Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: The Beast of Burden

The burden is undertaken by those have little choice in the matter, but who willingly submit to the responsibility and obligation.  Traditionally, the “beast of burden” (other than being a Rolling Stone song) refers to a somewhat-domesticated animal, perhaps a donkey or an ox, who must bear the weight of man’s work.

In law, the “burden” is one of proof — of the affirmative obligation to present one’s facts, persuasive argumentation based upon such facts, and the application of the relevant law which supports both the facts and the arguments.  The “other side” in the litigation has no burden at all, and can simply sit and do nothing, if he or she so chooses, and see whether or not the plaintiff, the appellant or the Federal Disability Retirement applicant has submitted sufficient proof such that he or she has met his/her burden of proof.

As the weight placed upon a beast of burden is often heavy and demanding, so in a similar vein the litigant who has the burden of proof should always expect to exceed what is “necessary” in any given case.  For the Federal or Postal employee who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is indeed a heavy burden to bear in order to meet the legal criteria of a Federal bureaucracy who has the unmitigated power and authority to approve or deny.

The burden of proof — it is as heavy as that which we place upon a beast of burden, and the weight of such responsibility can overwhelm us, lest we have the reserve of strength to plod onward.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: The Agency & the Burden of Proof

In a Federal Disability Retirement case, submitted to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the burden of proving one’s medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, always remains with the individual Federal or Postal applicant.

Certainly, there are actions by the agency which may add to such proof (e.g., declaring that the Federal or Postal worker is “not fit for duty” will further concretize an assessment made by a third party; or initiating a separation from Federal Service based upon one’s medical inability to perform the essential elements of the job will trigger the Bruner Presumption, which then invokes a rebuttable presumption and shifts the “burden of production” (note that it is not the shifting of the “burden of proof” — a conceptual distinction important to recognize) over to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Waiting for one’s agency to act upon anything is, however, a very dangerous venture to begin with; thinking that one’s own agency will provide the proof necessary to establish one’s eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits would not only be dangerous, but foolhardy.  For, at its most fundamental level, the fact that the very entity which makes a decision on a Federal Disability Retirement application (OPM) is one which is separate and independent from the agency for which one works, creates a chasm which only further magnifies the inherent problem.

OPM pays little to no attention to what the agency does — except, perhaps, when the agency attempts to directly confront and challenge a Federal Disability Retirement application.  Otherwise, don’t look for help from one’s agency (generally speaking) when one is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits; such unfounded reliance will only disappoint, at best.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Proof

This is a proof-based process.  It is not merely a matter of completing some forms and meeting procedural guidelines in order to obtain a benefit; rather, it is an administrative process in which evidence and documentary support from third parties must be obtained in order to meet the legal criteria imposed by statute, regulation, and ever-evolving case-laws as handed down by the Administrative Judges of the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, as well as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

There are administrative processes which are “entitlements”, such as certain economic assistance programs, Social Security, Medicare, etc., where one has paid into a system, and upon reaching a certain age, or meeting income-qualification criteria, etc., such procedural guidelines are merely shown, met, and approved.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, however, it is not merely a matter of meeting procedural criteria (although that, too, is required), but moreover, one must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that one is eligible, by submission of substantial and adequate documentation that one cannot perform, because of a medical condition, one or more of the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal job.

Proof is the lynchpin by which the standard of winning a Federal Disability Retirement case is won or lost.  Proof is a “must”.  As such, never consider filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits as merely a matter of filling out paperwork; one must prove one’s case.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Proving the Standard

In approaching how to prove a Federal Disability Retirement case, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is best to try and meet a higher standard of proof, and not be lulled into thinking that because the applicable standard of proof is the lower “preponderance of the evidence” standard, that the mere necessity of proving one’s case is reflective of that standard.

Standards of proof on a theoretical level are for academics; in the practical world of law, one must actually persuade and convince the individuals who are authorized to approve a Federal Disability Retirement application, that the Federal Disability Retirement application merits an approval.  This would include the personnel at the Office of Personnel Management, as well as an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board.

One can shout all one wants that the standard of proof needed in a Federal Disability Retirement case is the “preponderance of the evidence,” and that all that is necessary to meet that standard is that X is more likely to be true than not.  However, in the “real” world of law, people, and persuasive authority, one’s case should always strive to meet the highest standard — that it is so persuasive that the deciding authority has no choice but to approve the case.  For, as the higher standard logically subsumes all lower standards, the inverse is not true, and the interpretation of what constitutes meeting the “preponderance of the evidence” test can have a wide margin of error.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: OPM’s Standard of Proof

In reviewing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the mandate of burden is determined both by statute and regulation, and the Merit Systems Protection Board reiterates the burden of proof in each of its decisions — that of proving one’s case by a “Preponderance of the Evidence“.  

This is a relatively low standard of proof — of showing that one is eligible and entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS based upon a showing that, with all of the evidence considered, it is more likely than not that the Federal or Postal employee has shown that he or she cannot perform, because of one or more medical conditions, one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  

There is often a question as to whether this same standard of evidentiary showing applies to the Office of Personnel Management, and this question is posed because of the statements made in many of the denial letters (which then prompts a necessary request for Reconsideration, or an administrative appeal to the 2nd Stage of the process; or, if denied at the 2nd Stage — the Reconsideration Stage — then an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board) issued by the Office of Personnel Management, to wit:  The evidence you submitted did not show a “compelling” reason why you could not…; The medical evidence did not show that you had to be “excluded from the workplace completely”; and other statements which seems to require a higher showing than that of “preponderance of the evidence“. 

OPM is supposed to follow the same standard of proof — that of preponderance of the evidence.  Sometimes, they need to be reminded of it.  

However, inasmuch as the safety mechanism for review of an improper standard is an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, such a reminder often must take the form of an appeal.  Without the appeal basis, the Office of Personnel Management can ignore the relevant statutory burden of proof.  But then, that would not be the first time that an agency acted in a non-compliant manner.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: The Weight of Evidence

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the reason why it is important to understand, reflect upon, and have a practical knowledge of the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement issues — both in terms of statutes which govern and dictate the criteria for eligibility of Federal Disability Retirement benefits; the regulations which are propounded by the Office of Personnel Management; and the case laws which are administrative judicial opinions handed down (from the Merit Systems Protection Board, to the Full Board of the Merit Systems Protection Board; to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, etc.) — is that there is always a “trickle down” aspect to the evolving laws in any system of laws.

Thus, the opinions handed down by Administrative Judges at the Merit Systems Protection Board, as well as by Judges of the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, are dictates and interpretation of statutory authority which are to be “followed” by the Federal Agency which is empowered to administer the decision-making process of Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Part of that application of law, for instance, is the “standard of proof” which must be applied, and in the case of all Federal Disability Retirement applications, the standard of proof to be applied is the “Preponderance of the Evidence” standard.  But what does that standard mean?  While entirely subjective at worst, and somewhat confusing at best, the individual words which make up the conceptual entirety provides some inkling of what must be understood.

Whether qualitatively or quantitatively, one must have a showing of “preponderance” — of more, better, or of greater persuasive effect than not.  Thus, whether by sheer volume of the evidence presented, or in the quality of the presentation, the persuasive impact must be accepted as more likely than not, by the Office of Personnel Management or, if appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board, then by the Administrative Judge.

It is important to not only apply a standard, but to have an understanding of the standard.  For, only by understanding can one then determine its proper application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Describing One’s Medical Conditions

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management, the conundrum which one faces immediately is to attempt to overcome the seeming inability of third parties (OPM Personnel included) to understand, comprehend, relate to, and ultimately “feel” a sense of empathy and compassion for the particular genre of medical conditions a Federal or Postal worker suffers from.  

While the entire administrative process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is based upon a legal criteria, with a standard of proof set by law — that of “preponderance of the evidence” (which, simply put, means that one must prove that something is “more likely” the case than not — a relatively low standard of proof in the potential options of applying various legal standards) — it nevertheless comes down to having a fellow human being review, analyze, assess and evaluate one’s Federal Disability Retirement application at the Office of Personnel Management.  

Yes, there is an applicable legal criteria which is applied by the Office of Personnel Management.  Yes, there is a set of conforming documentation which must be submitted.  Yes, there are Standard Forms to be completed.  Yet, as with all processes of review, no evaluative process can be merely characterized as an objective calculus; otherwise, the eligibility requirement of a Federal Disability Retirement application should be able to be determined by a computer program.  

While such a possibility may well occur in the not-too-distant future, for the present, an actual person (although this is sometimes questioned, also, based upon the unresponsiveness of OPM and the voicemail messages one encounters) at the Office of Personnel Management must review, evaluate, and determine the viability of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  As such, part of the key to the success of the administrative process must be in the descriptive narrative of one’s medical conditions, their impact upon one’s ability/inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, and the qualitative and quantitative impact, direct or otherwise, upon one’s life.  

Here again, a cold, objective calculus should not be the only approach.  The “human factor” should be included — and to do so, one must extrapolate and apply all of the descriptive tools available in the English language.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire