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

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: The Problem with Answering an OPM Denial

A denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management always leaves the applicant and his or her attorney at a disadvantage.  This is because OPM is never answerable to any resulting consequence of a denial; at least, not directly.  Think about it this way:  In the initial application, if an OPM Disability Retirement application is properly prepared and submitted according to, and within the parameters of the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement, one would assume that it should be approved.  If it is denied, then the case is sent to the “Reconsideration” division of OPM — meaning, to another person. 

Now, taking it out of the hands of one OPM Representative into the hands of another, has both the good and the bad mixed together:  the good is that it will now be reviewed afresh by someone else; the bad is that the person who denied the original application has no further responsibility for the denial.  This is true, incidentally, with respect to the Reconsideration Stage of the process; if a second denial is issued, the person who issues the second denial also has no responsibility to answer for the basis given in the denial. 

The “light at the end of the tunnel“, however, comes when it is finally taken up by an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board.  While the AJ cannot hold anyone at OPM responsible for a denial which never should have been, at the very least, when the AJ reviews the record and finds that the previous denials were unfounded or rationally without legal foundation, an immediate recognition of a baseless denial can help the applicant.  Ultimately, rationality and legal integrity has a chance to prevail; it sometimes takes more than one bite at the apple.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Denials II

It is, indeed, frustrating when a governmental agency makes life-impacting decisions which seem to be spurious and capricious. A review of a disability retirement application by the Office of Personnel Management is supposed to be thorough, with sound reasoning and a fair application of the law. And, in all fairness, the majority of cases appear to meet that standard. It may well be, of course, that since all approval letters of disability retirement applications are standard templates, with boilerplate language and instructions, and since most of my cases are approved at the first level, the impression left is that OPM does a good job in reviewing the cases.

When a case is disapproved, however, it is often the case that the denial is based upon factors which defy logic, which appear to have little or no rational basis, and which selectively focuses upon a narrow reading of the medical reports and records. Thus, often the OPM Representative will take a statement out of context, and declare that the doctor stated X when a full reading of the medical report shows that the doctor actually stated Y. This is unfortunate, and does not reflect the careful review, analysis, and fair rendering of a decision made by most OPM representatives, but occurs often enough to be of concern. On the bright side, however, is that there is always the ability to take it completely out of the hands of OPM, after a second denial — and allow an administrative judge to review it objectively, at the Merit Systems Protection Board. That is why the MSPB was created and exists — to have a third party, objective body review the decision-making process of the Office of Personnel Management.

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

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: Reconsideration Stage

Alas, a batch of decisions has obviously been sent out to many disability retirement applicants in the last couple of weeks, because I have gotten many calls from those who attempted to try and obtain disability retirement benefits without legal representation.  In reviewing the denial decision from the Office of Personnel Management, many who have called have observed some rather amusing things, such as:  “It seems like most of the decision is just boilerplate language”; “There were so many typos and grammatical errors in the decision”; “The OPM specialist referred to a doctor whom I never treated with”; “The decision said that I suffered from medical condition X, which I never claimed!”   “To err is human…” is a true enough adage; but to point out the mistakes of an OPM decision for the sake of pointing out the mistakes, is a pointless exercise.

Do not fret; yes, much of the language of a decision is indeed boilerplate; OPM representatives are human, and do indeed make mistakes, and insert names of doctors and medical conditions which are not part of an applicant’s narrative; and other mistakes as well.  But don’t overlook the obvious by fuming about such mistakes:  if your disability application was denied, you need to take the decision seriously, identify the substantive issues which were the primary basis for the denial; ignore the tangential errors made; then proceed to address the concerns brought to light by the Office of Personnel Management.  Time is of the essence, and those 30 days to file for reconsideration, and the additional 30 days given to obtain further medical documentation, come and go quickly.  Don’t fume about irrelevant details; focus upon strategizing a substantive approach to getting your disability retirement application reconsidered, and approved.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirements: Groundless Denials of FERS/CSRS Disability Retirement Applications

One would assume that when a disability retirement application has been reviewed by someone at the Office of Personnel Management, and a decision of denial has been rendered, that such a decision will — at a bare minimum — be based upon a legally sufficient ground. In other words, that the legal criteria asserted in the decision will be correctly delineated.

Unfortunately, that is too often not the case. In fact, many of the legal claims asserted by the Office of Personnel Management have no justification in law, and are exaggerated at best, and a mis-statement of the applicable laws, at worst. But for disability retirement applicants who are unrepresented, the individual may well read the decision, believe what the decision states, and become convinced that the burden is too onerous to overcome, and fail to request reconsideration in the case, discouraged that he or she will never be able to meet the legal burden imposed in the initial denial.

Thus, for instance, when an OPM denial letter states that there was “no evidence showing hallucinations, delusions or other symptoms of psychosis,” and therefore the disability retirement is denied, one might conclude: “Since I don’t have those conditions, I must not be qualified for disability retirement.” Wrong! Or, when OPM says: “There was no evidence of hospitalization or the need for such treatment,” one might become completely discouraged and say, “Oh, disability retirement requires that my medical condition is such that it requires hospitalization in order to qualify, and therefore I cannot qualify“. Wrong! Such overstated and exaggerated claims by the Office of Personnel Management are commonplace, and unnecessarily place a burden upon disability retirement applicants through mis-statements of the law. Never allow an OPM mis-statement of the law to persuade you to abandon your case; instead, seek competent legal counsel to explain what the law of disability retirement really is, and proceed from here.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire