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 Worker Disability Retirement: Crossing Lines

The question has been posed:  How can one Federal Agency make a determination of disability while another, separate Agency can deny a determination of disability? Contained within that question, of course, is an answer of disability from each Federal Agency, which was further preceded by multiple questions requesting the agency to make a determination of disability.  

A simple answer to the question posed would be:  Each Agency is independent and separate, and thus has the authority to make an independent determination.  That is what is deemed a “power” answer.  But there are further nuances of an answer which go beyond the mere authority or power of an agency to make a determination.  

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the question of another agency’s determination on disability is often asked:  How can one…?  The full answer to the question would require a complex analysis of the various laws, statutes and criteria, which would include the following:  Each Federal agency which provides a particular disability benefit is mandated by a specific statutory authority which sets out a specific set of criteria, and is different from the statutory authority defining another agency’s particular benefits; some legal criteria are based upon a determination of percentage ratings, while others are based upon employability or whether a particular kind of job can be performed.  

Given all of this, one may still “cross the lines” by making arguments utilizing statements from one agency, as persuasive authority in arguing for another agency’s disability benefits.  In crossing such lines, however, it is important to maintain the integrity of the role, the criteria, the specific citation of the law, and what Judges actually have stated concerning the extent and authority of the influence which one agency determination may have another another.  Thus, if one attempts to cross the lines, do so with knowledge and understanding of the law.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: OPM and the 7-Part Criteria

In any denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the Office of Personnel Management incessantly refers to their 7-part criteria of eligibility, in making their determination as to the legal viability of a case.

The criteria, as stated, can be both helpful, as well as result in a negative determination, for multiple reasons.  To the extent that it extrapolates and extracts from the relevant Code of Federal Regulations, it minimally states the fundamental legal requirements for eligibility of a Federal or Postal employee who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

However, because such a basis only extracts from the originating statutory foundation for eligibility, what it completely ignores is the continually evolving cases which clarify, interpret and define the very terms which constitute the criteria.  To that extent, OPM’s adherence to the strict and narrow application of the original “law” can often result in a negative determination, precisely because such an application ignores the subsequent clarifications which have evolved and progressed from various cases which have been litigated, both in the Federal Circuit Courts as well as at the Merit Systems Protection Board level.

Beware of the 7-part criteria; if followed, it can backfire; if not followed, it can backfire.  The 7-part criteria is a Catch-22 in sheep’s clothing.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement from the Office of Personnel Management: Legal Criteria

There is “The Law” — the originating, statutory authority which is passed by Congress — then, the compendium of the entirety of the legal arena, which includes decisions handed down by Administrative and Federal Judges, which comprise the expanding and evolving interpretation, clarification and extension of “The Law”.  

Unfortunately, in making its decision on an Application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the Office of Personnel Management constrains itself (and its knowledge of the law) to a template based upon a “7-part criteria” which is extrapolated from the Code of Federal Regulations.  

This 7-part criteria is a simplistic and misleading application of the law.  It is not so much that it is an “error” on the part of the Office of Personnel Management to apply such a criteria; rather, it is that, in evaluating and determining the sufficiency, viability, and meeting of the standard of proof of “preponderance of the evidence” of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it simply does not go far enough.  Because the 7-part criteria fails to include the interpretive evolution of the entirety of the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement, it fails by excluding many Federal Disability Retirement applications which are based upon legal criteria which fall outside of the delimited circumference and parameters of what OPM has set forth. 

In short, they are “behind the times” in many instances, and so when a denial is based upon a misapplied criteria, it is important to point out to OPM that X law applies in particular case Y — where “X” is outside of the scope or knowledge of the Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: The Process of Eligibility

The problem with possessing power is that it must be accompanied by truth, validity and rational foundations, if it is to be effective over the long term.  

In filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, there is the process of proving one’s eligibility by meeting the burden of proof, termed as the “preponderance of the evidence“.  A disagreement can occur during the process, in that the Representative from the Office of Personnel Management can deny the Federal Disability Retirement application.  

Such a denial can occur twice at the OPM level — at the Initial Stage of the process, then at the Reconsideration Stage of the process.  OPM possesses the power to approve or deny each Federal Disability Retirement application.  Often, however, the denial itself fails to be accompanied by a rational discourse which strives to meet the high standards that a Federal Agency should always adhere to — guided by the truth and validity of any claims made in a denial letter.  Too often, the discourse which is the basis of the denial merely regurgitates a series of template-like statements, and then the OPM denies the claim.  

Fortunately, however, OPM is not the only Agency which makes the determination during the entirety of the process.  After the second denial, it then loses its jurisdiction over a case, and an appeal can be made to the Merit Systems Protection Board.  

The integrity of the entire process depends upon the independence of the MSPB in reviewing all such cases, and indeed, the Administrative Judges at the MSPB review each case carefully, with an open mind, and with the proper application of the law.  Each Judge must render a decision which contains the rational basis of a decision, based upon precedents and statutory legal underpinnings.  To have the full benefit of the process is indeed the basis of a system with integrity.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Extrapolating Carefully from “The Law”

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is important to recognize the major legal cases (those “landmark cases”) from which many other cases derive their foundational basis.  Such cases form the fundamental and overriding criteria of a legal arena, and this is no different in arguing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, either for Federal or Postal employees.  Furthermore, in citing a case to argue for one’s position of eligibility and entitlement, it is equally important to have read the cases carefully, and to argue the merits of an issue persuasively and accurately.  

One of the worst things that a lay, non-lawyer applicant can do is to mis-cite a case or a statute, and its meaning and ancillary conclusions.  For, when the Office of Personnel Management reviews a case and refutes a particular issue, and further points out that a legal precedent or statutory authority has been mis-applied, one’s credibility as to the substance of the application is not only undermined, but further, the viability of one’s legal argument has been subverted.  As such, it is normally advisable to leave the law to lawyers — and in Federal Disability Retirement cases under FERS or CSRS, to leave it to lawyers who specialize in the field. For, to do little or no harm to one’s self is certainly better than to saw off the branch which one has grasped onto, no matter how tenuous the position to begin with.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Accommodation Revisited

There is nothing inherently wrong with an Agency, or the U.S. Postal Service, from providing light duty, limited duty, or “special assignments” to an injured individual, or a Federal or Postal employee who suffers from a medical condition which prevents or otherwise impedes him or her from performing all of the essential elements of one’s job.  The difficult conceptual framework that many Federal and Postal employees are unable to grasp, is that while the Federal Agency can certainly allow for such light duty assignments, such light duty assignments do not preclude one from continuing to remain eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  

The reason for the continuing eligibility is that there is a legal distinction between “accommodation” under the law, and “light duty” work.  An accommodation, in order to be a technically legal application of the term, must be some act or provision which the Agency makes, such that the individual is capable of performing all of the essential elements of one’s job.  Thus, being allowed to take a greater amount of sick leave, or take LWOP, or be allowed to perform duties which are peripheral to one’s position description — while all well and good — do not allow the Federal or Postal employee to continue to perform the essential elements of the official position description.  As such, light duty allowances do not constitute an accommodation under the law, and while it continues to allow the Federal or Postal employee to remain employed, it also does not preclude him or her from being eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire