OPM Disability Retirement: The Foundational Paradigm

Ultimately, Federal Disability Retirement is based upon the persuasive delineation of three primary elements:  A medical condition; impact of the medical condition upon one or more of the essential elements of one’s job; and an inability on the part of the agency to accommodate the resulting impact of the medical condition upon one’s inability to perform all of the essential elements of one’s job.

How one proceeds to “prove” the case; what “kind” of evidence one needs to provide; the qualitative nature of the proof to be submitted; the quantity and volume of the type of evidentiary submissions to be included; these are determined by necessity based upon the nature of the medical condition itself.

Thus, some medical conditions may require merely a few pages; others, extensive supporting documentation, including treatment notes, diagnostic test results, explanatory clinical encounters and narratives which show a history of treatment-resistant modalities of medical applications as well as fulfillment of such extensive attempts which validate that the patient/applicant is not a “malingerer”, but rather exhibits symptoms which defy traditional approaches both for diagnoses and treatment.

It is always upon the first of the three elements identified which forms the foundational basis of a Federal Disability Retirement application; the sequential nexus of the two following almost creates itself, like the phoenix arising from the ashes, only in this case, from the debilitating medical condition from which one suffers.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Additional Supporting Evidence

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 nothing to preclude one from attaching multiple supporting documentation in proving one’s eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

In doing so, however, it is appropriate to keep in mind that the conceptual paradigm of “supporting” should be just that — it must be to assist, help, or otherwise enhance such evidence which constitutes the central component of one’s Federal Disability Retirement application.

Thus, “supporting” should not be the primary basis of one’s evidence, but rather, that which further enlightens and advances the primary documentary evidence.  For example, statements from co-workers, photographs, and similar supporting evidence can be provided to OPM, but only if –and as — it enhances the primary documentation, which should be comprised of medical documentation from treating doctors, specialists, referral consultative medical providers, etc.  Even ancillary supporting documentation — SSDI approvals, VA assignation of disability ratings, OWCP acceptance, OWCP second-opinion doctor’s reports, etc — should be viewed as “supporting”.

It is important, as an aside, to recognize that the OPM Case Worker does not, and will not, expend hours upon hours reviewing every piece of document one submits, and therefore it is important to streamline and provide an efficient, effective presentation.

Think about it this way as a guiding principle:  If you approach a file which is an inch thick, or one which is 8 inches thick, which do you tackle on a Friday afternoon?

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Remembering What “Supportive” Means

Over time, one’s memory and historical perspective becomes clouded and obscured.  In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, there is obviously a long and complex history of changes, amendments and refinements to the aggregate compendium of that which constitutes the totality of “the law” governing Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Thus, since the initial inception of the enactment of statutory authority granting the U.S. Office of Personnel Management authority to approve Federal Disability Retirement benefits under CSRS (and later under FERS), there has been an evolution of statutory amendments, regulatory clarifications, case-law expansion, contraction and clarifications — the composite of which constitutes “the law” governing Federal Disability Retirement applications whether under FERS or CSRS.

Part of the evolutionary process includes what is termed “supportive” documentation or evidence, such as an Agency’s determination that the Federal or Postal employee cannot be accommodated; the Flight Surgeon’s decertification of an Air Traffic Controller’s medical clearance; a Law Enforcement agency’s conclusions that a Federal Law Enforcement Officer is unable to meet the physical requirements of his or her position; and many other agency determinations which “support” a Federal Disability Retirement application.  But “supportive” does not mean “primary”, and the Federal or Postal worker must always remember that such ancillary evidence must be in addition to the primary evidence submitted in a Federal Disability Retirement application.

Don’t mistake the support evidence as replacing the essential evidentiary component of a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS. The primary evidence must always come first — both by definition, as well as by statutory requirement.

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

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Systematic Approach

It is clear from reviewing many of the Federal Disability Retirement applications which have been denied, either at the initial application stage of the process or at the Second, Reconsideration Stage of the process, that the failure to apply a systematic approach in preparing, formulating and filing the Federal Disability Retirement application was entirely lacking.  

The lack of systematically compiling and formulating the evidence to meet the legal standard of “preponderance of the evidence” in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS can be fatal to one’s efforts.  For, ultimately, it is the nature of the presentation and how it is compiled, delineated and orchestrated which provides for the effective implementation of such an endeavor.

Take the following example:  a “flail” is a farm instrument used for threshing, and in the hands of an experienced user of such equipment, it was an effective tool and implement which systematically cleared a field when in the hands of one who had the experience, knowledge and practical application of such a tool.  Used in modern linguistic terms, the concept, “He was flailing his arms” has come to mean that a person is waving and thrashing about in a manner which lacks harmony, elegance or purposeful end — in a wild and wasteful effort of energy.  

The deliberative approach in preparing and formulating any endeavor in life is an encompassing use of a particular tool in a proper manner, for the purpose for which it was created, to bring about an end for which it was designed, and to preserve the energy necessary to bring about the end in mind.

Preparing, formulating a filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is to use the flail properly, and not to flail about.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Sufficiency of Medical Evidence

In meeting the eligibility criteria for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, one must obtain the proper medical documentation, meeting a “preponderance of the evidence” burden of proof, such that it is more likely than not that you are entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  

Whether a medical report and supporting documentation satisfies the eligibility criteria is based upon the subjective interpretation of the evidence presented.  By “subjective” is meant the following:  The reviewing Claims Representative at the Office of Personnel Management, while allegedly applying a 7-part legal criteria in making a determination of eligibility for each FERS or CSRS Federal Disability Retirement application, must nevertheless make an interpretive determination based upon the sufficiency of the medical evidence, and taking into account all other evidence.  

Indeed, often the interpretation of the statutory meaning which governs all Federal Disability Retirement applications is misunderstood and misinterpreted by OPM.  That being the case, how can one expect that OPM will “get it right” when reviewing and interpreting complex medical documentation?  For example, OPM will often cite as necessary that the medical evidence was not “compelling” enough; or, that the medical evidence presented did not show that it warranted the applicant’s “total exclusion from the workplace” — despite the fact that neither of these standards are required by law.  

The sufficiency of the medical documentation is the linchpin of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  As such, it must be prepared by the treating doctor by pulling together a compendium of multiple factors.  While it need not be compelling, one thing is for certain:  quantity versus quality will not meet the sufficiency test, and it is always better to have one excellent medical report, than numerous mediocre ones.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: The Fallacy of Objective Medical Evidence

The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals has already addressed the issue of the Office of Personnel Management’s unjustified adherence to making a distinction between “objective medical evidence” as opposed to what they deem and declare to be “subjective” evidence.

The distinction has no statutory basis or authority, but OPM continues to make the same, repetitive and tiring arguments concerning such a distinction.  Of course, when there exists a plenitude of “objective” evidence, then OPM will often sidestep such evidence and argue that it wasn’t “compelling” enough.  

The fallacy of “objective” versus “subjective” becomes most apparent, of course, when it addresses the issue of “pain”.  Pain is by definition a subjective state of experiential encounter.  If there is any “objective” evidence of pain, it is a misunderstanding of what constitutes such evidence.  Thus, for instance, one might point to an MRI showing a multi-level disc degeneration from L3-L4, L4-L5, etc., and state, “There, we have objective evidence of pain.”

Not quite.  What you merely have, if one stops and considers it, is simply a parallel set of observable facts:  A:  an image which reveals an abnormality of the spine, combined with B, which has an individual who conveys a sensation of pain.  However, inasmuch as there are many people who have similar or worse states of “A” (multi-level disc degeneration), but go through life without any apparent pain, one cannot therefore argue that A is “objective” evidence of “B”.  There may be a parallel correlation to be made, but no causal connection.  

Regardless, the Federal Circuit Court has already declared OPM to be in error for making such a distinction.  However, despite the law, OPM continues to deny Federal Disability Retirement applications under FERS & CSRS by adhering to the false distinction.  Imagine that.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire