Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Responding to OPM Templates

One can readily discern a template-based letter; it attempts to appear as if the denial is tailored to the particular set of circumstances and unique medical submissions of the Federal or Postal employee to whom the letter is addressed, but upon closer inspection, most of the language could to interchangeably utilized for anyone or everyone.

There may be a paragraph or two which quickly identifies or otherwise lists certain specific medical reports, with names of doctors and the dates of their reports; aside from such references, however, the rest is merely a template of language which is cut and pasted for purposes of justifying a denial.

Such is the administrative, bureaucratic approach of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  And, indeed, templates in and of themselves are not necessarily indicative of anything negative; for, as reinvention of the wheel should not be performed for each task engaged, so every Federal Disability Retirement application must meet a certain set of legal criteria, and to that extent they are “all the same”.  The problem in responding to a template-based denial from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, however, is the disadvantage one is placed in for responding to such a Letter of Denial.  For, the template can contain multiple points which seemingly require a response, and which may appear overwhelming.

Don’t be fooled.  To address each and every point of contention is often to get mired into a level of minutiae which need not be engaged.  Take a wider view of things, and get some guidance and advice.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: A Fair Hearing

It is a common complaint against the Office of Personnel Management that the particular Claims Representative who reviewed the file and issued a denial in a Federal Disability Retirement application failed to look at, or review, the medical evidence; that the denial letter was merely a restatement or regurgitation of a template referring to a 7-part criteria, and makes statements which could easily have been “cut and paste” from a thousand other such denials.  

Indeed, there have been times when references to a denial were clearly (and mistakenly) extracted from another file, where the names of doctors and medical documents are referred to which have no relation to the particular individual, and are clearly mixed in from another case.  

To be fair, a counter-argument to such criticism is that there is no bureaucracy, with so many cases to review and properly evaluate, and with so few personnel and staff to undertake the massive workload, that could or should “reinvent the wheel” each time a case is set to be reviewed.  Obviously, certain language that is applicable in all (or most) cases will be re-stated, and templates used where such have been standard language used in the past.  Applicable language and statements which merely reiterate the legal and statutory criteria; introductory remarks; conclusory statements — they are all part of a paradigm and template which any administrative bureaucracy may apply.  

But the criticism goes much deeper than that:  It is often the case that, clearly, the Claims Representative who wrote the denial did not even read his or her own denial.  Proofreading is an essential part of reviewing, writing, and issuing a decision.  OPM must ultimately realize that each decision is an important, crucial, and often critical point of importance in the life of the applicant.  It is a Federal or Postal worker who has previously dedicated many years of his or her life to a career with the Federal Sector, and the applicant for Federal Disability Retirement benefits deserves a fair hearing.  A fair hearing is defined by a careful evaluation of the particular case.  That is not too much to ask for.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Initial Application, Reconsideration & MSPB Appeals

Each Stage of the process in attempting to obtain a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS offers a distinct, yet similar, challenge.  Do not be fooled by responding to a “template” approach; while the Office of Personnel Management may respond in an indifferent, antiseptic manner, a Federal or Postal employee who must respond to OPM’s denial at each stage of the process must pinpoint what OPM is looking for, and respond appropriately.  Indeed, it is the distinction which one observes, which makes all of the difference in the case.  

Often, it is clear that OPM’s denial at the Initial Stage of the process, as well as a denial at the Reconsideration Stage of the process (which then compels an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board), is merely a regurgitation of thousands of previous denial letters, with some minor insertions which are meant to appear “as if” the denial letter has been tailored to a particular case.  

Thus, references to a particular physician’s letter, and even extrapolating a quotation from a doctor’s note or narrative (often something like, “Your doctor stated that you were recovering well from your surgery,” or “Your psychiatrist stated that the medications were working”) have the effect of personalizing a denial letter.  Yet, the remainder of the denial letter is in an antiseptic, template form, and it is clear that you are merely one of hundreds & thousands of responses written by OPM’s representative.  However, while OPM has the power to generate such template-driven denials, the individual Federal or Postal Worker must respond in an independent, individualistic manner.  It must be based upon one’s particular case, and thus the response must not be a “generic” one, but one based upon the uniqueness of the case.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Expectations

One would expect that there would be a correlative input of effort on the part of the Office of Personnel Management, something like a 1-to-1 ratio of effort reflecting the amount of care put into formulating, preparing, and submitting a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, with the ratio being met by a corresponding amount of effort on the part of OPM.

If only for the sake of appearance; to give some justification, some acknowledgement of the medical reports submitted; of the time expended in preparing the Applicant’s Statement of disability, etc.

One would expect — or at least, should expect, in a denial letter issued by the Office of Personnel Management, enough of an indicator that the OPM Representative reviewed all of the medical reports, and attempted to remain objective.  Yet, more often than not, a mere paragraph is issued, with a great percentage of that paragraph a regurgitation of a template from multiple other decisions.

Expectations are often nothing more than an imaginary line where one perceives a professional standard to be; but, more often than not, only to have the expectation set at a standard of performance too high to achieve.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: Responding to the Template Approach

While the Office of Personnel Management issues template approvals and denials, what must the individual applicant who receives such a template denial, do?  Obviously, it cannot be a “template” response, because any response by an individual applicant is going to be an individualized response.  Often, however, OPM’s response takes a shot-gun approach in denying a Federal Disability Retirement application — it uses every device in its template, touching upon every issue and sub-issue, without any apparent (or obvious) rhyme or reason.  Whether purposeful or not, the extent and quantity of reasons for denial become almost insurmountable, and unable to “sort out”. 

One thing that a Federal Disability Retirement applicant should not do, is to take the denial letter to his or her doctor to respond to.  It will only confuse the doctor.  Instead, the denial letter must be reduced to a comprehensible set of criteria which can be answered.  Sub-sets of issues need to be identified and consolidated; the minor (but often irritating) references to peripheral issues, often touched upon but of no real consequence, must be ignored; and the focus must be placed upon the central 2 or 3 issues which seem to be the overriding concerns in the denial letter.  In other words, the denial letter must be deciphered and extracted to be “made sense of”.  Only then can OPM’s template denial letter be answered — with reason, aggressive attack, and a rational grounding in the law.  In other words, irrationality must be met with clarity of mind.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire