Federal Disability Retirement: A Conscience for Work

It is a rare animal which one discovers, when a Federal or Postal worker looks forward to the day when he or she is preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  

The concept of “conscientiousness” entails the traits of acting in accordance with the dictates of one’s conscience, and one’s conscience is formed and molded by the complex web of core and foundational beliefs — a system of accepted world-view developed throughout the course of one’s lifetime, refined by experience and applied through trial and error.  That concept is discovered in the Federal and Postal worker who has struggled and endured through the various medical conditions that he or she suffers from, and it is indeed rare that the Federal or Postal worker has a “desire” to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  

Having said this, however, does not deny the reality that there is a “necessity” to file, when the Federal or Postal worker has come to a point in one’s life where “wants” and “needs” clash.  

One may want to continue to work; the reality of one’s medical condition, however, may dictate the need to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  The fact that one has a conscience for work is a “good” thing.  However, where the desire for X contradicts the need for Y, and where Y entails a medical condition which is clearly preventing one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, then the clash of “desire” as opposed to “need” must give way, where the former must be recognized as subservient to the predominance of the latter.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Stress

“Stress” is always the “problem child” in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  If a Federal or Postal employee is no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job because of an intolerance to a certain level of stress, then certainly it should be considered as a basis for preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application, either under FERS or CSRS.  However, treatment modalities must be engaged — normally, via a psychiatrist or psychotherapy.

Further, there are always issues which will come about in basing the primary medical condition as “stress” — aside from the fact that it is a generic designation which will often have corollary designations, such as Major Depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, etc.  For example, can one define “tolerance to stress” as an essential element of one’s job?  It is certainly an inherent element, implicit in many multi-tasking jobs and ones which require a high level of responsibilities or is subject to timeliness in quotas and work production.  But when issues concerning stresses which arise as a result of “personnel issues” (i.e., interaction with supervisors, coworkers, etc.), then it becomes a “problem-child” which is best avoided, for numerous reasons, including the possibility and danger of having one’s Federal Disability Retirement application denied based upon a “situational disability“.  Concepts and thoughts to ponder, when preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Paradigms for the Future

In attempting to decide to file for Federal Disability Retirement Benefits, it is often the case that Social Security disability benefits must be considered (not just “considered”, obviously, for FERS employees, because it is a requirement to file for it), and how seriously and vigorously; and further, whether to pursue, or to continue on, OWCP temporary total disability benefits.  These are “paradigms” that must be considered for the future.  By “paradigm”, I mean that they represent “models” of how a person wants his or her future to be based upon. 

For instance, let’s take the paradigm of Social Security disability benefits.  Because FERS employees who file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits must also file for Social Security disability benefits (to see if they qualify; and, if qualified, the offsetting features will apply), one must take into consideration whether or not a Federal or Postal employee will actually want Social Security disability benefits.  This question arises because Social Security has a “cap” in which a person who receives Social Security disability benefits can make ancillary earned income (roughly no more than $10,000 per year).  Because of this, one must think of the future paradigm of one’s life:  If a person on FERS disability retirement wants to go out and get a part-time job, or start on a path for another career, where he or she makes 15, 20, 25,000 per year or more (because remember, a person can make up to 80% of what a person’s former Federal or Postal job currently pays), then he or she may not want to get Social Security disability benefits.  Most people who are on Federal disability retirement are simply disabled from performing one or more of the essential elements of the particular job; they are not “totally disabled”, and therefore are able to go out and start a second career.  This is the “paradigm” for the future which must be considered, and such a model for the future must be carefully thought through.  Next:  the OWCP paradigm.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Waiting too long

My approach to Federal Disability Retirement law is that there are very few, if any, mistakes made by the applicant which cannot be corrected, amended, or explained, especially where the essential ingredients of a “good” case are in existence: a supportive doctor; a position/duties which are incompatible with the type of medical conditions one suffers from, etc.

However, I receive telephone calls periodically where the individual simply has waited “too long”. Thus, to clarify: If you’ve been denied twice by the Office of Personnel Management, and you have a Hearing before an Administrative Judge 3 days from today, then you have probably “waited too long” (although, if you can get a postponement, or suspension of the case, there may still be time). If you’ve been denied by OPM and the Merit Systems Protection Board has already denied your case, then you have probably “waited too long”. Or, if you have been denied by OPM and by the MSPB and by the Full Board, then you have probably “waited too long”. I hope that I am getting the point across by overstating the case — while each individual must decided when it is the “right time” to get a lawyer to help in filing for disability retirement cases, and yes, while I take on cases at all stages of the process, the point is quite simple: It is better to have the expertise of an experienced attorney earlier, than later. In most case, that means at the very beginning of the process.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Agency Supervisors & Their Responsibility

Agency Supervisors possess powers which can be easily misused. As such, the Supervisor who must fill out a Supervisor’s Statement — Standard Form 3112B — for the disability retirement applicant, must do so with care, integrity, and a sense of reasoned perspective and fairness. “But I’m only telling the truth of what I believe,” is often the justification of a Supervisor who deliberately inserts damaging, self-serving and derogatory remarks on the Supervisor’s Statement. But such “truth” goes beyond the proper role of a Supervisor. Indeed, it is often helpful to discuss the content of intended remarks and statements with the Federal or Postal employee first. Such consultation provides a true and balanced opportunity — a field of fairness and a reasoned perspective — to ensure that a Supervisor is indeed being fair, balanced, and neutral, and not allowing for any personal “feelings” of acrimony or animosity to dilute and pollute a fair appraisal of an employee’s performance, conduct, and impact upon the Agency’s purpose, mission, and goals intended and accomplished. For, ultimately, a Supervisor’s Statement is not about what a Supervisor’s “belief” is; it is not about whether the Supervisor likes or dislikes a Federal or Postal employee; rather, it is supposed to be a balanced, objective perspective delineating the impact of a Federal or Postal employee’s performance or conduct, relative to his or her medical condition and the ability of that employee to perform the essential elements of a job.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Do Psychiatric Disabilities Still Carry a Stigma?

Do Psychiatric Conditions still carry a stigma?  Does the Office of Personnel Management, or the Merit Systems Protection Board, treat Psychiatric medical conditions any differently than, say, bulging discs, degenerative disc disease, or carpal tunnel syndrome, etc.?  Is there a greater need to explain the symptoms of psychiatric conditions, in preparing an Applicant’s Statement of Disability, than conditions which can be “verified” by diagnostic testing?  Obviously, the answer should be: There is no difference of review of the medical condition by OPM or the MSPB. 

Certainly, this should be the case in light of Vanieken-Ryals v. OPM.  Neither OPM nor an MSPB Judge should be able to impose a requirement in disability retirement cases involving psychiatric disabilities, that there needs to be “objective medical evidence,” precisely because there is no statute or regulation governing disability retirement which imposes such a requirement that “objective” medical evidence is required to prove disability.  As I stated in previous articles, as long as the treating doctor of the disability retirement applicant utilizes “established diagnostic criteria” and applies modalities of treatment which are “consistent with generally accepted professional standards,” the evidence presented concerning psychiatric disabilities should not be treated any differently than that of physical disabilities.  As the Court in Vanieken-Ryals stated, OPM’s adherence to a rule which systematically demands medical evidence of an “objective” nature and refuses to consider “subjective” medical evidence, is “arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law.”  Yet, when preparing the Applicant’s Statement of Disability, it is always wise to utilize greater descriptive terms.  For, when dealing with medical conditions such as Bipolar disorder, Major Depression, panic attacks, anxiety, etc., one must use appropriate adjectives and “triggering”, emotional terms — if only to help the OPM representative or the Administrative Judge understand the human side of the story.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The First Denial

Your Federal disability retirement application was well-prepared:  perhaps it was prepared with the help of an attorney; the medical documentation seemed solidly unequivocal; the doctor made the necessary connections between one’s medical conditions and the type of essential elements of one’s job; the packet, by all accounts, should have been approved, and by all expectations, the approval should have been reasonably expected. 

Instead, you receive a letter stating that your disability retirement application was disapproved, and a “Discussion” section follows, explaining why the Office of Personnel Management denied your application.  Why did this happen?  There are multiple reasons why such a denial can occur:  the OPM specialist could be a person who lacks a clear understanding of the applicable laws governing disability retirement applications (more often than not, this is the case, and what you actually get in the so-called “Discussion” Section of the denial letter is merely a regurgitation of the statutory criteria for eligibility for disability retirement, without a recognition of the interpretation of such criteria by Federal Judges for the Federal Court of Appeals or by Administrative Judges from the Merit Systems Protection Board); it could be as simple as the OPM representative selectively choosing to read the medical reports and records, and disregarding or ignoring supportive portions of the medical records and reports; or it could be that additional medical reports and records need to be obtained in order to “shore up” the application. 

In any event, whatever the reason for the denial, one should not panic.  It is merely one step in a long, administrative process.  The mere fact that OPM denies your disability retirement application does not mean that they are “right” in doing so; indeed, in my opinion, they are rarely right.  That is why one has the right to have it “reconsidered”, and the opportunity to make further legal arguments, and obtain further medical documentation in support of your claim.  And, beyond that, you have the right to file an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board — and beyond.  Never give up; always take it to the next step.  In most cases, it will prove that OPM was in error, and in fighting the denial, you will have secured some semblence of financial security for your future.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Responsibility of the Office of Personnel Management

Perhaps it is an anomaly to even speak about the issue of “the responsibility” of the Office of Personnel Management — at least, from the general consensus of experiences as told by countless individuals who have filed for disability retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management, especially in recent years, one might conclude that OPM is slow to respond, or often refuses to respond at all.  However, to be fair, OPM — as with all other Federal Agencies — is made up of individuals; and the “good” or “bad” of an Agency is entirely dependent upon such individuals. 

Most of the disability retirement specialists at OPM are, in my opinion, of the “good” sort.  Without naming names, there are a few of the “bad” sort.  Of course, that says very little, because such a generalized statement could be true of all Federal Agencies. 

Moreover, OPM is presently short-staffed, overworked, and way behind on the processing of disability retirement claims.  What used to be a 60-day wait at the initial application stage is taking 90 – 120 days; and at the Reconsideration (2nd) Stage, what used to take 90 days is now taking 120 – 150 days, in many cases.   More than the “time” it takes, however, just remember that the primary responsibility of OPM is to take a careful and serious look at your disability retirement application/packet.  Also, remember that those disability retirement packets which are streamlined, logically constructed, and coherently argued, are the ones which will likely be quickly processed.  Don’t just strap a volume of medical records onto an application and hope for approval; in this day and age, it might be a wise investment to hire an attorney to “streamline” your packet.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The First Denial

One should not be overly panicked when the Office of Personnel Management denies a disability retirement application at the initial stage of the process.  Certainly, the denial needs to be taken seriously; the basis for the denial (which is often couched in confusing terms, based upon conflicting — almost contradictory — assertions and claims) must be identified and addressed; additional medical documentation may be needed; the proper legal authorities must be cited.

 To put it bluntly:  while it is almost always a good idea to prepare, present, and file a Federal Disability Retirement application with the assistance, guidance and counsel of an attorney, it is essential that an OPM disability retirement denial be rebutted by an attorney who is familiar with the process, the laws, and the compelling arguments necessary in answering the reasons as stated in the “Discussion” section of OPM’s denial letter.  To panic is merely to waste time; to prepare is the wise course; to map out a cogent plan on how to win at the Reconsideration Stage — and, if necessary, the next stage of appeal, the Merit Systems Protection Board — is the wisest approach.  As Easter is a time of renewal, and Spring is now upon us, during the next few weeks, I will be “going back to basics” and reviewing  the process, the law, and the methodology of effectively applying to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits for FERS & CSRS employees.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire