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

Early Medical Retirement for Disabled Federal Workers: SF 3112A, SF 3112B, SF 3112C & SF 3112D

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the Federal or Postal employee will be asked to complete a mountain of standard government forms.  The forms themselves appear to merely request “information”.  Don’t be fooled.  It is not mere information; it is the basis upon which OPM approves or denies a case.  

For the CSRS employee (which is becoming rarer by the hour because of the replacement of CSRS with FERS back in the mid-80s), in addition to SF 3112A, SF 3112B, SF 3112C & SF 3112D (which both CSRS and FERS employees must complete), Standard Form series numbered 2801 (SF 2801), along with Schedules A, B & C must be completed.  For FERS employees, in addition to the SF 3112 series (again, SF 3112A, SF 3112B, SF 3112C & SF 3112D), the Federal or Postal employee must complete SF 3107, along with Schedules A, B & C.  

These forms constitute the “nuts and bolts” of the Federal Disability Retirement application process.  Not only must “information” be provided in filling out these forms; there are “tricky” issues which must be addressed at the outset.

For example, SF 3112C is the “Physician’s Statement”, and is meant to be used in order to guide the physician into providing a detailed physician’s statement.  It is a confusing, convoluted form which often makes the doctor feel intimidated.  It is preferable to have the doctor address the elements requested on SF 3112C without actually using the 3112C.  However, if a Federal or Postal employee is unrepresented and unaware of this, then the potential disability retirement applicant may unknowingly sign the form, when it may not be in the best interest of the Federal or Postal employee to do so.  

Be aware; “information” is not a mere compilation of facts and figures; rather, information is always used — whether for, or against, something or someone.

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

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