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