unfortunate — one beset with a medical condition such that one can no longer perform all of the essential elements of one’s job — an expectation that an objective criteria which can be met by pure factual presentation, legal magnification of relevant statutes and laws, and perhaps some modicum of argumentation for persuasion, is what should occur in a perfect world. But as the proverbial perfect world fails to materialize, we must do with what we are given; subjective interpretation, and selective analysis are merely human frailties and imperfections.

That is why legal argumentation and countering of subjectivism must be employed.

Federal Disability Retirement, whether for FERS or CSRS employees of the Federal government, must be fought for, and “won”; there is no mathematical algorithm of objective application; there is no parallel universe of perfection; there is only the human condition, which requires interpretation, knowledge, analysis, and argumentation which persuades and cajoles.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: The Backbone of Agencies

While the greater geopolitical standoffs continue, it is always the backbone of the agencies which is most profoundly impacted.  The Federal and Postal Workers (yes, fortunately the latter are exempted from the shutdown) who daily toil and keep government services running, are sent home only to return when the whims of compromise decide to restart the indifferent bureaucracy.

For those Federal Workers who suffer from a medical condition which impacts one’s ability to perform the essential elements of the job, the backlog of work will only mount, putting greater pressure upon the need to toil harder.  The backlog will only exponentially increase at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, also, and at each agency’s Human Resources Department which processes all Federal Disability Retirement applications, whether under FERS or CSRS.  Postal Workers are somewhat more fortunate, in that the H.R. Shared Services remains open to process all Federal Disability Retirement applications; but forwarding them to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management will only await the opening of their doors.

Lines will be forming; but for the Federal Worker who cannot perform all of the essential elements of one’s job, the most important thing to do right now is to get in line, prepare one’s application, and submit it as early as possible.  Backbones aside, there will be much work for OPM once the Federal Government is up and running, again.

For the Federal and Postal Worker preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the virtue of patience will again be tested.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Preparatory Steps

Every excellent endeavor requires preparation, whether in purchasing the proper ingredients, of establishing and entering into a proper mental state of mind, or perhaps in performing preliminary stretching exercises to enhance muscular flexibility and loosening for rigorous physical activity.

Lack of preparation is not a necessary prerequisite for success, but it may well be a sufficient basis of failure.  In logic, the conceptual distinction between that which is “necessary”, as opposed to what is “sufficient”, is an important bifurcation of causal implications.  That which is sufficient, may not be necessary; and that which is necessary, may not alone be sufficient in reaching result X; but the combination of sufficiency and necessity will cause X to be achieved.

Thus, adequate preparation alone may be necessary for the best possible outcome, but it may not be sufficient; and, conversely, the utmost of preparation may be sufficient to accomplish a task, but it may not have been necessary all along.

In preparing to formulate and compile a Federal Disability Retirement application, submitted to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is always a good idea to engage in the fullest preparatory tasks before filing for the benefits.  Not every act of preparation may be sufficient, but most are necessary; and while even the necessary tasks may not constitute sufficiency, it is the compendium of aggregated causal linkage which will ultimately ensure the greatest potentiality for success in the endeavor.

Logic aside, one will never be harmed by the extent of preparation.

Preparation for obtaining the best possible medical report; preparation for formulating an effective statement of disability; preparation in establishing the causal connection between the former and the latter; all of these are necessary for a compelling Federal/Postal Disability Retirement application, and in most cases, will establish a sufficiency which meets the legal criteria for eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, for the Federal and Postal employee.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: Some Basics

Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, is an administrative process which one must undergo if a Federal or Postal employee is medically unable to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s position.

It is a benefit which is accessible only if proven; and proof must meet the legal standard of “preponderance of the evidence“, through a tripartite methodology:  Evidence of the existence of a medical condition; the nexus of that medical condition impacting upon one’s ability/inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job; and that such a medical condition(s) cannot be legally accommodated by the agency such that the Federal or Postal employee can perform all of the essential elements of the Federal or Postal job.

While the Federal or Postal employee has up until one (1) year from the date of separation from Federal Service to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, the proof of when the nexus formed between one’s medical condition and the impact upon the position of one’s Federal Service, must have occurred during the Federal Service.

These are just some basics of Federal Disability Retirement law; the complexity, of course, resides in the details, and it is always the details which provide the fodder for an OPM denial.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Algorithms & Human Peculiarities

In maneuvering through the process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, there are potentially multiple stages that one may encounter:  The First Stage of the process — the initial filing; if denied, one has a right to have the denial “reconsidered” by filing a Request for Reconsideration within thirty (30) days of the denial; if denied by OPM a second time, then one has a right to file an appeal to the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, before an Administrative Judge.

There are, beyond the three stages identified, additional appellate stages of the process, including a Petition for Full Review before a 3-Judge panel of the MSPB, as well as an appeal to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.

At each stage of the process, the Federal Disability Retirement application is reviewed and evaluated for sufficiency of proof and satisfaction of the statutory criteria for eligibility; and, moreover, a different person looks at the application at each stage of the bureaucratic process.

Thus, there is no singular algorithm — no application of a computer model which is identical across the board — in the evaluation of one’s Federal Disability Retirement application.  Instead, a different person reviews and evaluates the Federal Disability Retirement application at each stage.  This is probably a positive approach, and one which would be deemed “fair” by any objective standard.  For, while an application of a standard algorithm may be deemed objectively impersonal and unbiased, whereas human beings, in their inherently fallible nature may indeed possess biases and inclinations; nevertheless, it is the peculiarities of human imperfections which are still the trusted traits for procedural determinations.

That is why there is such a hue and cry over the increasing use of video replays and electronic line judges in sports; for some reason, we still trust in the human perspective, as opposed to the cold hardware of computers.  Perhaps, in our collective childhoods, we all became paranoid from watching HAL 9000 in Kubrick’s 2001:  A Space Odyssey.  A shivering thought.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Application of a Neutral Legal Criteria

The application of law upon determination of a Federal Disability Retirement application is based upon a set of criteria which focuses upon the impact of a medical condition on the Federal or Postal employee’s ability or inability to perform all of the essential elements of his or her job.  Thus, it is different from other government programs or compensation benefits, in that it ignores such issues as causality or prima facie accepted medical diagnoses.

Indeed, one can have a serious medical condition and still be denied one’s Federal Disability Retirement application if one fails to show the nexus, or the impacting connection, between the serious medical condition and one’s ability/inability to perform all of the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal job.  In that sense, the applicable legal criteria is neutral in its very essence:  first, the Office of Personnel Management should (obviously) apply the law in a “neutral” manner, without regard to the person who applies, or be influenced in any way by the agency; but, moreover, and more importantly, the law itself is neutral to the extent that it makes no judgment upon the medical condition itself — only upon the medical condition in conjunction with the impact to one’s ability/inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job.

As such, in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the primary focus in attempting to prove this point — both from a medical perspective as well as from the applicant’s approach — should be to emphasize the connection between the diagnosed medical condition and the essential elements of one’s job, and not merely upon the seriousness of the former.  Only in this way can the neutrality of the legal criteria properly assess the viability and force of one’s Federal Disability Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Manufactured Legal Criteria

Even assuming good faith, the application of a manufactured legal criteria can lead to a harm which can be irreversible.  The consequence of a Federal or Postal employee relying upon a mis-stated, non-existent legal criteria can potentially result in simply raising one’s hands in frustration, as a sign of futility, and giving up on the process of attempting to pursue a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  

David Hume’s philosophical argument concerning causality and the fact that, because there is no “necessary connection” between two objects which meet, which result in one object “causing” the movement or sequential effect of the second object, may be a technically ingenious analysis of an intellectual discourse.  In the “real world”, however, when two objects collide, there are causal consequences.  

Similarly, in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, when the Office of Personnel Management requires that one submit “objective evidence” to justify the medical doctor’s conclusions of disability, what the Office of Personnel Management is requiring is a “necessary connection” which does not exist in “the law”.  Years of clinical examinations; notations of progressive deterioration; limited flexion and mobility; consistent complaints of pain; the aggregate of such complaints in and of itself constitutes evidence — but of course OPM ignores such evidence as being merely “subjective“.  

Just as Hume’s requirement of a necessary connection violates the pragmatic standards applicable in the “real world”, so OPM’s requirement of “objective medical evidence” betrays the legal criteria in a Federal Disability Retirement application. Fighting the misapplication of a non-existent legal criteria is like denying a negative, however; it can be done, but you must use the law as a sword, and not merely as a shield.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Qualifying Medical Condition

The question is often asked, “Does my medical condition qualify for Federal Disability Retirement?”, or some variation of that question.  

Such a question, of course, in order to “make sense” in the context of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, must be reformulated, precisely because the manner in which it is posed produces multiple sub-questions.  For, ultimately, the laws and regulations governing Federal Disability Retirement do not provide for a calculus of a mathematical correspondence, where medical condition X is considered a “qualifying” one, whereas medical condition Y fails to meet such a qualification criteria.  

The sub-questions which are immediately necessitated by the originating question, involve multiple factors:  Does the medical condition you suffer from impact your ability to perform one or more of the essential elements of your job?  In what way?  Can you describe how the medical condition impacts your ability to perform your job?  Are you being medically treated for your medical condition?  Will the doctor support you in your quest and application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits?

Take, for instance, the following “extreme” hypothetical, used for purposes of expanding upon the previous conceptual paradigm:  Question:  Does my aching right thumb qualify for Federal Disability Retirement benefits?  Answer:  Normally not.  Sub-question:  If my job requires the constant and repetitive use of my right thumb, and such use is an essential element of my job, can my aching right thumb qualify me for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS?  Answer:  In all likelihood, yes.  

Often, it is the right question asked, and not the answer to the original question, which is the important starting point of the process in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, from the Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: OPM’s Standard of Proof

In reviewing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the mandate of burden is determined both by statute and regulation, and the Merit Systems Protection Board reiterates the burden of proof in each of its decisions — that of proving one’s case by a “Preponderance of the Evidence“.  

This is a relatively low standard of proof — of showing that one is eligible and entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS based upon a showing that, with all of the evidence considered, it is more likely than not that the Federal or Postal employee has shown that he or she cannot perform, because of one or more medical conditions, one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  

There is often a question as to whether this same standard of evidentiary showing applies to the Office of Personnel Management, and this question is posed because of the statements made in many of the denial letters (which then prompts a necessary request for Reconsideration, or an administrative appeal to the 2nd Stage of the process; or, if denied at the 2nd Stage — the Reconsideration Stage — then an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board) issued by the Office of Personnel Management, to wit:  The evidence you submitted did not show a “compelling” reason why you could not…; The medical evidence did not show that you had to be “excluded from the workplace completely”; and other statements which seems to require a higher showing than that of “preponderance of the evidence“. 

OPM is supposed to follow the same standard of proof — that of preponderance of the evidence.  Sometimes, they need to be reminded of it.  

However, inasmuch as the safety mechanism for review of an improper standard is an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, such a reminder often must take the form of an appeal.  Without the appeal basis, the Office of Personnel Management can ignore the relevant statutory burden of proof.  But then, that would not be the first time that an agency acted in a non-compliant manner.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: You Still Have to Prove your Case

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, many Federal and Postal employees operate under the misguided presumption that, if the Agency has acknowledged one’s medical conditions, cannot accommodate the Federal or Postal employee, and explicitly concedes that the disabled Federal or Postal employee cannot perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, that an approval of the Federal Disability Retirement application is nothing more than a mere formality beyond its submission.  

Thus, for example, the scenario as painted herein might include the Flight Surgeon’s determination for the Air Traffic Control Specialist who works for the FAA, who disqualifies the ATS for either his/her medical condition, or the medication regimen that he/she is taking; or it may involved the Postal Worker who is sent home pursuant to the National Reassessment Process; or it may be a Federal or Postal worker who has been administratively separated from Federal Service based upon his or her medical inability to perform the essential functions of one’s job, and thereby is entitled to the Bruner Presumption.  

All of these case-studies are “nice”; they are promising, and there is obviously substantive and useful evidence that the Federal or Postal employee is probably eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits — but what the Agency does or says is not enough.  The Federal or Postal employee must still meet the burden of proof and prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he or she is eligible and entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  

The Office of Personnel Management is an independent agency, separate and apart from the other Federal Agencies or the Postal Service.  What determinations are made by the other agencies will not persuade OPM of anything; in a Federal Disability Retirement case, you must prove your case of medical eligibility, above and beyond what the Agency says or does.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire