FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: New Faces

Old timers will often smirk cynically and observe:  Time will cure them of such a naive perspective.  Or, to paraphrase a famous line from a well-know Christmas movie, Youth is wasted on the young (hint:  the scene were Jimmy Stewart is throwing a rock at the old abandoned house).  Youth and inexperience are often accompanied by enthusiasm and a fresh perspective. Lack of knowledge is compensated — some would say “overcompensated” — by an eagerness which sees no boundaries or obstacles.

There are clearly some new hires at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management as of this date, and their unique approach in viewing and evaluating a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS, must be contended with.

The fundamental problem with newcomers is not that they don’t know what they are doing; rather, it is often the converse — they think they do know what they are doing, and when girded by a list of criteria which is applied in an inflexible fashion, one often gets blinded by the confusion of the forest while having a myopic view of an individual tree.  The great equalizer in countering lack of knowledge, fortunately, is the law itself; and while a list of applicable criteria provided to a fresh face may well assist the OPM employee to evaluate a claim, it can never replace the necessity of knowing the law.

For anyone filing a Federal Disability Retirement application with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, now constitutes the time to employ all of the tools which the compendium of cases decided, and statutes reinforced, accord in arguing one’s case.  Time will certainly tell, but for the present, it is advisable to dot all I’s and cross each T, carefully and with great scrutiny.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The Second Denial

The Second Denial — a denial from the Office of Personnel Management of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS — often fails to annotate or delineate an extensive basis for the denial, but simply reiterates that they believe the original decision was correct based upon a re-review of the application.  

It means nothing more than that another Claims Representative in a separate “branch” of the same Agency decided to support the original Claims Representative in denying the application.  No greater validity is obtained merely because two different people looked at the application, as well as any additional medical or other supporting documentation, and came to the same conclusion.  Two people can be wrong about the same issue, and indeed, OPM is normally wrong about issues concerning Federal Disability Retirement applications, precisely because many OPM Representatives (if not most) do not keep up with the Court opinions and evolving case laws rendered by the Merit Systems Protection Board and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals cases.  Moreover, most Claims Representatives at OPM support their fellow Claims Representative.  

A disabled Federal employee or an injured Postal worker should not become discouraged merely because a Second Denial has been issued.  Being wrong twice does not translate into a right decision.  This is not mathematics, where two negatives result in a positive conclusion.  It is merely the next “step” in the process of obtaining a Federal Disability Retirement approval under either FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Objectivity

In filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, a level of objectivity in making one’s case is a goal which must always be in the purview of formulating an application.  If a Federal or Postal Worker is attempting to formulate and prepare a FERS or CSRS disability retirement application without the assistance or representation of an OPM Disability Attorney, this becomes a difficult task — for the identity of the person making the affirmative argument for approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application is the same person who is describing the medical condition, the impact upon one’s Federal or Postal job, and the legal reasons why such an application under FERS or CSRS should be approved.  

There are methods to avoid the appearance of “self-promotion” — a term which may not seem applicable to formulating a FERS or CSRS disability retirement application, but one which simply cannot be avoided completely. For, representation and being a proponent for one’s “cause” — however valid, and however arguably sustainable — nevertheless necessarily may imply a self-interest which engenders self-promotion.  If a Federal or Postal employee insists upon formulating, preparing and submitting an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS without proper representation, then one’s focus should be upon an “objective” basis — what the medical reports, narratives, diagnostic tests, psychological tests, etc., reveal, and to attempt to discuss such medical documentation in an objective, independent and dispassionate manner.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Sometimes, It’s “The Law”

An assumption is often made that the “Disability Specialist” at the Office of Personnel Management who reviews the Federal or Postal Disability Retirement application understands, comprehends, and applies the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement applications.  Now, such an assumption may be logical and reasonable, to the extent that one thinks (A) that those who aspire to working in a specific specialty have some knowledge or understanding of the specialty, and (B) if a decision is made which involves discussing “the law”, one presumes that the mere discussion of it proves some knowledge of it.  

The problem with such reasoning, however (apart from the popular tripartite acronym which originates from the word “********-u-me”), is that it betrays the facts:  often, from reviewing the denial letters generated from the Office of Personnel Management, it is painfully clear that the administrative specialist, the legal specialist, or whatever other “specialist” designation has been embraced by the worker at the Office of Personnel Management, simply fails to apply all of the applicable laws which govern Federal Disability Retirement applications.  This is understandable, to this extent:  OPM representatives (other than those representing OPM at the MSPB level) are not lawyers, and as such, do not keep up with the latest evolution of the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement issues.  Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing, is another matter altogether.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The Law

Technically, the law does not have to be applied at the administrative, agency-level of the Office of Personnel Management.  Let me clarify:  one likes to always think that when an applicant for Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS is filing for the benefit, that the agency which oversees the application will review it with an overarching umbrella of criteria which is governed by an objective foundation deemed as “the law”.  Thus, in a perfect world, one might imagine an efficient line of technocrats sitting in cubicles, all with a reference book containing the relevant laws governing the eligiblity criteria for Federal Disability Retirement.  But that would be in a perfect world; and since such a perfect world fails to exist, what we have is an arbitrary sprinkling of various personnel, who collectively comprise the Office of Personnel Management, some of whom apply the law well, and some of whom apply the law less than competently. 

To some extent, the arbitrary methodology applied at the agency level is counter-balanced with the threat of a review by an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board, followed by a Full Review at the MSPB, then to be further appealed to at the Federal Circuit Court level; but it is nevertheless sometimes disconcerting that, at the Agency level, this peculiar animal called “the law” is not uniformly applied in all cases, at all times.  And sometimes rarely.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Disability Retirement: The "Process"

In my last writing, I briefly discussed why filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is, and must be looked upon as, a “process” as opposed to a mere “filing” with an expectation of an “automatic” approval.  This is because there is a legal standard of proof to be met, based upon a statutory scheme which was passed by Congress, and based upon a voluminous body of “case-law” handed down by the Merit Systems Protection Board and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.  With this in mind, it is wise to consider that, because it is a “process” with two administrative “stages” to the process, as well as an Appeal to an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board, then potentially to the Full Board via a Petition for Review, and finally to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals — as such, each “step” in the process would naturally have a different and “higher” level of the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement. 

Because of this, it is often a frustrating experience for applicants, because a rejection or denial at the First Stage of the process often reveals the utter lack of knowledge by the OPM representative of the larger compendium of case-laws that govern and dictate how disability retirement applications are to be evaluated and decided upon.  Often, the so-called “discussion” of a denial letter is poorly written, meandering in thoughtlessness, and self-contradictory and with unjustifiable selectivity of statements from a medical report or record.  Such poor writing reflects a first-level decision-making process, and can be a frustrating experience upon reading the denial letter.  It is good to keep in mind, however, that the entire application procedure is a “process”, and each level is designed to have a greater level of competency and knowledge in the law.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Merit Systems Protection Board

An appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board in a Federal Disability Retirement case means that the disability retirement application has been denied twice by the Office of Personnel Management:  at the initial application stage, then at the Reconsideration Stage.  This is often considered to be the third and last try — of convincing an administrative judge (an “AJ”) that you are entitled and eligible for disability retirement.  There are, of course, two additional stages — an appeal to the Full Board and to the Federal Circuit Court — but such avenues present only the right to reverse a decision of the Merit Systems Protection Board, and no new evidence can be presented.

Thus, one might consider the Merit Systems Protection Board as the “last stop” in the administrative process.  Do not think, however, that the process must necessarily be won before the Administrative Judge in a hearing — much work and persuasive argumentation should be made to the OPM representative who is handling the case at this MSPB Stage.  The OPM representative at the Third Stage of the process is usually an attorney; they are competent; they are versed in the case-law — and thus open to be persuaded by legal argumentation.  While the administrative stages (the Initial Stage and the Reconsideration Stage) involved OPM representatives who are non-attorneys, the MSPB Stage involves seasoned attorneys who present an opportunity for persuasion and argumentation, and thus a golden opportunity to convince OPM to reverse their own decision before coming to a Hearing.  Such an opportunity should never be missed, and every effort should be made by the applicant’s attorney to have multiple contacts with the OPM representative prior to the date of the Hearing.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire