Federal OPM Disability Retirement: The Mistakes People Make

The greatest mistake of all is to “assume” X or to “presume” Y; and this is not uncommon, precisely because the wording of the Standard Forms as presented on SF 3112A (Applicant’s Statement of Disability), which is the central basis upon which a Federal Disability Retirement application is formulated (both for FERS as well as for CSRS employees), makes it appear as if obtaining an approval from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is merely a pro forma activity.  

And, indeed, many have informed the undersigned attorney that Human Resources’ personnel at various agencies will understate the scrutiny which OPM will apply in reviewing and evaluating a Federal Disability Retirement application.  

The problem with H.R. Personnel dismissing the arduous and meticulously scrutinizing administrative process as applied by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is that such underestimation is barely acknowledged when a denial is received from OPM on a Federal Disability Retirement case.  All of a sudden, the Human Resources personnel put up their hands and state, “It’s not our responsibility”, when all along they had been insisting as to the ease of the process.

No, it is true — it is not the ultimate responsibility of the Agency or its Human Resources Department.  Yes, it is also true that any application for a Federal Disability Retirement is the responsibility of the individual applicant.  As such, because responsibility falls squarely (why, by the way, is it “squarely“, as opposed to “triangularly” or “circularly”?) upon the Federal or Postal Worker, it behooves one to take the entire process seriously, and to invest the proper time, attention, and expenses needed, to do it right “the first time”.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Clarity in the Minefield of Procedural Opposition

Preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, can be a daunting and intimidating process without the opposition — whether intended or not — from one’s Agency or the U.S. Postal Service.  With such “opposition”, life can be made that much more difficult unless one knows one’s rights and the legal obligations of the Agency.  Human Resources Departments of various agencies often reveal peculiar characteristics.

On the one hand, the original raison d’être (the originating reason or purpose for existing) was presumably to assist the employees of the Agency in any and all personnel matters — from payroll issues, to job classification concerns, to preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management.  However, whether it is because “Management” co-opts the personnel in the Human Resources Department; or whether the employees in an Agency Human Resources Department merely take it upon themselves to become contrary and resistant to the needs and concerns of the very employees for whom the H.R. Department’s originating reason for creation are there for; regardless, it has become a commonplace paradigm that there exists an oppositional attitude towards the Federal or Postal employee filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Recognizing this “fact” is important before proceeding down the administrative morass of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  Once recognized, it is important to be prepared to understand how one will, and must, maneuver through the administrative procedures in order to reach the ultimate goal — a favorable decision from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Lawyers and H.R. Personnel

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, one of the peculiar “events” which often erupts and surfaces is the interaction between a Federal or Postal employee, his or her attorney, and the interaction with the Human Resources Department of the particular agency.  

While the reaction of the H.R. personnel is not universal by any means, and while exceptions will surprisingly occur, nevertheless the pattern of recurrences leads one to conclude that there is an undertone of antagonism between the lawyer representing the Federal or Postal employee who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, and the Agency’s Human Resources Department.  

What is puzzling is the following:  (1)  The undersigned writer always attempts to approach all H.R. Personnel with humility and courtesy, with the view that both are working towards the same common goal of assisting the Federal or Postal employee, (2) the very existence of the Human Resources Department of the Agency is predicated upon the notion that they are there to assist the Federal or Postal employee in his or her employment endeavors, including filing for administrative benefits, and (3) since both the attorney and the H.R. Personnel are there to help the Federal or Postal employee, cooperation of efforts would be the natural course of action.  

Unfortunately, in most instances, the very opposite is true.  Whether because the H.R. Personnel believe that an attorney is antagonistic by nature, and therefore must be met with equal force; or because they believe that the attorney is somehow circumventing or undermining the role of the Human Resources’ work and role; nevertheless, it is important for the H.R. Personnel to understand and appreciate that the role of the Attorney in representing a Federal or Postal employee in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application through the Agency (first) and to the Office of Personnel Management (thereafter), needs to be a tripartite effort (the Federal or Postal employee; the Agency; and the attorney), all working together.  

If the Human Resources Department did its job, much of what the representing attorney needs to do would be diminished, and perhaps altogether unnecessary.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Agency’s Personnel Department

It is always important for each individual, worker, and organizational entity to understand the “role” of one’s position, and that is often the problem with an Agency’s Personnel Department — the “Human Resources” Department of an Agency.  

The irony of being called “Human Resources” is probably not lost to most people, but it is the classic irony of being designated as X and acting in an anti-X manner.  The role of Human Resources Personnel, one would implicitly (and explicitly) expect, is one of assistance of a Federal or Postal worker in the filing, submission and attempt to initiate administrative personnel actions, including Federal Disability Retirement benefits under either FERS or CSRS.  

Yet, too many Federal and Postal employees have a sense (and often a justified one) that in attempting to obtain the assistance of the Agency’s Personnel/Human Resources Department in the processing of a Federal Disability Retirement application, that the H.R. Department is more of a hindrance than a help.  Now, such broad generalizations are often unfair to particular Human Resources personnel who are in fact very, very helpful to the entire process — but, then, all such generalizations tend to create an unfair net and capture those who run counter to the very generalizations espoused.  That is the very definition of a generalization.  

The role of an H.R. person is (or should be) one of neutral assistance.  Yet, because “management” and those who will remain with the agency long after a person has gone out on Federal Disability Retirement will be the ones with continuing power and influence within the agency, it is often to those “others” that the Personnel Department favors and shows a continuing bias for.  This is what is called “human nature”.  When human nature and human resources collide, it is often the former which wins out, to the detriment of the latter. That is why having an attorney — an advocate for one’s position — is often an important tool to utilize.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Human Resources Personnel

The problem with relying upon one’s Human Resources department to help in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management (if in fact they are even willing to help, other than to provide the necessary forms — if that) is not based upon their lack of knowledge (some are fairly knowledgeable); rather, they work within the same mindset as the rest of government, and therefore unable to think outside of the paradigm of government regulations, rules, and statutory mandates.  

Furthermore, Human Resources personnel are not lawyers; as such, the moment there is a problem with an application — whether in its substantive presentation, or in the legal criteria which apply to the eligibility of any one Federal or Postal employee — they have a tendency to side with the Office of Personnel Management.  

That is not to say that there are not excellent H.R. Personnel — there are.  But H.R. Personnel are trained to assist in the procedural stream of making sure that the paperwork is all “in order”.  They do not comment upon — and nor should they — the feasibility or substantive credibility of a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS.  

Furthermore, the number of years a person has been a “Human Resources Specialist” is not indicative of the competency of that person in providing any guidance; those who have been in Human Resources often box themselves into a paradigm of repetitive labor, and perform a task “because this is the way it’s always been done”.  That is never a reason to do something, let alone a good reason.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Agencies & SF 3112C

Agencies have an amazing ability to be inquisitive, especially into those areas which really do not concern them.  Often, Agencies will insist that, despite all of the relevant, pertinent, and desired medical documentation already having been attached to a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the applicant/Federal employee “must” sign the Standard Form 3112C (“Physician’s Statement) , which becomes superfluous and irrelevant.  They insist that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) “requires” the form, which is an erroneous statement.  OPM has never required a signed SF 3112C so long as the Federal Disability Retirement application is accompanied by sufficient medical documentation to support the application.  Sometimes, the insistence by the Agency is merely based upon ignorance; other times, it is based upon an administrative and bureaucratic inflexibility to longstanding “procedures” which the Human Resources personnel cannot adapt to, or change, because “this is the way we’ve been doing it for X number of years”.  Still, there is a suspicion that in some instances, the “requirement” of SF 3112C is because of a more nefarious reason:  The Agency wants full access to all medical records, notes, treatment notes, etc.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Not all Agencies are Equal

No names will be named.  Not for purposes of “protecting the innocent”, because it is doubtful that there are any innocent entities, anyway.  Rather, the knowledge that there are some agencies which are worse than others, is widespread knowledge, anyway; and, indeed, if the agencies are “outed”, it would merely be a redundancy to name them.

There are Agencies which, when the name is spoken, it sends shivers down one’s spine, because of the mean spiritedness, the uncooperative attitude, and the sheer incompetency of the Human Resources Department which is designated to process a Federal Disability Retirement application.

Then, there are agencies where the H.R. Department — no matter who in the department is contacted — goes out of their way to assist throughout the entire process. They understand the traumatic nature of a Federal or Postal employee filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS. They realize that the designation, “Human” and “Resources” and “Department”, when taken collectively, means that it is the point where employees come to in order to obtain assistance, to engage in a process which may be very personal, and that the resources sought after require the understanding and compassion of individuals.

Ponder that for a moment — that one’s job may entail, as part of the “essential elements of one’s job” — a showing of understanding and compassion.  Imagine that.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire