OPM Disability Retirement: Continuation of Work

There is often the question of whether, during the process of submitting a Federal Disability Retirement application with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, can/should one continue to work, and will such a status reflect negatively or adversely upon one’s Federal Disability Retirement application?

The question is a logical one, stemming from the seemingly self-contradictory nature of the dual assertion — one which is explicit (the Federal Disability Retirement application itself, where the Federal or Postal employee asserts that he or she can no longer perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job), and the other which is implied (by continuing to work, does not one undermine the previous assertion?).

What complicates, confuses and muddles the issue further is the fact that, for FERS employees, the Federal Disability Retirement applicant must also file for Social Security Disability benefits (SSDI), and in order to do so, the requirement of being in a non-working status in order to qualify, only further confounds the issue.

But careful analysis will reveal that such apparent contradictions are merely superficial ones.  Hint:  Federal Disability Retirement merely requires a legal standard whereby one cannot perform all of the essential elements of one’s job; continuation in one’s employment capacity does not necessarily mean that one can perform all of the essential elements of one’s positional duties; rather, it means merely that there are certain elements which cannot be performed.

Further, with respect to the intersecting issue of SSDI, there is a distinction to be made between qualifying and filing.  Life’s contradictions are often merely surface-intersections between technical word-games.  Once the verbiage confusion is resolved, the conflict itself dissolves.

It is sort of like the difference between reading about a man falling off of a cliff, and actually being a tourist at the Grand Canyon and being the subject of a news story the next day.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Logical Fallacies

The problem with logical fallacies is that the people who make them rarely recognize such errancy (otherwise they wouldn’t repeatedly make them), and further, are often the same people who refuse to recognize them even if it is kindly pointed out.

For example:  In a Federal Disability Retirement case, when the doctor’s report clearly and unequivocally points out that the Federal employee’s medical condition is “permanent”, one would logically infer from such a statement that the condition therefore will last a minimum of 12 months (the legal requirement in a FERS or CSRS Federal Disability Retirement case), and therefore would satisfy the legal requirement concerning that particular issue.

However, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management will often fail to make such an inference, and claim that the legal requirement that one’s medical condition must “last a minimum of 12 months” has not been satisfied.

Now, one essentially has three (3) choices in responding to OPM’s claim at the Reconsideration Stage of the process (or, if made a second time with a denial at the Reconsideration Stage, then to the Administrative Judge at the MSPB):  (1)  Ignore the logical fallacy, (2) Argue that OPM has made the logical fallacy and failed to make the correct inference, or (3) Have the issue restated in any updated medical documentation.

Of the 3, the last is probably the preferable, if only because one should expect that any failure to recognize such an obvious inference will likely reoccur again within the same organization (the U.S. Office of Personnel Management), and therefore clarity of statement (or restatement) would be the most effective course of action.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Pushing for a Decision

In these difficult economic times, when alternate or secondary employment is hard at best, waiting upon the Office of Personnel Management for a decision on one’s Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS, can be unsettling.  

There are, of course, multiple ancillary methods of “putting pressure” upon the Case Worker at OPM — contacting a supervisor; repeatedly calling and leaving multiple voicemails; sometimes, contacting a congressman/woman to initiate a “congressional inquiry” into the matter.  Whether, and to what extent, such ancillary methodologies work, is anyone’s guess.  

Hume’s argument concerning causation is probably at work here:  If an approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application is received shortly after pressure is initiated, one can declare that it “worked” — that the effect of an approval followed the causal impact of such pressure.  If a denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application is received shortly after such pressure is initiated, perhaps one may suspect that while the pressure may not have “worked” to one’s liking, nevertheless, the fact that a decision was made shortly after the initiation of such pressure may “prove” that the effect followed the cause.  

Or, as Hume would argue, does the fact that the rooster makes a ruckus shortly before the sun rises, mean that the former caused the latter? One will never know.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Working While Waiting

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, often the question is asked by the Federal or Postal employee as to whether one can continue to work while waiting for the process to unfold.

Working is what the Federal or Postal employee who is submitting the application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, knows best. “Waiting” is an anomaly and a period of mercurial frustration because of the level and extent of inactivity and seeming lack of progress or productivity. Yet, it is the latter which must be endured during the process of allowing the bureaucratic maze to unfold, and it is often helpful if the agency will allow for the former.

Not all agencies are equal, however, and while some agencies will allow for an indefinite period of working and performing light duty, other agencies will place the Federal employee on Sick Leave, Annual Leave, LWOP, etc.

The fact that the Federal or Postal employee cannot work, or is not allowed to work, during the process of waiting for a decision from the Office of Personnel Management while having one’s Federal Disability Retirement application reviewed, is often dependent upon various factors: first and foremost, the medical condition of the Federal or Postal employee and the impact of the medical condition upon one’s ability and inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job; the ability of the Agency to “accommodate” the Federal or Postal employee during the process of waiting for a decision from the Office of Personnel Management (using the term “accommodation” loosely, in this context); whether there are safety concerns within the agency or the U.S. Postal Service; whether there are specific regulations which control the ability of the agency to allow for light duty work during the process; and multiple other factors which may come into play when a Federal or Postal employee has filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Ultimately, the frustration of waiting can be somewhat alleviated by a sense of productivity. However, the only option open to the injured/disabled Federal or Postal employee is not necessarily to wait idly while the Office of Personnel Management is reviewing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS; there is always the option of seeking alternate employment in the private sector, or attending to chores or other needed opportunities during the meantime.

A positive outlook while waiting is the best course of action. If you were given a block of time — say, 6 months — what would you do with it? Productivity, value and worth are not defined only by work; waiting is not merely the act of being idle; and the primary and most important job of the Federal or Postal worker who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS is to recuperate from the medical condition which is preventing one from attaining that worth, value and productivity which is impacting him or her in the first place.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: The Problem with Answering an OPM Denial

A denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management always leaves the applicant and his or her attorney at a disadvantage.  This is because OPM is never answerable to any resulting consequence of a denial; at least, not directly.  Think about it this way:  In the initial application, if an OPM Disability Retirement application is properly prepared and submitted according to, and within the parameters of the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement, one would assume that it should be approved.  If it is denied, then the case is sent to the “Reconsideration” division of OPM — meaning, to another person. 

Now, taking it out of the hands of one OPM Representative into the hands of another, has both the good and the bad mixed together:  the good is that it will now be reviewed afresh by someone else; the bad is that the person who denied the original application has no further responsibility for the denial.  This is true, incidentally, with respect to the Reconsideration Stage of the process; if a second denial is issued, the person who issues the second denial also has no responsibility to answer for the basis given in the denial. 

The “light at the end of the tunnel“, however, comes when it is finally taken up by an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board.  While the AJ cannot hold anyone at OPM responsible for a denial which never should have been, at the very least, when the AJ reviews the record and finds that the previous denials were unfounded or rationally without legal foundation, an immediate recognition of a baseless denial can help the applicant.  Ultimately, rationality and legal integrity has a chance to prevail; it sometimes takes more than one bite at the apple.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire