Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: Termination

Termination for the Federal or Postal employee should generate an administrative personnel action reflected in an SF 50 or PS Form 50, showing the date of the action, the nature of the issuance and the reason for the administrative process which is initiated and culminated.  Without it, technically no such action occurred.  However, there are cases where such a form has not been produced.

Further, such a personnel initiation is rarely issued in a vacuum; for a Federal employee to be terminated, there are certain procedural hurdles which are normally provided — an issuance first of a proposed termination, and the basis for such a personnel action, and one to which the addressee has a right to respond to within a specified period of days or weeks.  Thereafter, consideration must be given by the Agency in the response, whether verbal, written or both, given by the Federal or Postal employee.

Subsequently, when a termination is effectuated, an SF 50 or a PS Form 50 will be generated.  From that date of termination, the Federal or Postal employee has up to one year to file for disability benefits.

If such filing occurs after 31 days of the official termination date, then the application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits must be submitted directly to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in Boyers, PA.

If prior to 31 days, it can be processed through one’s former agency — although, such a filing should be carefully monitored, as one’s former agency may not process it with any urgency, and in the event that it is not forwarded to OPM within the other 11 months and some-odd days left, there will be a question as to whether it was timely filed at all.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: NRP, the Flight Surgeon and others

What do the National Reassessment Process for the U.S. Postal Service, the Flight Surgeon for the Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, and other entities/personnel from other agencies have in common?  

With respect to Federal Disability Retirement applications under FERS or CSRS, the commonality which weaves throughout all is the ability to declare an effective end to a Federal or Postal employee’s career, by asserting that the Federal or Postal employee can no longer perform one or more of the essential elements of his or her job, and because the agency is unable to accommodate the Federal or Postal employee, the resulting option left is to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits with the Office of Personnel Management.

Logically, one would assume that such an agency action would result in essentially an automatic approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  Such an assumption would be erroneous, and to proceed to prepare, formulate and file a Federal Disability Retirement application based upon the erroneous assumption could result in delay, detriment, and ultimate denial by the Office of Personnel Management.  

One must always remember that, separate and apart from what the Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service does, the Federal or Postal employee must always be the one to affirmatively prove one’s case, by gathering and presenting the proper medical documentation, and formulating the nexus between the medical condition suffered and the essential elements of one’s job.  

Whether the Flight Surgeon at the FAA medically disqualifies you; whether the National Reassessment Process makes a declarative statement that no jobs are available to a particular Postal Worker; or whether the Federal Agency states that they are separating you because of your medical inability to perform your job — while the commonality between them exists, it does not extend to the Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Bruner Revisited

In filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, one should never pause or hesitate from affirmatively going forward in preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application based upon what the Agency will or will not do; is expected or not expected to do; or is predicted or not predicted to do.  One should simply move forward based upon one’s personal and professional circumstances, the extent of the medical condition, the impact of one’s medical condition upon one’s ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job, etc.  

Thus, for instance, where a Federal or Postal employee has informed the Agency of one’s medical condition, or one has filed for FMLA and submitted substantiating medical documentation, if the plan is to “wait” for the Agency to remove the Federal or Postal employee in order to obtain the advantage of what is generally known as the “Bruner Presumption,” such a plan is normally not the best course of action, for various reasons.  

First, the Agency may take an extraordinary amount of time, and in the end, may attempt to remove the Federal or Postal employee for “other reasons” (performance issues, for instance).  Second, whether or not one “gets” the Bruner Presumption in a case, that legal advantage is really for the Third Stage of the process — at the Merit Systems Protection Board — inasmuch as most of the Claims Reviewers at the Office of Personnel Management are not legally informed enough to know such a legal presumption from a nearby neighbor named John Doe Bruner.  And Third, one must affirmatively prove by a preponderance of the evidence, anyway, that one cannot perform the essential elements of one’s job because of a medical condition.  The Bruner Presumption, while a great thing to have, does not override the medical condition and evidence which must be presented.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: The Lost Cause

For a lawyer, it is indeed the “lost cause” which is the most challenging of cases.  This is no less true in Federal Disability Retirement cases for Federal and Postal Employees under FERS & CSRS.  In fact, in some instances it is all-the-more-true, because there is necessarily involved a physical or psychiatric medical condition which makes the case all the more worthwhile in fighting for. 

The concept of the “lost cause” is evocative of the famous scene from Frank Capra’s classic movie, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, of course; and no lawyer, no matter how good, should be so arrogant as to think that he or she meets with the standard of what Jimmy Stewart was fighting for.  For one thing, lawyers get paid for what they do.  Yet, it is indeed the “lost cause” cases which often spur the attorney in any area of law, with eagerness and pride. 

Whether to obtain Federal Disability retirement benefits for an individual who was wrongfully terminated for extraneous reasons; proving to the Judge that, despite post-termination medical documentation, one can and should logically extrapolate that the medical conditions existed prior to separation from Federal Service; to persuade the Office of Personnel Management that the Agency knew, or should have known, of the medical condition, and should have terminated the individual for his or her medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, as opposed to the manner in which the Agency went forth; these are all microcosmic examples of “lost causes”; and it is indeed the lost cause which is the most challenging of cases for an attorney.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: When to File

I still get calls by people who state that (A) they are waiting for a year before they are going to file for FERS or CSRS disability retirement, (B)  It hasn’t been a year since they have been on LWOP, but it almost will be, or (C) They are waiting to be terminated so that their year will begin.  Quiz:  Which of the above (A, B or C) is the correct basis upon which to decide to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits?  Answer:  None of the Above. 

Since OPM disability retirement can take anywhere from 6 – 8, sometimes 10 months to get (beginning the time-sequence from the time a doctor is contacted to provide a medical report, to putting the entire packet together, to getting it to the Agency Human Resources Personnel, to getting it to Boyers, PA, to getting it to Washington, D.C., to getting an initial approval, etc.), it is:  A.  Not a good idea to “wait a year” because there is no reason to wait; B. You don’t need to wait a year on LWOP to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, and:  C.  You don’t need to get terminated, or separated from Federal Service, in order to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits. 

Let me re-emphasize:  The “1-year rule” has to do with the following:  A.  You have one (1) year from the date you are separated from Federal Service to file for disability retirement — but you can file at any time, whether separated or not, as long as it is not after 1 year after being separated from service.  B. Your medical condition must be expected to last for a minimum of 12 months — but your treating doctor should be able to tell quite easily whether or not the medical condition for which you are being treated will last that long — normally within a couple of months of treatment. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Can the Agency Accommodate You?

The term “accommodations” continues to be a highly misused one.  There is the general conceptual application, as when an agency attempts to do something to help a Federal or Postal employee by “allowing” for “light duty”, or allowing one to work at a reduced schedule, or to take sick leave, annual leave, or Leave Without Pay.  But such actions (as kindhearted as they might be intended) do not constitute a legal accommodation under disability retirement rules, statutes, laws or case-law. 

To legally accommodate someone must always mean that the agency does something, provides something, or creates something of a permanent nature, such that it allows you to perform the essential elements of your job.  Temporary measures, or allowing you to take time off, does not allow you to perform the essential elements of your job — instead, it merely allows you take time away from being able to do your job.  Remember, on the other hand, that there is nothing wrong with your Agency doing these things to “help you out”.  It simply does not constitute, or rise to the level of, an “accommodation” under the law.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: To Resign or Not To Resign

I am often asked whether or not it is okay to resign from the Agency prior to either (1) filing for disability retirement or (2) receiving a decision from the Office of Personnel Management. A decision to resign from the Agency must be weighed very carefully, for there are multiple factors which must be considered.

I will try and outline a few of the considerations to be weighed:

(1) What advantage is gained by resigning? If it is merely to avoid the hassles of dealing with the Agency (the Agency may insist upon updated medical documents every couple of weeks; they may call and harass you every week; you may have an unsympathetic supervisor, etc.), then I normally advise against resigning. There is no advantage to resigning, other than the quietude of being separated from service. As an attorney, I believe that is not enough of a reason.

(2) What is the disadvantage of resigning? There may be many: Any leverage to force the agency to cooperate with a disability retirement application may be lost; if your doctor has not yet written a medical narrative report (and, believe me, for some doctors, that can take months), the doctor will have to be reminded that any statement of employment impact must pre-date the date of resignation; you lose the leverage of that which the Agency holds most dear, for no price: your position. For the position you fill, that slot which suddenly becomes vacant once you resign, is that which is most dear, most valuable for the Agency: and to resign is to give it up without having the Agency pay any cost.

Sincerely,
Robert R. McGill, Esquire