Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The Legal Responses

There is of course the old adage that “good fences make good neighbors“.  It is meant to magnify the importance of demarcations, and how societal mores, rules, and accepted dictates of common etiquette provide for social boundaries without which the breakdown of common decency occurs.

Fences and boundaries not only contain; they provide markings which restrain others.  The white powder placed on a football field; the painted lines on a basketball court; the pitcher’s mound from which the pitcher must throw the ball; these are all accepted boundaries — symbols of containment as well as of restraining devices to the “others”.

In a Federal Disability Retirement application to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, imagine what the outcome would be for the Federal or Postal Worker if all that existed were the originating statutes governing the criteria for a Federal Disability Retirement application.  Imagine a world in which OPM was the sole arbiter of its own statutes — of having the right to interpret the dictates of its own mandates.

Look at the recent case of Stephenson v. OPM, in which OPM interpreted the statutes of another agency (the Social Security Administration) and decided that an offset of SSDI benefits against a FERS Disability annuity could still be perpetrated even though no actual receipt of funds was received.

Laws are like fences and boundaries; they are to be used both as a shield, as well as a sword.  Use of legal arguments not only restrains a Federal Agency from acting and stepping out “too far”; they can also be used to attack and force a retreat.  But remember that, just as the fence-building should be left to the carpenter, so the sword should be used by a warrior.  In today’s parlance, don’t think that anyone and everyone can be a courtroom lawyer.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: 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, one must always be cognizant of the “legal aspect” of the entire bureaucratic process.  For, ultimately, FERS & CSRS is based upon a statute, which has been further expanded and delineated in regulatory explication, and additionally, evolved through judicial decisions called “case laws“.  It is the compendium and compilation of a legal framework of administrative law which comprises the entirety of eligibility and entitlement to Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Within this context, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management must make its decision upon a review of each and every Federal Disability Retirement application.  If in any single aspect of applying the law, OPM goes counter to, or misapplies the substance of, the legal framework — whether against the originating statute; in non-compliance with the regulations; in failing to apply the clarifications mandated by case-law; then, a decision by OPM denying a Federal Disability Retirement application can be reversed based upon an error in applying the law.

Thus, the importance of making a proper legal argument in a Federal Disability Retirement application cannot be overemphasized.  As “the law” is the basis of any civilized society, so the proper application of the law ensures the fair and equitable process due to each citizen who fits within the framework of the law.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Experience & Secrets

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 no “secrets” to the pathway of success (“success” being narrowly defined as receiving an approval from the Office of Personnel Management); rather, there is only the experience of knowing the law, applying the law, stating the facts, creating the nexus between the medical condition and the positional duties which one occupies with the Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service, and understanding the few but important issues which can defeat a Federal Disability Retirement application.

The latter portion, of course, is just as important as the former issues — of knowing the negative consequences of entering certain arenas of issues, despite every temptation to do so. Thus, as have been more thoroughly discussed in previous articles and blogs, focusing upon collateral work-place issues of harassment, discrimination, subsequent EEOC complaints, etc.; of characterization of one’s medical conditions which comes perilously close to being described as “situational”; and some questions concerning accommodations, and especially at the first two stages of the administrative process, where the Office of Personnel Management will often fail to understand the legal distinction between temporary modified duties, and what constitutes a legally viable accommodation — all of these are able to be dealt with through experience and application of that experience.

Very few “secrets” are truly that; rather, the secret to a successful outcome turns out to be rather mundane:  experience, tempered by careful preparation, formulation, and timely filing.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: A Federal Issue

Representation by an attorney who is licensed in one state, of a Federal or Postal employee who lives in another state, is accomplished in a Federal Disability Retirement application precisely because it is a Federal issue and not a State issue.  

If an individual has a legal issue which he or she wants advice on, which concerns an event, issue or matter which involves a particular state’s laws, then obviously an attorney from the particular state should be consulted.  

In obtaining a Federal Disability Retirement annuity from the Office of Personnel Management, however, it is irrelevant whether or not the attorney is from the Federal or Postal Worker’s state.  For one thing, the agency which must be directly dealt with — the Office of Personnel Management — is located in Washington, D.C. (although the initial intake office is located in Boyers, PA).  OPM is the agency which handles all Federal and Postal Disability Retirement applications under FERS or CSRS, and makes both the Initial Decision in the process, as well as any decision at the Second, or Reconsideration Stage.  

In this technologically-centered world of ours, everything can now be handled by telephone, fax, express mail, FedEx,UPS, email, email attachments, etc.  It is more efficient this way, and further, there are not that many attorneys who specialize in the field of Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The “Grab-bag” Approach

In preparing, formulating, and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, there is always the question of which medical conditions to include in the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (prepared on SF 3112A).  One approach which many Federal and Postal employees take (which, in my opinion is the wrong one to embrace), is to name every medical condition, symptom and suspected symptom one has suffered from, or is suffering from.  This might be characterized as the “shotgun” or “grab-bag” approach. 

One must be sympathetic to this approach, of course, if only because of the following reason:  OPM regulations and case-law supports the position that once an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits has been filed with the Office of Personnel Management, a Federal or Postal employee cannot amend or add any further medical conditions without withdrawing the application and re-filing. 

Thus, a Federal or Postal employee who prepares and files an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is “locked into” what is stated on one’s SF 3112A.  Because of this, many Federal and Postal employees who prepare the application without the assistance of competent legal representation will take the “grab-bag” approach of listing every possible medical condition known to man. 

While this may seem like a reasonable, “safe” approach to take, remember that such an approach can have unintended consequences:  Upon an approval of the Federal Disability Retirement application, the approval letter may approve the Disability Retirement application based upon a minor medical condition which you no longer suffer from.  This, of course, can have negative consequences down the road.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: The MSPB

The Merit Systems Protection Board (better known by its acronym, the “MSPB”) is the third stage of the administrative process in attempting to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  By this Stage, while the Office of Personnel Management has been both the “judge and jury” for determining one’s eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, the case is then handed over to an Administrative Judge to be the arbiter of such determination.

While it is advisable for a Federal or Postal Worker to obtain a FERS/CSRS Disability Attorney from the start of the administrative process, it is of even greater importance to consider obtaining proper legal representation before proceeding down the path of the MSPB.  This statement of advising any Federal or Postal employee to obtain proper representation at the MSPB is made for several reasons, not the least of which includes the following:  The MSPB is the last “stage” of the process in which a Federal or Postal employee who is seeking to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits may submit evidence in order to prove one’s case (with some special exceptions); any basis for an appeal, upon the chance that the Administrative Judge rules against you, must be established during the Hearing of the case at this stage; and since this stage is the arena of “the law”, it is important to be familiar with the most recent case-laws which govern Federal Disability Retirement.  The MSPB is not a place to feel one’s way through; it is the playground where the “grown-ups” play.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Another Day to Fight

I often tell young people who are contemplating going to Law School that, to become a lawyer, one must accept a life of constant contentiousness.  While “professional courtesy” in the field of practicing law is often spoken about, and courtroom decorum is indeed important to maintain, it is nevertheless a profession which faces controversy, contentiousness, debate, disagreement — and, yes, disagreeableness.

One might think that in the field of Administrative Law, such as Federal Disability Retirement law, where the singular issue is whether a Federal or Postal employee is eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, that the level of confrontation and contentiousness may be limited.  It is not.

This is because the emotional, mental, financial and future security of an individual is at stake.  At any given moment in time, the client who is counting on getting an approval from the Office of Personnel Management, may feel the anguish of the wait.

It is up to the Attorney who represents the Federal or Postal employee to win the fight, and to know that so long as there is another day to fight, there is always a chance that the client will obtain the Federal Disability Retirement benefit that he or she rightfully deserves.  Today or tomorrow is another day to fight, and it is another day of contentiousness which is worth it, because that is what we are paid to do.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Client

Waiting for the approval/disapproval, the determination, the decision,etc., when the Federal Disability Retirement packet is sitting on OPM’s desk, is a passive modality of existence.  Up to that point, however, it is often a good idea to be actively involved in the process.

Whether having an Federal Disability Attorney or not, it is good to “flag” interim dates, to keep on top of how long it has been since the initial letters have been sent out to the doctors, to call the doctors and (diplomatically) ask for a reasonable time-frame within which to have the medical narrative reports written; to ask whether or not a fee is required to prepare the narrative report, and if so, how much, and if prepayment will expedite the report.

Then, once it arrives at the Agency H.R. people (or, in the case of the Postal Worker, the H.R. Shared Services Center in Greensboro, North Carolina), it is a good idea to periodically call (about every two weeks) to see what stage in the process your application is at.  Thereafter, once it is forwarded to the finance office, then on to Boyers, PA, it is a matter of waiting for the CSA number to be assigned, and then the long, arduous wait.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire
Federal Disability Lawyer

 

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The Waiting

Yes, filing for, and obtaining, Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS is a long, arduous, bureaucratic process. It can take 6 – 8, sometimes 10 months from the beginning to the approval of the application at the First Stage. Then, even after it is approved, it can take another 60 days before even the initial, interim payment is received. Further, if it is denied at the First Stage, the Reconsideration Stage can take an additional 90 – 120 days. And of course if it is denied at the Reconsideration Stage, the appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board can take 120 days or more (with temporary case-suspensions and waiting for the Judge’s decision). Beyond that, any further appeals can take many more months. All of this “waiting” and admonishment of “being patient”, with little or no income, and the anxiety of one’s financial future. There is no argument to be made: patience is necessary for the entire process. I, as an attorney, cannot promise that the “process” will be any smoother or shorter; hopefully, however, I can provide a level of expertise during the entire process, which can lessen some of the anxiety during the long waiting period. As I often say: If patience is a virtue, then Federal and Postal Workers going through the Disability Retirement process must be the most virtuous men and women of the world.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire