OPM Disability Retirement: Reminding the Agency of the Administrative Process

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether the Federal or Postal employee is under the Federal Employee’s Retirement System (FERS) or the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), a reminder is often necessary to the agency which retains the Federal or Postal employee on the active rolls, that it is an administrative process, and not a singular event representing an entitlement to Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Of course, the Agency itself has a self-interested motive in the outcome of the Federal Disability Retirement application, especially if the Federal or Postal employee continues to occupy the positional slot of the agency.  For, so long as the Federal or Postal employee continues to remain on the rolls, it cannot officially fill the empty slot.

Thus, what often happens if a Federal Disability Retirement application is denied at the First Stage of the administrative process, is that the Agency will immediately attempt to threaten the individual and demand that the Federal or Postal employee return to work by a date certain, or justify the medical basis upon which the continuing absence occurs.  By then, all FMLA rights may have been exhausted; sick leave may be depleted, etc.

At this point, the Agency Human Resources Office needs to be reminded that, as an administrative process, there are multiple levels of appeals, and the mere fact that a Federal Disability Retirement application has been denied at the First Stage is not a basis for the Agency’s demand to return to work.

Agencies tend to be hard of hearing, however, and a law unto themselves.  That’s not surprising for most Federal employees and Postal workers; indeed, you have had to endure such a perspective of self-centered attitude throughout your Federal or Postal careers, and this information is merely reinforcement of what you already knew.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Early Retirement for Disabled Federal Workers: Responding to an OPM Denial

Fairness” is a term which is often thrown about freely, indiscriminately, and without thought, when an individual believes that he or she has been wrongly treated.  But an objective analysis of whether or not a particular type or mode of treatment of an individual is justified or not, should be determined by the criteria which has been previously applied.  

In order to accomplish this, there obviously has to exist a “criteria” to begin with.  The necessary precondition of an application of a criteria, in order to determine “fairness” in a given circumstance, should be self-evident.  Thus, in the world of sports, a charge of “unfair play” should be easily determined by looking at the predetermined rules of the game, whether such rules were properly interpreted and applied, and coming to a conclusion based upon whether such rules were followed.  Where there are no “rules” of the game, however, it becomes more difficult — both in alleging “unfairness”, as well as in determining how to analyze a violation of — of what?  Precisely.  

In responding to a denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application from the Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, there is obviously the legal criteria of eligibility which one can point to.  But if the Office of Personnel Management “adds” to the legal criteria, or otherwise includes in its denial substantive legal jargon which has no applicability in a Federal Disability Retirement case, what is one to do?  

Some denials received from the Office of Personnel Management are fairly simple and straightforward; others, however, can encompass seemingly complex reasons and rationale rising to the level of complicated incomprehension, bundled in a mass of conundrums which puzzle even a legal expert.

To make matters worse, the author of such a denial is not the one responsible for the next level of review.  Instead, the denial from OPM is kicked over to the “Reconsideration Stage” Case Worker.  This can be both a blessing as well as a curse, of course.  Whether the former or the latter, one is left with the complex conundrum of calamities — an incomprehensible denial which must nevertheless be answered.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: When to file for an MSPB Hearing

Filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS is what is generically known as falling under “Administrative Law“.  That is, Federal and Postal employees must undergo the administrative process of filing with a Federal Agency, the Office of Personnel Management, in an attempt to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that one is eligible for, and therefore entitled to under the law, Federal Disability Retirement benefits under either the Federal Employee’s Retirement System (FERS), the Civil Service Retirement System (the “older” system, or CSRS), or its hybrid, the CSRS-Offset.  

If the Agency which makes the decision on eligibility denies a Federal or Postal employee’s application twice (both at the Initial application Stage of the process, then again at what is termed the “Reconsideration Stage” of the process), then the case can be appealed to an Administrative legal forum specifically set up to hear such cases (as well as many other types of cases involving Federal and Postal employees).  In order to file with the Merit Systems Protection Board (the “MSPB”), one must have received a “final denial” letter from the Office of Personnel Management — and, by “final”, is merely meant the “second denial” letter.  Thus, in order for the Merit System Protection Board to consider an appeal for one’s Federal Disability Retirement benefits, the Federal or Postal employee must have been denied by the Office of Personnel Management on the first two tries — first, with the Initial Application, then for the Reconsideration of that application.  Only then may a Federal or Postal employee who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS, CSRS or CSRS-Offset file an appeal with the MSPB.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Resisting Tendencies

In filing an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, there is a tendency to assuming that the Federal Agency will be providing a complete, fair, impartial, and thorough review of one’s application, and that one’s disability retirement application will be applied in accordance with the law.  Such a tendency to expect a certain level of competence and impartiality is certainly understandable; but the reality is far from the tendency of such expectation.

There are many factors which interfere with such expectations: the competency of the assigned OPM representative; the knowledge (or lack thereof) of the individual Representative; the caseload; and multiple other factors. Thus, when there is the false expectation that one’s Federal Disability Retirement application has been fully reviewed and the entirety of the law has been taken into consideration, there is a tendency to believe what the Office of Personnel Management has said as gospel truth.  “There is insufficient objective medical evidence to…”   “The MRIs failed to reveal that…”   “Your doctors failed to state that…”

These are all generic statements that may or may not be true, but sound like they provide a basis for a denial.  Resist the tendency to believe what OPM says; ultimately, a Federal Disability Retirement application must comply with the laws which govern the administrative process, and may well have to go to an administrative judge to prove the issue.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: The Strategy of Disheartening the Opposition

When Federal and Postal employees who have filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, and have been denied at the initial stage of the process, many are sincerely disheartened.

In my initial contact with the denied applicant, there are multiple levels of reactions, including:  the denial letter points to legal criteria which they were unaware of; it refers to doctors notations which are taken completely out of context; they have completely ignored major portions of what the doctor has stated; OPM points to legal criteria which has been met, but which OPM simply denies that it has been met.

What can be done?  This is the strategy of disheartening the opposition.  In other denials, it is simply a matter of referring to a doctor’s report here, and to a medical notation there; then to simply declare:  You have not submitted sufficient medical documentation and fail to meet the legal criteria to be eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  What can be done?  No explanation; just scant references, then a unilateral declaration.  Again, this is the strategy of disheartening the opposition.  What to do?  Don’t get disheartened.  Respond.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: Responding to the Template Approach

While the Office of Personnel Management issues template approvals and denials, what must the individual applicant who receives such a template denial, do?  Obviously, it cannot be a “template” response, because any response by an individual applicant is going to be an individualized response.  Often, however, OPM’s response takes a shot-gun approach in denying a Federal Disability Retirement application — it uses every device in its template, touching upon every issue and sub-issue, without any apparent (or obvious) rhyme or reason.  Whether purposeful or not, the extent and quantity of reasons for denial become almost insurmountable, and unable to “sort out”. 

One thing that a Federal Disability Retirement applicant should not do, is to take the denial letter to his or her doctor to respond to.  It will only confuse the doctor.  Instead, the denial letter must be reduced to a comprehensible set of criteria which can be answered.  Sub-sets of issues need to be identified and consolidated; the minor (but often irritating) references to peripheral issues, often touched upon but of no real consequence, must be ignored; and the focus must be placed upon the central 2 or 3 issues which seem to be the overriding concerns in the denial letter.  In other words, the denial letter must be deciphered and extracted to be “made sense of”.  Only then can OPM’s template denial letter be answered — with reason, aggressive attack, and a rational grounding in the law.  In other words, irrationality must be met with clarity of mind.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Long View

What I find when individuals have attempted to file on their own, and get it rejected, is the lack of preparing for the “long view.” Many people hear stories about how “such and such” obtained a disability retirement approval for “far less than the medical conditions I have.” Fair enough. Those stories may be true (I never engage in a discussion about the validity or truth of such stories; they are what they are — stories); nevertheless, there are multiple factors which are considered at each stage of the process of filing for disability retirement: Who the OPM Specialist is that will be reviewing an application; the subjective application of which criteria are applied in a given case; the personal and professional differences that arise between different bureaucrats at the Office of Personnel Management (no, don’t believe in the story that there is an “objective” methodology of applying the law when reviewing each disability retirement application); and multiple other factors, including whether or not your particular disability retirement packet was reviewed by someone at the Office of Personnel Management when he or she had a “bad day”.

To counter all of the multiple factors over which we don’t have any control, one must always take the “long view” — the view that it may take two denials, and end up before a Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board. At that point, it is important for the Judge to see how well-documented the case has been prepared; that legal arguments have already shown that OPM was unreasonable in its initial decision and its Reconsideration Denial; and how, despite additional attempts at fulfilling OPM’s requests for additional medical documentation, that OPM continued to be unreasonable. By preparing for the “long view”, a disability retirement packet not only has the best chance of getting it approved in the “short run”, but also at the Merit Systems Protection Board.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire