CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: Refinements, Redux

A “refined sense of taste”; refineries which take crude oil and extract and leave out the waste; perfecting and polishing that which is roughly hewn.  What always needs to be focused upon, first and foremost, however, is the foundation which allows for such refinements, and to ensure that the “base” is solidly built, upon which such “refinements” can be made.

Thus, 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 important to put one’s energies into building the proper foundation at the outset — and, in practical terms, that means obtaining an excellent medical report.

Federal and Postal workers inquiring about Federal Disability Retirement benefits often get sidetracked with agency and employment issues which, while having some corollary or peripheral relation to one’s medical conditions and work-related concerns which may have prompted an adverse action, or even perhaps discriminatory behavior on the part of the agency; nevertheless, the focus must be upon the foundation, with all else being recognized as secondary matters to be dealt with separately.

Thus, the story of the three piggies:  remember that it was the one with the solid foundation which survived the attacks.  By analogy and metaphor:  The agency is the Big Bad Wolf; the Federal or Postal employee is the piggy; the house to be built is the Federal Disability Retirement packet.  For that, a solid foundation must be created; window dressings can come later.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Simplicity of the Case

The initial telephone inquiry often involves an apologetic explanation that one’s particular Federal Disability Retirement case “is a very complicated one which involves…”  Then, of course, there is an extensive history of events.  But complexity is often made so because of the lack of understanding of what direction the Federal or Postal employee must pursue in order to obtain an approval from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and it is assumed that the reason why the Federal or Postal employee contacts an attorney is to unravel and unscramble the complications which were created precisely because of such lack of understanding.

Remember that in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the bundle of complexities was created, more often than not, because of an admixture of agency issues, a history of adverse contact between the agency and the Federal or Postal employee, coupled with the rise of medical issues and their impact upon one’s ability or inability to perform all of the essential functions of one’s job.  As such, it is the job of the attorney to focus the Federal or Postal employee upon the foundational “essence” of a Federal Disability Retirement case.

Whether it is to “cut to the chase”, or strip away any peripheral issues to get to the “heart of the matter”, or whatever other pithy niceties which may be applicable, it is the job of the attorney to set aside the complexities, and simplify the process in order to obtain a Federal Disability Retirement approval for the Federal or Postal worker suffering from a medical condition which prevents him or her from performing one or more of the essential elements of his or her job.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Getting Lost in a Morass

At each step in the administrative process of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management, including any responses to denials from OPM in order to qualify for the subsequent stage of the process (i.e., a Request for Reconsideration must be filed within thirty (30) days of the denial; an appeal must be filed with the Merit Systems Protection Board, etc.), there is always the danger of becoming lost in the morass of peripheral issues, often resulting from a sense of panic upon an initial reading of correspondence received.  

Thus, whether it is a letter from the Office of Personnel Management for additional medical documentation; a decision of denial at the Initial Stage of the Process; a second denial from the Office of Personnel Management — it is important to have a sense of how one must extract the essential points which must be addressed, and refuse to respond in a reactionary, ineffective manner.

Compiling an immediate response based upon an initial reading is normally a waste of time.  Verbiage which takes up space on a page of paper does not in and of itself mean that it requires a substantive response.  Much of what the Office of Personnel Management states can be summarized in a couple of sentences, once all of the ancillary issues are set aside.  

Further, it is more often the case than not, that what the Office of Personnel Management states as the requirements of “the law” is simply wrong.  OPM is rarely up-to-date on the current case-law as handed down by the Merit Systems Protection Board or the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. Compliance with the law is one thing; compliance with the wrong law and an erroneous interpretation of legal requirements is quite another.  

To panic is to remain in a morass; to re-review the legal requirements in the administrative process of applying for, and becoming eligible for, Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, is essential to the road to success.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Staying within the Acceptable Construct

Perspectives are funny matters:  everyone has them; some are more valid than others; in certain circumstances, the wrong perspective, however, can result in negative unintended consequences.

Thus, in a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS, the Federal or Postal employee who insists upon filing collateral actions against the Agency, while concurrently filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, can have different and differing perspectives for each legal venue filed.  

In an EEOC action, the Federal or Postal employee can allege the multiple incidents of the workplace environment and the hostility, discriminatory actions perpetrated, etc., and the resulting damages incurred (including medical conditions suffered); in a grievance procedure, the Federal or Postal employee can assert the wrongful actions of the agency; and in a Federal Court case, claims of Agency and Supervisor misconduct and their deleterious impact upon one’s career — all of these can be filed, asserted and claimed for, while at the same time have a pending Federal Disability Retirement application with the Office of Personnel Management.  

Each can have its own unique perspective; each can assert a different quadrant of one’s mouth.  However, be aware of the danger that, if a Federal Disability Retirement application is denied at the initial stage of the process, and again at the Reconsideration Stage of the process, and is appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board, the Office of Personnel Management is entitled to “Discovery” of such collateral procedures.  

Such evidence of collateral procedures may well lead to a potential conclusion that one’s medical condition can be characterized as “situational” — and that is a perspective which may well defeat a Federal Disability Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: A Bridge Too Far

The step-by-step process which the Federal or Postal employee must engage in for purposes of formulating an effective Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, is defined by the bridge, or “nexus”, which one must formulate, connecting the two separate entities:  on the one side are the medical issues; on the other, one’s positional duties which one has been engaging in and successfully performing all these many years for one’s agency or the U.S. Postal Service.  

The job of the potential Federal Disability Retirement applicant is to bring the two separate and distinct entities together, by preparing and formulating a connecting “bridge” or “nexus” between the two.  This is because one of the most important evidentiary showings that one must prove, by meeting the legal standard of “preponderance of the evidence“, is that the Federal or Postal employee is no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s official positional duties.  

The problem with any such bridge which must be constructed and carefully formulated, however, is that many Federal Disability Retirement applicants put forth too much information, to the extent that some information may in fact defeat or otherwise damage the connection, by providing information which may be irrelevant (less damaging, but creates peripheral problems and confusion), of ancillary legal issues (may be more damaging, depending upon whether the Federal Disability Retirement applicant has brought in work-related issues which may point to a description of “situational disability”); or, provide information on certain medical conditions which contradict other information provided (again, often more damaging to a case).  

It is always important to provide enough information to the Office of Personnel Management to meet the burden of proof, of a preponderance of the evidence, in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application; too much information will sometimes be damaging; too much of the wrong kind of information may be very damaging.  As the title of the well-known book implies, one must be careful not to construct a “bridge too far”.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Continuing Issues with Collateral Impact

It is sometimes asked whether or not other issues which are concurrently and concomitantly filed can, and to what extent, impact the viability of a Federal Disability Retirement application submitted for approval to the Office of Personnel Management.

In order to comprehend such a question, it is important to view the answer from the various perspective of the parties.  First, from the viewpoint of the Office of Personnel Management — unless they are specifically made aware of such collateral issues — such peripheral “other issues” would have no bearing upon a Federal Disability Retirement application unless it concerned the potential offset questions of Social Security Disability.  

Whether a court filing which concerns a discrimination issue; or an EEOC filing, or perhaps a grievance procedure; all such collateral issues, from the viewpoint of the Office of Personnel Management, would have no relevance.  Then, of course, there is the perspective of the “other” forum — perhaps there is an ongoing case at the Merit Systems Protection Board, or with the EEOC, or even a Federal Court case.  

Whether, from the “other” forum, there may be an interest as to whether the Federal or Postal employee has filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits with the Office of Personnel Management, is a question which only the other forum can answer.  

If a claim is made in the alternate forum where the requested relief involves getting one’s job back, and at the same time, one has declared by the mere filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS with the Office of Personnel Management, that one is no longer able to perform all of the essential elements of one’s job, then from the “other” perspective, what has been filed with the Office of Personnel Management may be of some interest to the other forum.  However, remember that seemingly contradictory concurrent filings are not necessarily negatively viewed, especially if such actions are engaged in order to preserve one’s right to assert a legal standing.  

Ultimately, however, it is a rare case indeed that an alternate, concurrent, concomitant filing with another forum has any relevance or impact upon a Federal Disability Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Central v. Peripheral Issues

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), it has been variously pointed out by the undersigned author at different times, that it is a self-defeating proposition to focus upon workplace issues which may be the originating and/or continuing impetus, cause or exacerbating trigger of a medical condition which has resulted in the necessity of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Just as the problem of an ad hominem attack detracts from the centrality of a point to be made, and instead focuses one’s attention upon an issue which may or may not have any relevance at all upon the original proposition; similarly, to unduly focus upon workplace issues such as harassment, hostile work environment, unfair treatment, mean supervisors, personalities of coworkers, policies which are applied in a discriminatory manner, etc. — all of these issues, while of interest perhaps in another context, forum or jurisdiction, deflects the central and substantive focus of what is necessary in order to obtain an approval for a Federal Disability Retirement application from the Office of Personnel Management.

Moreover, such focus upon peripheral issues may actually defeat a FERS or CSRS Disability Retirement application, by pointing out the “red flag” of what is termed a “situational disability” (those disabilities which can be reasonably said to confine themselves within the context of a specific work environment).  Treat the preparation, formulation and filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application before the Office of Personnel Management as one’s opportunity for 15 minutes of fame — within that short time span, make the best of it, and don’t meander into areas of irrelevancies.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire