Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Algorithms & Human Peculiarities

In maneuvering through the process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, there are potentially multiple stages that one may encounter:  The First Stage of the process — the initial filing; if denied, one has a right to have the denial “reconsidered” by filing a Request for Reconsideration within thirty (30) days of the denial; if denied by OPM a second time, then one has a right to file an appeal to the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, before an Administrative Judge.

There are, beyond the three stages identified, additional appellate stages of the process, including a Petition for Full Review before a 3-Judge panel of the MSPB, as well as an appeal to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.

At each stage of the process, the Federal Disability Retirement application is reviewed and evaluated for sufficiency of proof and satisfaction of the statutory criteria for eligibility; and, moreover, a different person looks at the application at each stage of the bureaucratic process.

Thus, there is no singular algorithm — no application of a computer model which is identical across the board — in the evaluation of one’s Federal Disability Retirement application.  Instead, a different person reviews and evaluates the Federal Disability Retirement application at each stage.  This is probably a positive approach, and one which would be deemed “fair” by any objective standard.  For, while an application of a standard algorithm may be deemed objectively impersonal and unbiased, whereas human beings, in their inherently fallible nature may indeed possess biases and inclinations; nevertheless, it is the peculiarities of human imperfections which are still the trusted traits for procedural determinations.

That is why there is such a hue and cry over the increasing use of video replays and electronic line judges in sports; for some reason, we still trust in the human perspective, as opposed to the cold hardware of computers.  Perhaps, in our collective childhoods, we all became paranoid from watching HAL 9000 in Kubrick’s 2001:  A Space Odyssey.  A shivering thought.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The Apparent Independence of Each Stage

In some ways, the fact that each “stage” of the process of Federal Disability Retirement is independent from each other, is a “given”.   When a Federal Disability Retirement application is denied at the Initial Stage of the process, then again at the Reconsideration Stage of the process, it is considered a positive part of the administrative process that the Merit Systems Protection Board will evaluate and decide the case “de novo”, or “anew” or “afresh”, without regard to what the Office of Personnel Management stated, decided, affirmed or concluded.

To that extent — to have an independent eye and an evaluation unbiased by prior analysis — is a good thing.  However, when one reads the decision of the Office of Personnel Management at the Initial denial of the application, then again at the Reconsideration denial of the application, it is somewhat disconcerting that neither OPM Representatives relied upon the analysis of the other.  What this allows for, of course, is an independent review by both the Initial Stage of the application and the Reconsideration Stage of the application, and while such independence of review can be seen in a positive light (again, that one OPM Representative is not influenced or biased by the views of the other), more often than not, what happens is that the Reconsideration Stage OPM Representative merely comes up with new and previously unfounded arguments upon which to deny the application a second time.

In short, it is difficult to stabilize the arguments upon which OPM relies, in order to answer and refute them.  That is why the MSPB’s approach of viewing a case de novo is important.  For, by ignoring the malleability of OPM’s reviewing process, one may get an objective and truly independent analysis and evaluation of the case.  Independence is an important component of “fairness”; objectivity is an integral element; and integrity is the filament which holds the law together.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire