Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: The Changed Standard

Lawyers are trained to engage in linguistic gymnastics; that is precisely why Plato railed against rhetoricians of his day, as they used language to distort the fullness of being (as Heidegger would say).  For, the malleability of language allows for a spectrum of purposive and mischievous play upon words; only an abiding sense of integrity in the face of a world which has abandoned parameters and boundaries of what constitutes “fair play” in the arena of linguistic word games, would save the original foundation of the correspondence theory of truth.  But in this postmodern world where objective truth can no longer be argued for, subtlety in playing a language game is no longer necessary; one can simply, deliberately and without conscience switch one word for another, and maintain a straight face.

So, in a Federal or Postal Disability Retirement case, when the U.S. Office of Personnel Management inserts words which clearly do not reflect the legal standard as presently existing, what does one do?  When the standard is raised to require “disability which precludes you from the workplace”, or evidence of a medical condition which is “compelling”, how does one respond?  Such unwarranted and baseless legal applications are inserted in many denials from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, requiring a Request for Reconsideration or an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board.  In the end, in order to properly respond, one must first recognize the malleability of language; then to identify the proper legal standard to be applied; then to selectively address such improper legal standards.

In a Federal Disability Retirement case, whether under FERS or CSRS, the ultimate problem is that one is dealing with a Leviathan of an agency — the U.S. Office of Personnel Management — and one which has the power to engage in rhetorical flourishes with unfettered abandon.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Doctors and the Peculiarities of Treatment

Efficacy of treatment is the goal for a doctor; and upon information that such efficacy has failed to render improvement or incremental signs of progress, many doctors lose interest, or become suspicious.

Social Security Disability, of course, requires a higher standard of proof — one of essentially “total disability”, where one is no longer able to engage in “substantially gainful activity” — and, as such, is an implicit admission of medical failure.

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement, however, is merely an acknowledgement that there are certain medical conditions which, limited in their scope and impact, prevent a person from performing one or more of the essential elements of a particular kind of job.  Such a person who goes out on Federal Disability Retirement benefits can still remain productive in the work-world, by pursuing another, different kind of vocation.

As such, from a medical point of view, conveying the distinction between the two is like the difference between identifying a hill as opposed to a mountain:  both may have some elevation, but the extent and scope between the two goes well beyond a linguistic peculiarity.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Proof, Assertion, and the Conceptual Distinction

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is necessary — first and foremost — to understand that the benefit of Federal Disability Retirement is not an “entitlement” under any definition of the word; there is no automatic triggering mechanism by which a Federal or Postal employee becomes a Federal Disability Annuitant, unless one proves, by a preponderance of the evidence, that one has met all of the eligibility requirements necessary to obtain the benefit.

Further, while the standard of proof established by statute is a relatively low one in comparison to others (i.e., “preponderance of the evidence” merely requires that the truth of X is more likely than not, as opposed to other, more onerous standard of proof, such as “beyond a reasonable doubt” or “clear and convincing”, etc.), nevertheless, the mere assertion of a statement of facts will not qualify the Federal or Postal employee for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

A standard — or “burden of proof” — means exactly that:   One must prove it, and proof requires more than the mere assertion that X is so.  Specifically, in a Federal Disability Retirement application, one must prove that one is medically unable to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal position, and in order to meet that burden, medical documentation of a sufficient and persuasive nature must be submitted along with a Federal Disability Retirement application, which includes many Standard governmental forms.

Knowing and recognizing the conceptual distinction between asserting X and proving X is an important first step in preparing, formulating, and successfully filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Proving the Standard

In approaching how to prove a Federal Disability Retirement case, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is best to try and meet a higher standard of proof, and not be lulled into thinking that because the applicable standard of proof is the lower “preponderance of the evidence” standard, that the mere necessity of proving one’s case is reflective of that standard.

Standards of proof on a theoretical level are for academics; in the practical world of law, one must actually persuade and convince the individuals who are authorized to approve a Federal Disability Retirement application, that the Federal Disability Retirement application merits an approval.  This would include the personnel at the Office of Personnel Management, as well as an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board.

One can shout all one wants that the standard of proof needed in a Federal Disability Retirement case is the “preponderance of the evidence,” and that all that is necessary to meet that standard is that X is more likely to be true than not.  However, in the “real” world of law, people, and persuasive authority, one’s case should always strive to meet the highest standard — that it is so persuasive that the deciding authority has no choice but to approve the case.  For, as the higher standard logically subsumes all lower standards, the inverse is not true, and the interpretation of what constitutes meeting the “preponderance of the evidence” test can have a wide margin of error.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: OPM’s Standard of Proof

In reviewing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the mandate of burden is determined both by statute and regulation, and the Merit Systems Protection Board reiterates the burden of proof in each of its decisions — that of proving one’s case by a “Preponderance of the Evidence“.  

This is a relatively low standard of proof — of showing that one is eligible and entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS based upon a showing that, with all of the evidence considered, it is more likely than not that the Federal or Postal employee has shown that he or she cannot perform, because of one or more medical conditions, one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  

There is often a question as to whether this same standard of evidentiary showing applies to the Office of Personnel Management, and this question is posed because of the statements made in many of the denial letters (which then prompts a necessary request for Reconsideration, or an administrative appeal to the 2nd Stage of the process; or, if denied at the 2nd Stage — the Reconsideration Stage — then an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board) issued by the Office of Personnel Management, to wit:  The evidence you submitted did not show a “compelling” reason why you could not…; The medical evidence did not show that you had to be “excluded from the workplace completely”; and other statements which seems to require a higher showing than that of “preponderance of the evidence“. 

OPM is supposed to follow the same standard of proof — that of preponderance of the evidence.  Sometimes, they need to be reminded of it.  

However, inasmuch as the safety mechanism for review of an improper standard is an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, such a reminder often must take the form of an appeal.  Without the appeal basis, the Office of Personnel Management can ignore the relevant statutory burden of proof.  But then, that would not be the first time that an agency acted in a non-compliant manner.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: The Weight of Evidence

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the reason why it is important to understand, reflect upon, and have a practical knowledge of the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement issues — both in terms of statutes which govern and dictate the criteria for eligibility of Federal Disability Retirement benefits; the regulations which are propounded by the Office of Personnel Management; and the case laws which are administrative judicial opinions handed down (from the Merit Systems Protection Board, to the Full Board of the Merit Systems Protection Board; to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, etc.) — is that there is always a “trickle down” aspect to the evolving laws in any system of laws.

Thus, the opinions handed down by Administrative Judges at the Merit Systems Protection Board, as well as by Judges of the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, are dictates and interpretation of statutory authority which are to be “followed” by the Federal Agency which is empowered to administer the decision-making process of Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Part of that application of law, for instance, is the “standard of proof” which must be applied, and in the case of all Federal Disability Retirement applications, the standard of proof to be applied is the “Preponderance of the Evidence” standard.  But what does that standard mean?  While entirely subjective at worst, and somewhat confusing at best, the individual words which make up the conceptual entirety provides some inkling of what must be understood.

Whether qualitatively or quantitatively, one must have a showing of “preponderance” — of more, better, or of greater persuasive effect than not.  Thus, whether by sheer volume of the evidence presented, or in the quality of the presentation, the persuasive impact must be accepted as more likely than not, by the Office of Personnel Management or, if appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board, then by the Administrative Judge.

It is important to not only apply a standard, but to have an understanding of the standard.  For, only by understanding can one then determine its proper application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Describing One’s Medical Conditions

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management, the conundrum which one faces immediately is to attempt to overcome the seeming inability of third parties (OPM Personnel included) to understand, comprehend, relate to, and ultimately “feel” a sense of empathy and compassion for the particular genre of medical conditions a Federal or Postal worker suffers from.  

While the entire administrative process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is based upon a legal criteria, with a standard of proof set by law — that of “preponderance of the evidence” (which, simply put, means that one must prove that something is “more likely” the case than not — a relatively low standard of proof in the potential options of applying various legal standards) — it nevertheless comes down to having a fellow human being review, analyze, assess and evaluate one’s Federal Disability Retirement application at the Office of Personnel Management.  

Yes, there is an applicable legal criteria which is applied by the Office of Personnel Management.  Yes, there is a set of conforming documentation which must be submitted.  Yes, there are Standard Forms to be completed.  Yet, as with all processes of review, no evaluative process can be merely characterized as an objective calculus; otherwise, the eligibility requirement of a Federal Disability Retirement application should be able to be determined by a computer program.  

While such a possibility may well occur in the not-too-distant future, for the present, an actual person (although this is sometimes questioned, also, based upon the unresponsiveness of OPM and the voicemail messages one encounters) at the Office of Personnel Management must review, evaluate, and determine the viability of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  As such, part of the key to the success of the administrative process must be in the descriptive narrative of one’s medical conditions, their impact upon one’s ability/inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, and the qualitative and quantitative impact, direct or otherwise, upon one’s life.  

Here again, a cold, objective calculus should not be the only approach.  The “human factor” should be included — and to do so, one must extrapolate and apply all of the descriptive tools available in the English language.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire