Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: Sounds Good

There are various stages of the administrative process designated and defined as “Federal Disability Retirement” — the initial application stage of the process, where one must attempt to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that one is eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits; if disapproved and denied, then the Reconsideration Stage of the process (where one may submit additional medical and other documentary evidence to persuade the Office of Personnel Management to reverse themselves); an appeal to the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, where the Federal or Postal applicant’s Disability Retirement application is taken out of the hands of OPM and transferred to an Administrative Judge, who will hear the case anew, without regard to what OPM has decided in the past; a further appeal to the Full Board of the MSPB in the event that the Administrative Judge issues an Initial Decision which affirms and upholds OPM’s denial of the case; and a further appeal to the Federal Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Throughout this process, and especially in the administrative stages before the Office of Personnel Management, one should make a distinction between “sounding good” and “being right”.  Hopefully, the Federal or Postal employee who has filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, is both right and sounding good. But there is a distinction to be made.  For example, OPM will often — in their denial letter — “sound good” but be completely wrong on the law.  They will cite medical textbooks which skew the legal standard of review; creep into the discussion of a denial letter such terms as “no significant disability rating to speak of,” or that you don’t suffer from a disability which “incapacitates” you.  It all “sounds good”, but it is not true precisely because it is not the applicable standard of law to be applied.

At the initial stages of the process, OPM can get away with such nonsense, because most people don’t recognize the untrue and inapplicable standard of law being applied.  In the later stages of the process, however, when an Administrative Judge hears a case, it becomes important not only to “sound good”, but to also apply the right legal criteria.

Appearance versus reality — it is the argument of Western Civilization from the pre-Socratics onward.  As Alfred North Whitehead once observed, all of philosophy was already written by Plato and footnoted by Aristotle.  That statement both sounds good, and is indeed right on point.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Early Retirement for Disabled Federal Workers: Waiting until the Very End

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is never a good idea to wait until the very end to obtain an attorney who specializes in Federal Disability Retirement issues.  By “the very end”, of course, is a relative term — it can mean the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, or a Petition for Full Review (PFR) before a 3-Judge panel of the Merit Systems Protection Board (upon an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, after a denial at the initial application stage before the Office of Personnel Management, then a denial at the Reconsideration Stage before OPM), or the hearing stage itself at the Merit Systems Protection Board.  The “very end” equates to “it is almost too late”.  Another relative concept is the term involving “almost”, as in “almost too late”.  

A recent reversal of a case was by a former Federal employee who attempted all of the initial stages on his own — the initial application stage with the Office of Personnel Management, then the Reconsideration Stage — then went to a Hearing at the Merit Systems Protection Board without an attorney.  This particular Federal employee then came to the undersigned attorney and asked if it could be reversed by an appeal to the 3-Judge panel at the Full Review Stage of the Merit Systems Protection Board.  As pointed out in an earlier blog, there were enough judicial/legal errors committed by the Administrative Judge to justify a Petition for Full Review, and indeed, the outcome was a positive one — fortunately, for the Petitioner/Appellant/Applicant.  However, it is always best not to wait until it is too late.  That is another relative concept — “too late”.  

Hope springs eternal, but such hope has an end in every administrative appeal process, and unless one begins to build the bridge properly from the very beginning, block by block, legal precedent by legal precedent, there is the danger that a collapse will ensue.  It is best to prepare well at the beginning of a process, lest the lack of preparation result in an irreversible tide of mistakes, mishaps, and misfortunes at the end of a long and arduous attempt.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Slam-Dunk Case

I have represented more people at the Reconsideration Stage of the Federal Disability Retirement process for FERS & CSRS employees, of Federal and Postal employees who filed the initial application on his or her own because it was thought that it was a “slam dunk” case.

That is the problem with the slam dunk case — either the individual thinks that the medical evidence is so overwhelming that little or no effort needs to be expended in order to obtain an approval from the Office of Personnel Management, or if some minimal effort is engaged in, then the problem must be that the people over at the Office of Personnel Management either did not understand the seriousness of the medical conditions, or they misread X or Y, or some other such reason.

The real problem is that there are few, if any, slam dunk cases.

Inasmuch as the applicant who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits personally feels the pain, discomfort, and debilitating nature of the medical conditions from which he or she suffers, therefore it is often (wrongly) assumed that the same feelings can be imparted upon the person reviewing the Federal Disability Retirement application.

One must always keep in mind, however, that a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is a paper presentation.  As such, the effort of compiling, arguing, persuading and explaining must always be engaged in.  There are no such cases as slam dunk cases.  If there are, I haven’t recently come across one.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire