Federal Employee Medical Retirement: The Crucial Reconsideration Stage

In engaging the U.S. Office of Personnel Management for Federal or Postal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is important to recognize the differences between the administrative and legal stages involved.

There is, of course, the initial application stage; one cannot overemphasize the importance of proper preparation and compelling formulation of one’s Federal Disability Retirement packet, for the First Stage of the process.  However, regardless of the adequacy of one’s Federal Disability Retirement submission at this initial stage, there are going to be a certain percentage which are denied, and which therefore must be propelled into the Second Stage of the Administrative process.

This next step is often identified as the “Reconsideration Stage” in the process of attempting to prove one’s eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  It is known as such, because at this stage, one has the right to have one’s case “Reconsidered”; in order to do that, however, you must notify the U.S. Office of Personnel Management within thirty days of the date of their denial letter, or within receipt — but one should be cautious of the latter timeframe, as it can be rather tricky, and thereby one should proceed on the assumption that the 30-day timeframe begins from the date of denial as reflected on the Letter of Denial, just to be on the “safe side” of things.  To ensure compliance, the undersigned attorney always requests the reconsideration via a trackable delivery device, so that proof of delivery can be shown if necessary.

This Second Stage of the process in attempting to become eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is a crucial stage in the process, because if it is denied again at this stage, then one must file an appeal to the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, and put on one’s case before an Administrative Judge — a complex process which takes it out of the hands of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and places it in an entirely separate determining entity.

While each stage of any bureaucratic process can be deemed “crucial”, it is this point of differentiation which makes the Reconsideration Stage unique:  it is the last chance before entering into the complex arena of legalese.  Thus, for those already confounded by the complexities of the administrative process, the land mines to be confronted at the Merit Systems Protection Board will only be exponentially multiplied.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Approaches & Decisions (Continuation)

This is not to say that the Reconsideration Stage of the process, in the stage where there has (obviously) been an initial denial, should not retell a narrative; it is to simply point out the differences in where the emphasis should be — or, rather, where I place the different emphasis based upon the stage. 

How I approach each stage, in general terms, is as follows:  The Initial Stage (the initial application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS) focuses upon the narrative of the applicant — the description of the medical condition; the kind of job and the essential elements thereof; the interaction and impact of one upon the other, as well as some initial legal arguments.  If it is denied, then the Reconsideration Stage has a “shift of paradigm” on what should be emphasized.  The Office of Personnel Management will often question the adequacy of the medical documentation.  In that case, one needs to respond in a two-pronged attack:  (perhaps) an updated medical report, but concurrently, an aggressive legal attack upon the legally untenable position of the denial.  This methodology sets up for the Third Stage of the process, in the event that it becomes necessary — the Merit Systems Protection Board.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Denials

Denials received from the Office of Personnel Management are particularly difficult news to digest. It is not so much that the denial itself obviously represents “bad news” (that is difficult enough), but for the disability retirement applicant, it casts a long and foreboding shadow upon one’s financial and economic future. For, obviously, the income from the disability annuity is being relied upon; the applicant filed for Federal disability retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS based upon the assumption that it would be approved, and the future calculation of economic and financial stability was based upon the obvious assumption of an approval. Long-term plans are made based upon the assumption of approval. Further, it doesn’t help that the basis for the denial, as propounded by the Office of Personnel Management, is often confusing, self-contradictory, and without a rational basis. It is often as if the OPM representative just threw in a few names, referred to some doctor’s reports, and essentially denied it with a selective, almost pre-determined view towards denying the claim. This is unfortunate, because the Office of Personnel Management is under a mandate to make its decision based upon a careful and thorough review of the applicant’s supporting documention. However, when the denial is received, one must fight against the initial feelings of defeat and dismay; work is yet to be done, and a view towards the future must always be kept at the forefront. A time to give up is not now; it is time to fight onward, and to move forward.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The Waiting

Yes, filing for, and obtaining, Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS is a long, arduous, bureaucratic process. It can take 6 – 8, sometimes 10 months from the beginning to the approval of the application at the First Stage. Then, even after it is approved, it can take another 60 days before even the initial, interim payment is received. Further, if it is denied at the First Stage, the Reconsideration Stage can take an additional 90 – 120 days. And of course if it is denied at the Reconsideration Stage, the appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board can take 120 days or more (with temporary case-suspensions and waiting for the Judge’s decision). Beyond that, any further appeals can take many more months. All of this “waiting” and admonishment of “being patient”, with little or no income, and the anxiety of one’s financial future. There is no argument to be made: patience is necessary for the entire process. I, as an attorney, cannot promise that the “process” will be any smoother or shorter; hopefully, however, I can provide a level of expertise during the entire process, which can lessen some of the anxiety during the long waiting period. As I often say: If patience is a virtue, then Federal and Postal Workers going through the Disability Retirement process must be the most virtuous men and women of the world.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Filing II

People often come to me at the 2nd (Reconsideration) Stage, or the 3rd (Merit Systems Protection Board) Stage, and ask that I correct the mistakes made in the initial filing. Most mistakes can be corrected. Of course, it would have been better if the Applicant had done it properly the first time, for once the Office of Personnel Management views something which should not have been submitted, it cannot be easily retracted — only further explained.

There are, moreover, certain mistakes which cannot be “explained away” — such as deliberate omissions or deceptions. Thus, if the Office of Personnel Management gets the idea that there is an element of deceptiveness in a disability retirement application — either through omission or deliberate avoidance of an issue — then it becomes a difficult case to win. Honesty is always the best policy, and no Disability Retirement applicant should ever engage in any act of covering up any information. This is conceptually different from emphasizing the elements in a disability retirement application which favor an approval, as opposed to de-emphasizing those elements which tend to obscure the primary elements of an application. Such artful emphasis/de-emphasis should always be a part of every disability retirement application, coordinating the Applicant’s Statement of Disability with supporting medical documentation, to convey a consistent “whole” to the Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: OPM’s Specific Denial I

On those occasions when an OPM denial specifically (and correctly) identifies and asserts deficiencies in a disability retirement application, it is important to have a targeted response in addressing the denial.  The reason for such a targeted approach is for two primary reasons:  (1)  One should always address the alleged specific basis of OPM’s denial of a Federal disability retirement application, and (2) By specifically addressing and answering OPM’s specific basis for the denial, if the Office of Personnel Management denies the application a second time, and it is therefore appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board, it is important to view the entire case of OPM as “unreasonable”.  In other words, it is important at the outset to “prejudice” the Administrative Judge as to the unreasonableness of the Office of Personnel Management. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with this — because the “prejudice” which the Judge may perceive is in fact based upon the truth of the matter:  OPM is indeed being unreasonable, and it is important for the Administrative Judge to see such unreasonableness.  It is important to be able to say to the Judge, Your Honor, do you see how we answered the basis of the denial — and yet, even after specifically addressing the basis of the denial, OPM still denied it?  What else can we do?  It is always important to prepare each step of the case not only for the “present” case, but also for the potential “next” case.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: OPM’s Generic Denial

Often, cases are mishandled not because of the “present” mistake, but because the case was never prepared for the “long-term” event.  Let me elaborate and explain. Obviously, an applicant for disability retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS wants to win the case at the earliest stage of the process.  The attorney who is handling any such disability retirement case, similarly, would like to “win” the case at the earliest stage possible.  However, sometimes that is simply not going to be the case. 

In an initial denial, it is often important to not only address the case for the Reconsideration Stage, but also to prepare the case for the next stage — the Merit Systems Protection Board (and, similarly, in preparing an application for Disability Retirement, it is important to prepare such an application not only for the initial review at OPM, but also for the Reconsideration Stage).  By this, I mean that, because there is at least a “possibility” that the disability retirement application will be denied again at the Reconsideration Stage, it is important to point out the deficiencies, the lack of clarity, the inadequate reasoning, the outright lies and mis-statements which the Office of Personnel Management may have engaged in as part of the “Discussion” Section of the denial letter.  Often, while OPM may give some “lip-service” to make it appear as if your case was thoroughly reviewed, a closer reading (on second thought, it need not even be a closer reading) clearly shows that OPM did a shabby job in denying a case.  It is what I ascribe as OPM’s “generic denial” — a denial so devoid of any particularity or care as to reveal a complete lack of proper administrative review of the case.  Such lack of proper administrative review is what needs to be shown; it needs to be shown because, if OPM denies the case again, then it is advantageous to the applicant to have the Administrative Law Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board see that he will be hearing a case which may not have been necessary — but for the lack of diligence on the part of OPM.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire