Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Persuasion and Diatribes

Methods of argumentation require one to embrace a tripartite approach:  Regard for who the audience is; consideration of what the intended goal is; selection of the effective methodology of presentation.

Diatribes will often consider the first two points, while disregarding the third — for, the intended audience is the targeted person or group who must bear the vitriolic attack; the goal is to let loose a torrent of one’s beliefs and (in all likelihood) upset the recipient; but it is rarely an effective approach for any intended purpose other than to gratify one’s emotional turmoils.

Persuasion, on the other hand, must by necessity include the third element — for the very sign of success not only regards the intended audience and considers the goal of changing another’s mind; most importantly, it must do so in a subtle, quiet sort of way — by allowing for the recipient of the presentation to think that he or she is changing a perspective based upon one’s own volition, when in fact the presentation itself is the vehicle of the alteration.

It is this distinction between a diatribe and persuasion which one must keep in mind when preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS. The bull-in-a-china-shop approach in presenting one’s Federal Disability Retirement application before the U.S. Office of Personnel Management will rarely win them over; on the other hand, a carefully-crafted presentation based upon a streamlined narrative; upon medical evidence which is concise; and with legal arguments which are precise — leads to a methodology of persuasive impact.

Diatribes serve their self-centered purposes; persuasive argumentation allows for the unseen thread to pull the levers of effective results.  In the end, the short-term gratification of a diatribe will leave one hungry and dissatisfied, whereas the fruits of persuasion will always fulfill the needs of the audience, and the desire of the presenter.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: How the Historical Background Is Stated Can Make All the Difference

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 address the issue of the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (Standard Form 3112A), and answer questions regarding the medical conditions, their impact upon one’s ability or inability to perform the essential elements of one’s positional duties as slotted; impact upon other areas of one’s life, etc.

The problem with many respondents to such a form (by “respondent” is meant to identify the Federal or Postal employee who is completing the form and filling out the SF 3112A for filing of a Federal Disability Retirement Application) is the manner in which it is responded to — the “how” it is stated.  In journalism, there is the standard approach of providing information:  Who, what, when, where and how.  Such satisfaction of a journalistic approach provides the reader with the necessary information required to complete a story.  In that type of forum, however, the penalty for providing the wrong “how” is merely bad penmanship, and some potential criticism by the general reading public.

In applying for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, however, the penalty for a wrong “how” may be a disqualification from being able to receive Federal Disability Retirement benefits, because the historical context of the medical condition can impact the legal criteria for eligibility.

Be careful in formulating the applicant’s statement of disability; what one says matters; how one says it may matter most.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: The Undisciplined Narrative

‘Discipline’ is a concept which is anathema to the American psyche; for, it is precisely the American character to have unfettered liberty, the ability to “be one’s self”; of self-expressive uniqueness, and to embrace the boldness of the American Dream, as represented by the vast expanse of the American Midwest.

We debate about the constructive use of discipline for our children; complain if the government attempts to discipline our spending habits; and question whether societal constraints should be imposed in our daily lives.  In writing, however, a measure of self-discipline is necessary, if only because the audience for whom one writes will necessarily veto our refusal to discipline one’s writing in a penultimate manner, if we do not:  by refusing to read it.

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 discipline the writing of the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (Standard Form 3112D), in multiple respects:  in length; in providing historical background; in careful content selection; in answering the questions asked in a relevant and appropriate manner; in avoiding breaching certain taboo subjects which could defeat a Federal Disability Retirement application; in taking on the tone, tenor and texture of objectivity as opposed to pure emotional appeal, etc.

‘Discipline’ is a dirty word in the American lexicon; but in the preparation, formulation and filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application from OPM, it is a necessary clump of dirt which must be sifted, cleansed and appropriately dusted, in order to provide an effective narrative vehicle to have a Federal Disability Retirement application approved by OPM.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Applicant Tendency

An applicant or potential applicant for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS exhibits tendencies which can range on a wide spectrum of behavior, thoughts, fears, actions and reactions.  Some individuals believe that his or her application is so self-evident and self-explanatory, that all that is necessary is to obtain the medical records, list the diagnosed medical conditions on the Applicant’s Statement of Disability, file it, and…  When the Denial letter appears from the Office of Personnel Management, there is the surprise and shock, and the:  “I thought that…” 

Then, there is the other extreme of the spectrum, where there is an almost irrational fear that unless every ache and pain is detailed in long, explanatory narratives, and pages of pages of “personal experience” diary-like formatted chronologies are submitted with the packet, with tabulated references to justify each and every medical experience from two decades before until the present, that the Office of Personnel Management will deny the application.  Remember this:  It takes just as short a time to deny the first type of application as it does the second.  The Office of Personnel Management does not read through any materials which it deems “superfluous“.  Somewhere in the middle between the two extremes is normally the correct balance.  Or, as Aristotle would say, it is important to achieve the mean between the two extremes.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Legal Arguments

Whether and to what extent legal arguments in Federal Disability Retirement cases under FERS or CSRS should be made, should rarely be ventured into by non-lawyers.  The boundaries of legal arguments are naturally constrained for lawyers both internally and externally:  internally, because (hopefully) lawyers are trained to recognize that maintaining the integrity of legal precedents is vital to the process, and externally, because all legal arguments are ultimately subjected to the review of a Judge — in the case of administrative laws governing Federal and Postal Disability Retirement, at the first instance by the Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board, then potentially at the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.  When laymen attempt to make legal arguments, there is the added danger of misinterpretation and mis-application of the law, which can further injure the chances of an Applicant filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits to obtain an approval.  And, finally, such chances for success may be further damaged if it needs to come before an Administrative Judge for review.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: an Art Form II

In constructing the narrative of one’s story of the human condition and how it impacts the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal job, it is important to weave the story such that it relates as a story.  Every story has a beginning and an end; every story must contain the elements of an effective narrative:  What has occurred; the symptoms; the diagnosis; how the symptoms impact upon one’s ability to perform one’s job; what are some of the essential elements of one’s job; as well as some impact upon one’s personal life.  Now, the Applicant’s Statement of Disability has appropriate sections to “fill in the blank”; but one’s story should not be merely a matter of filling in the blank; instead, it should be a narrative — a coordination of the story, consistent with the medical narrative report obtained from the doctor; and finally, a legal memorandum arguing the law.  The weaving of these elements, in my experience, constitutes what I consider to be a successful disability retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: The Complexity of the Simple

Federal disability retirement law, the statutes and regulations which govern eligibility; the multiple case-law opinions from Administrative Judges and Federal Circuit Judges interpreting the governing statutes and regulations; the lawyers who argue different aspects and attempt to “fine-tune” existing law (including this lawyer) — the entirety results in “making complex” that which was essentially simple.

There is an old adage that the King who declared the first law of his Kingdom was really attempting to reduce the unemployment figures by creating the need for lawyers. Indeed, “the law” is often made more complex by lawyers. However, while the multiple issues governing Federal disability retirement law under FERS & CSRS may appear, at first glance, “simple”, it is such simplicity which engenders the complex, precisely because laws which reflect a simple conceptual paradigm require extensive interpretation in order to explain the simpleness of the simplicity. That is why law itself is complex. Don’t let the complex confluse you. As you prepare a disability retirement application, recognize that it is a complex process; at the same time, make sure to explain your medical condition and how it impacts your ability to perform the essential elements of your Federal or Postal position in an easy-going, simple and straightforward manner. Don’t make it complex; keep it simple; but recognize the complexities.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Trying it Without an Attorney

I get calls all the time by people who tell me that they thought their particular Federal Disability Retirement case was a “slam dunk”; that the medical documentation was there; that everything looked like it should be approved at the first level.  Then, there are people who tell me the same thing after the second, Reconsideration denial — that he or she thought it should definitely pass through.  But law, and especially administrative law before the Office of Personnel Management, has peculiarities beyond a surface, apparent reality.  There is a process and a methodology of obtaining disability retirement. Can a federal disability attorney guarantee the success of a disability retirement application?  No.  Does an individual applicant have a better chance with the assistance of an attorney who specializes in disability retirement law?  In most cases, yes.  Aren’t there applicants who file for disability retirement, without the assistance of an attorney, who are successful?  Yes.  Should everyone who files for disability retirement hire an attorney?  Not necessarily. 

When I speak to a client, I try and place him or her on a spectrum — and on one side of that spectrum is an individual who works at a very physical job, and who has such egregious physical medical disabilities; on the other side of the spectrum is an individual who suffers from Anxiety, who works in a sedentary administrative position (please don’t misunderstand — many people who suffer from anxiety fall into the “serious” side of the spectrum, and I am in no way attempting to minimize the psychiatric disability of Anxiety).  Most people, of course, fall somewhere in the middle.  Yes, I have told many people to go and file his or her disability retirement application without an attorney.  There are those cases which are so egregious, in terms of medical conditions, that I do not believe than an attorney is necessary.  However, such instances are rare.  Thus, to the question, Should everyone who files for Federal disability retirement under FERS & CSRS hire an attorney?  Not necessarily — but in most cases, yes.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The First Denial

One should not be overly panicked when the Office of Personnel Management denies a disability retirement application at the initial stage of the process.  Certainly, the denial needs to be taken seriously; the basis for the denial (which is often couched in confusing terms, based upon conflicting — almost contradictory — assertions and claims) must be identified and addressed; additional medical documentation may be needed; the proper legal authorities must be cited.

 To put it bluntly:  while it is almost always a good idea to prepare, present, and file a Federal Disability Retirement application with the assistance, guidance and counsel of an attorney, it is essential that an OPM disability retirement denial be rebutted by an attorney who is familiar with the process, the laws, and the compelling arguments necessary in answering the reasons as stated in the “Discussion” section of OPM’s denial letter.  To panic is merely to waste time; to prepare is the wise course; to map out a cogent plan on how to win at the Reconsideration Stage — and, if necessary, the next stage of appeal, the Merit Systems Protection Board — is the wisest approach.  As Easter is a time of renewal, and Spring is now upon us, during the next few weeks, I will be “going back to basics” and reviewing  the process, the law, and the methodology of effectively applying to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits for FERS & CSRS employees.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Affirmative Approach

The road which leads to one’s future financial security is irreversibly tied to the extent of how affirmatively one takes one’s future into one’s own hand (now, that was indeed a mouthful).  By this, I mean merely that, in preparing an application for Federal Disability Retirement, there are going to be all sorts of “outside forces” which pull you towards every different direction.  Friends will tell you one thing; your Agency will tell you something else; your coworkers will give you stories (both good and bad); your Human Resources Department may give you advice; ultimately, you must take an affirmative approach and make sure that your application is coherent, logically structured, and medically supported. 

By way of example, an Agency’s Human Resources Department will often insist that the Physician’s Statement, SF 3112C, is a “required” form.  It is not.  They will often give you the form with the return address of the Agency stamped in the upper blank box, for the medical report and records to be returned to the H.R. Department.  Upon receipt, the H.R. Department simply includes the medical documentation (without review or determination that it is helpful to your case), and forwards the packet to the Office of Personnel Management.  This would be the “non-affirmative” approach of doing things. 

To take the affirmative approach would be:  Make sure that the medical documentation you submit to OPM is the extent, type, and quality that you want to submit.  Remember:  the applicant has the burden of proof, by a preponderance of the evidence, to show that you are entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  Don’t let third parties (i.e., friends, coworkers, Agency, H.R. Department personnel, etc.) make the decisions for you.  Take the affirmative approach — either by yourself, or through your attorney.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire