CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: Tying Together the Loose Strands

When a medical condition impacts a Federal or Postal employee, whether under FERS or CSRS, and prevents him or her from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, the process of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management begins.  

One may conceptually distinguish between a “formal” beginning of the process, as opposed to an informal or “real-time” beginning; but in any event, from a retrospective vantage point, it is clear that the “beginning” occurred at that point when the coalescence of medical-to-job impact manifested itself and it became obvious that the Federal or Postal employee could no longer continue in the same fashion as before.  

During this initial part of the process, when the Federal or Postal employee is simply struggling to survive — by going to medical appointments; attempting to continue to work; trying to ignore the reality of the medical condition by striving to perform all of the essential elements of one’s job as before; attempting to maintain the same balance of work-to-personal life, etc. — there is rarely a coordination of efforts, and the disparate strands of life’s compartments never come together in any comprehensible manner.  

But at the “formal” point of preparing and formulating a Federal Disability Retirement application, it is important to engage in the “tying” together of the disparate strands of life — if only to package a cogent and coherent presentation of one’s Federal Disability Retirement application to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  

Life may be a series of messes; a successful Federal Disability Retirement application, however, should be a serious compilation of proof, evidence, argumentation and logical structure.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Early Medical Retirement for Disabled Federal Workers: Fish or Cut Bait

Colloquial expressions often develop over time because of their shorthanded effectiveness; they are the antiquated equivalent of text-messaging abbreviations, but with greater meaning and potency because of their time-testedness and allowance for a slow, evolutionary progression within a society.  Such expressions allow for a blunt statement which removes all doubts as to meaning; and the statement itself is all that is necessary, with surrounding silence revealing all.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, a person contemplating initiating the administrative process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement must ultimately come to the decision of moving forward, or not.

Such a bifurcation of clarity in making the decision is necessary both for the sanity and health of the Federal or Postal employee who must make the decision, as well as for the agency who either wants full productivity from its employees, or an ability to “accommodate” the medical condition (in accordance with the governing laws concerning the legal issue of accommodations in the workplace) in order to reach an acceptable level of productivity.

Fish or cut bait; in four words, such a colloquial expression says it nicely:  Initiate the process, or live with the pain and progressive deterioration.  Already, in the very act of trying to explain or “add on” to the expression, nothing of value has been accomplished because the expression itself is sufficient.  As such:  silence.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Moving Beyond

Once a decision has been made to begin preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS, then the mechanical aspects of gathering and compiling the evidence to make one’s paper presentation to the Office of Personnel Management must begin.

It can be a daunting process.  However, it is overcoming the initial timidity which is the first step.  The compilation of the proper medical narrative reports with the effective wording and nexus between the medical condition and essential elements of one’s job; the creation of a narrative word picture of one’s Applicant’s Statement of Disability; any legal arguments to be presented and cited; the remainder of the Standard Forms to be completed by the Agency; the insurance forms — one can easily get lost in the morass of such paperwork.  

Then, there is the “waiting period” — that long and anxiety-stricken time of waiting for the Office of Personnel Management to makes its decision at the Initial Stage, and if denied, at the Reconsideration Stage of the process; and, if denied a second time, an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board.  

It is during the “waiting period” that one must begin to think about the period “beyond” — that time when one becomes a Federal Disability Retiree, where one finally has the proper time to attend to one’s medical conditions, then to rethink in terms of another job, another career, another phase of life.  It is the time to think about “moving beyond” one’s self-perception and paradigm of self-conception of being a “Federal employee”, and instead to think of the re-created self in new and fresh terms.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Beyond the Approval Letter

There are many stories of Federal and Postal employees who suffer from physical, emotional and cognitive (psychiatric as well as progressively deteriorating neurological disorders) medical conditions, who continue to endure within the confines of a Federal or Postal job, for years and years.  

Federal Disability Retirement allows for a Federal or Postal employee who has a minimum of 18 months of Federal Service under FERS (5 years under CSRS, which is already a safe assumption that such minimum eligibility requirements have already been met for CSRS employees) to continue to be productive as an employed member of the workforce — but in a different capacity.

Each story is a unique one —  filled with a narrative of human suffering, of enduring pain, hostility, and often discriminatory actions by the Agency.  The attorney who represents the Federal or Postal employee, however, has a specific and unique role.  He or she is not the Federal or Postal employee’s friend, therapist, doctor or financial advisor.  Instead, the attorney’s job should retain a singular focus — to obtain the Federal Disability Retirement benefits for the applicant who is seeking such benefits.  For, after all, it is only upon the satisfaction of the foundational basics that a Federal or Postal employee can then “move on” and go beyond the impact of a medical condition — to recuperate; to start a second career; to repair the physical, emotional and psychiatric impact of the past year or more; and to begin rebuilding after experiencing the jubilation of an approval letter from the Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: “It May Sound Good”

There is the statutory legal criteria which is mandated by law, by case-law, and by regulatory dictum as to the proper application of review in making a determination on a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS.  Yet, the question is whether or not the Office of Personnel Management has applied the proper legal criteria in making its determination, and the answer to such a question can only be evaluated based upon the language which is utilized by OPM in its denial letter. 

An approval letter issued by the Office of Personnel Management is entirely unrevealing, precisely because it is simply a template letter advising the approved Federal Disability Retirement annuitant of the next steps to follow.  However, when a denial letter is issued by the Office of Personnel Management, often the Claims Representative will insert language which “sounds good” and proper, and even convincing — but ultimately, wrong as far as the proper application of the law is concerned.  For example, OPM may assert with unequivocal brevity that there lacks “compelling medical evidence” in the Federal Disability Retirement application.  “Compelling” is not a legal criteria required by statute, case-law, or regulatory dictum.  As such, it is a meaningless word-usage.

Moreover, it is harmful to a case because it means that OPM applied a standard of review which is nowhere found in any statute.  Further, it gives an appearance of authenticity and authoritative credibility where none exists.  What to do about it?  It needs to be addressed and pointed out — but diplomatically.  Diplomacy is nothing more than a forceful rebuttal clothed in the finery of courtesy, but it is a necessary ingredient in establishing the proper tone and tenor of a response to OPM.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Template Approach

The Office of Personnel Management essentially renders both approvals and denials of a Federal Disability Retirement application with a “template” approach.  This is not surprising, but it is little noticed, and this is why:  For disabled Federal and Postal workers who file for Federal Disability Retirements benefits under FERS or CSRS, and who are not represented by a federal disability attorney, it is their “one-and-only” exposure to the Office of Personnel Management.

Thus, if an approval is received, that approval is the first and only time of having any correspondence from the Office of Personnel Management.  Similarly, if a denial is received, then that is the first exposure and contact from the Office of Personnel Management.  There would be no way of knowing whether or not the approval letter, or the denial letter, was or was not a “standard template”.  Certainly, in a denial letter from the Office of Personnel Management, there are references to submitted medical documents, or supervisor’s statement, or some other document which was part of the Federal Disability Retirement application; but the remainder of the denial letter is in “template form”. 

However, when an attorney represents a Federal or Postal worker and receives an initial denial letter, or a denial at the Reconsideration Stage, it is an obvious issue, because any attorney who specializes in Federal Disability Retirement law has viewed hundreds, if not thousands, of such letters.  Why is it important to recognize that the format is in “template” form?  For many reasons.  The type of template; from whom the template is received; the extent of the template; the issues presented in the format; these are all helpful for any experienced Federal Attorney who specializes in Federal Disability Retirement law, to successfully answer such formatted denials.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire