OPM Disability Retirement: Remembering What “Supportive” Means

Over time, one’s memory and historical perspective becomes clouded and obscured.  In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, there is obviously a long and complex history of changes, amendments and refinements to the aggregate compendium of that which constitutes the totality of “the law” governing Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Thus, since the initial inception of the enactment of statutory authority granting the U.S. Office of Personnel Management authority to approve Federal Disability Retirement benefits under CSRS (and later under FERS), there has been an evolution of statutory amendments, regulatory clarifications, case-law expansion, contraction and clarifications — the composite of which constitutes “the law” governing Federal Disability Retirement applications whether under FERS or CSRS.

Part of the evolutionary process includes what is termed “supportive” documentation or evidence, such as an Agency’s determination that the Federal or Postal employee cannot be accommodated; the Flight Surgeon’s decertification of an Air Traffic Controller’s medical clearance; a Law Enforcement agency’s conclusions that a Federal Law Enforcement Officer is unable to meet the physical requirements of his or her position; and many other agency determinations which “support” a Federal Disability Retirement application.  But “supportive” does not mean “primary”, and the Federal or Postal worker must always remember that such ancillary evidence must be in addition to the primary evidence submitted in a Federal Disability Retirement application.

Don’t mistake the support evidence as replacing the essential evidentiary component of a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS. The primary evidence must always come first — both by definition, as well as by statutory requirement.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: The Fallacy of Objective Medical Evidence

The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals has already addressed the issue of the Office of Personnel Management’s unjustified adherence to making a distinction between “objective medical evidence” as opposed to what they deem and declare to be “subjective” evidence.

The distinction has no statutory basis or authority, but OPM continues to make the same, repetitive and tiring arguments concerning such a distinction.  Of course, when there exists a plenitude of “objective” evidence, then OPM will often sidestep such evidence and argue that it wasn’t “compelling” enough.  

The fallacy of “objective” versus “subjective” becomes most apparent, of course, when it addresses the issue of “pain”.  Pain is by definition a subjective state of experiential encounter.  If there is any “objective” evidence of pain, it is a misunderstanding of what constitutes such evidence.  Thus, for instance, one might point to an MRI showing a multi-level disc degeneration from L3-L4, L4-L5, etc., and state, “There, we have objective evidence of pain.”

Not quite.  What you merely have, if one stops and considers it, is simply a parallel set of observable facts:  A:  an image which reveals an abnormality of the spine, combined with B, which has an individual who conveys a sensation of pain.  However, inasmuch as there are many people who have similar or worse states of “A” (multi-level disc degeneration), but go through life without any apparent pain, one cannot therefore argue that A is “objective” evidence of “B”.  There may be a parallel correlation to be made, but no causal connection.  

Regardless, the Federal Circuit Court has already declared OPM to be in error for making such a distinction.  However, despite the law, OPM continues to deny Federal Disability Retirement applications under FERS & CSRS by adhering to the false distinction.  Imagine that.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Meeting the Burden of Proof

The difference between “telling” and “showing” is a distinction which is often made in distinguishing between bad literary writing and good literature; such a distinction is applicable in practicing effective law, also.  

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is important to meet the burden of proof in order to show the Office of Personnel Management that one is entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  To “meet the burden of proof” is to show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that one has met all of the legal criteria for such eligibility (e.g., that one has a medical condition; that the medical condition prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job; that certain identified elements of the job cannot be accommodated, etc.).  

The key is that one must “show”, and not merely tell, and that is where the distinction between effective and ineffective formulation of a Federal Disability Retirement application presents itself.  To merely assert that “X is a fact” and then to declare that the burden of proof has been met, is an ineffective methodology of formulating one’s argument.  On the other hand, to describe the factual underpinnings, then to further describe how the natural conclusion from such facts lead to the inescapable conclusion that a legal criteria has been met, is to provide for an effective argument.

The Office of Personnel Management is open to persuasion; it must merely be shown the way through descriptive analysis of the medical facts and conclusions which must be met, in meeting the legal burden of proof in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Burden of Proof

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS & CSRS, one is often asked (and should also ask of one’s self) the following question:  What does it take to be eligible?  What proof proves my case?  How much proof must I submit (quantity) and is the proof I submit sufficient (quality)?  All of these questions fall under a generic rubric in law, termed as “burden of proof“. 

Every legal process — and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS is no different — applies a legal standard:  a set of criteria in determining whether or not a Federal or Postal Worker is eligible for — qualifies for — Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS. 

In applying a statutory set of criteria, there is the general application of what constitutes, or meets the needs of, the evidence, documents, and proof that is submitted for review.  The overriding standard that is supposed to be applied for determining the process, is a standard of law called, “Preponderance of the evidence.”  It is a relatively low standard used in civil law — where, if the proof submitted shows that it is more likely so than not so, then one has met “by a preponderance of the evidence” that a Federal or Postal employee is entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits. 

Does this standard apply at the administrative level — at the Office of Personnel Management?  The answer is “Yes”, but not necessarily consciously.  One only effectively argues that the standard of proof has been met when one encounters a Judge — at the Merit Systems Protection Board.  But, nevertheless, OPM is supposed to follow “the law” and the burden of proof, and it is simply one more argument that one can, and should, make to the Office of Personnel Management when filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under either FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire