OPM Disability Retirement: The Psychology of the Process

There is, of course, the “psychology” of the process of filing for disability retirement benefits. The term itself (psychology, psychological) is all too often misused. All that is meant in this context is that, at each stage of the process (the initial application stage; the Second, Reconsideration Stage; the Third, Merit Systems Protection Board Stage; the fourth & fifth stages of an appeal, either for a Petition for Full Review or an appeal to the Federal Circuit, or sequentially), the applicant should have a general idea of the level of people the Applicant is dealing with. Thus, for example, at the initial stage of the process, one should not expect the OPM Representative to be fully conversant in the law; whereas, if the case gets to the Merit Systems Protection Board Stage, the OPM representative is fairly well-versed in multiple aspects of the laws governing disability retirement. Additionally, the level of medical knowledge varies from one OPM representative to the next. This is not to say that each stage of the process requires a greater level of intellectual input or information; nor does it mean that each stage should be “tailored” based upon the expected level of competence. Rather, an awareness of what to expect, how to respond, and what level of intellectual responsiveness are all necessary ingredients in preparing and filing a successful disability retirement application. In short, it is important to know the “psychology” of it all.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: The Complexity of the Simple

Federal disability retirement law, the statutes and regulations which govern eligibility; the multiple case-law opinions from Administrative Judges and Federal Circuit Judges interpreting the governing statutes and regulations; the lawyers who argue different aspects and attempt to “fine-tune” existing law (including this lawyer) — the entirety results in “making complex” that which was essentially simple.

There is an old adage that the King who declared the first law of his Kingdom was really attempting to reduce the unemployment figures by creating the need for lawyers. Indeed, “the law” is often made more complex by lawyers. However, while the multiple issues governing Federal disability retirement law under FERS & CSRS may appear, at first glance, “simple”, it is such simplicity which engenders the complex, precisely because laws which reflect a simple conceptual paradigm require extensive interpretation in order to explain the simpleness of the simplicity. That is why law itself is complex. Don’t let the complex confluse you. As you prepare a disability retirement application, recognize that it is a complex process; at the same time, make sure to explain your medical condition and how it impacts your ability to perform the essential elements of your Federal or Postal position in an easy-going, simple and straightforward manner. Don’t make it complex; keep it simple; but recognize the complexities.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: The Proper Paradigm

Whether we like to admit it or not, we all operate, in all segments of our lives, from a certain “paradigm” (reference Thomas Kuhn, Structures of Scientific Revolutions) or “world-view”. When it comes to Federal Disability Retirements, the majority of Federal and Postal workers who comes to me have a pre-formed, generally negative attitude about the chances of getting it. This is because they have heard too many horror stories; or they have had horrendous experiences with OWCP filings, or EEOC complaints, or other experiences which they then relate to how the disability retirement process must be.

Yet, all Federal and Postal employees must understand that the process of Federal Disability Retirement has many, many inherent advantages which make it different from other processes. For instance, the Merit System Protection Board has often observed, with respect to disability retirement, that it is distinguishable from other processes, because it is not — strictly speaking — an adversarial process between an agency and an employee; rather, the MSPB sees it simply as a single issue — that of an employee’s entitlement to disability retirement.

Further, the role of the Office of Personnel Management, while seemingly one of making things overly difficult for the individual, in reality has a very difficult time in ultimately justifying a denial. Why? Because they do not have a right to have a doctor of their own to examine the applicant/patient (note the difference with OWCP, where you can be sent to second, third, and sometimes fourth medical opinions by doctors chosen by DOL and paid by DOL). Thus, it is almost as if OPM must disprove a case filed by an applicant. Finally, it is difficult to attack a treating doctor of an applicant, unless there is something seriously wrong with the credentials or competence of the treating doctor. All in all, disability retirement for Federal and Postal Workers is a fair process — one which is a valuable benefit for the Federal and Postal Employee.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Each Stage for CSRS/FERS Disability Retirement Must Be Approached Differently

In filing for Federal disability retirement benefits, there are essentially 3 stages — the initial application Stage; the Reconsideration Stage; and the appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board (and, of course, additionally if you are denied at all three stages, you can go further and file a Petition for Review with the MSPB, and beyond that, file an appeal to the Federal Circuit Court). Do not approach all of the first three stages in the same way; there is a philosophical reason for the existence of each, and to approach all three stages in the same manner is often a mistake that unrepresented applicants make.

As a practical matter, for the first two administrative stages before the Office of Personnel Management, while citing applicable statutory authority and case-law is important, it is often wise to keep in mind that you are addressing non-lawyer benefits specialists at OPM. Thus, arguing the law in the first two stages should be performed quite differently from arguing the law to OPM’s representative and the MSPB administrative judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board (3rd) Stage of the process. A “cookie-cutter” approach for all three stages is the wrong methodology to undertake. Each stage in the process must be taken independently, and approached uniquely.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: Remember the Basics

Time goes by too quickly; Christmas, New Years, winter — and now the dawn of Spring approaches; and the timeline of 12 months from the time one is separated from Federal Service can suddenly come and go; prospectively, 12 months can seem like a sufficient amount of time; retrospectively, when 10 months passes by and suddenly there are only a couple of months left to file; where has the time gone? Do not wait until the last moment; all arguments about one’s medical inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job become irrelevant if you miss the statutory deadline. To be eligible for Federal Disability retirement, you must file within one (1) year of being separated from Federal Service. All of your medical records and reports will be worth merely the paper they are written on if you fail to file within that 1-year deadline. The statutory clock begins to toll once you have been separated from Federal Service. Always keep the basics in the forefront of your mind; otherwise, if the basics are not attended to, everything else becomes a moot point.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Additional Guidance on Disability Retirement Supervisor’s Statement

Some have asked me whether acceptance of a temporary light duty assignment is of concern in a disability retirement application. If you look at SF 3112B (Supervisor’s Statement), Section E(3), the question is whether the employee has “been reassigned to ‘light duty’ or a temporary position?

If the Supervisor answers “No”, then of course there is no issue which would arise which would impact a disability retirement application; if the Supervisor answers “yes”, then it can actually be used as an argument for a disability retirement application, because it can be argued that the fact that the Agency has reassigned the applicant to a temporary “light duty” position is additional evidence of the acknowledgment by the Agency that the applicant could not perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, and therefore in such recognition, the Agency provided for a temporary light duty assignment. Acceptance of such an assignment is not a bar to disability retirement, precisely because it is not a “reassignment” to a “vacant” position, as required in the case of Bracey v. OPM.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire