Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Keeping it Simple

Simplicity merely covers the complexity behind the beauty of the uncomplicated.  Indeed, one only has to look upon an Apple product, or a modern automobile, to recognize the underlying complexities which went into the production of such simplicity.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, there is often a desire to respond to an OPM denial by attempting to understanding the apparent ‘complexity’ of the denial.  By ‘apparent’ is meant the following:  Most, if not all, of OPM’s denials are regurgitated templates from thousands of previous denials, and quotations of alleged legalese notwithstanding, the basic components of a Federal Disability Retirement case do not change just because the language used attempts to complicate matters.

In the end, driving a technologically advanced automobile still requires hands on the steering wheel, and a foot on the gas pedal and the brake (hopefully, not both at the same time).  All the rest are simply “whistles and horns” to make it appear worth the price tag.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Responding to OPM Templates

One can readily discern a template-based letter; it attempts to appear as if the denial is tailored to the particular set of circumstances and unique medical submissions of the Federal or Postal employee to whom the letter is addressed, but upon closer inspection, most of the language could to interchangeably utilized for anyone or everyone.

There may be a paragraph or two which quickly identifies or otherwise lists certain specific medical reports, with names of doctors and the dates of their reports; aside from such references, however, the rest is merely a template of language which is cut and pasted for purposes of justifying a denial.

Such is the administrative, bureaucratic approach of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  And, indeed, templates in and of themselves are not necessarily indicative of anything negative; for, as reinvention of the wheel should not be performed for each task engaged, so every Federal Disability Retirement application must meet a certain set of legal criteria, and to that extent they are “all the same”.  The problem in responding to a template-based denial from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, however, is the disadvantage one is placed in for responding to such a Letter of Denial.  For, the template can contain multiple points which seemingly require a response, and which may appear overwhelming.

Don’t be fooled.  To address each and every point of contention is often to get mired into a level of minutiae which need not be engaged.  Take a wider view of things, and get some guidance and advice.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Beyond Rationality

In preparing, formulating, and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the goal is to compile and compose the “best possible” disability retirement packet.

Such a goal is a foundational one — that which is self-evident.  Indeed, to have a contrary goal is anathema to the entire administrative process.  Concluding that one has achieved that goal, however, leaves room for discretion.  Indeed, often the best that one can do is to accept those things which are outside of one’s control, and focus exclusively upon achieving excellence of that which is within the confined arena of what one can control.

Thus, for instance, to try and predict and preclude a denial at the First Stage of the process — while a goal which every attorney who practices Federal Disability Retirement law attempts to achieve — is almost an act of futility, because such an attempt inherently requires that the Office of Personnel Management systematically engages in a rational approach in deciding its cases.  On the contrary, much of what the Office of Personnel Management does is to “fill in the blanks” of a template.  Denial letters are mostly form letters which then have a concluding paragraph, which itself is often a formatted conclusion.  That is not to say that the evidence presented was not reviewed; rather, the evidence reviewed was determined to fit — or not fit — a template.

How does one counter that which is beyond rationality?  By focusing upon those things which are within one’s control — by compiling the best possible presentation, for the best will normally fit any template; unless, of course, the template itself is beyond rationality.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: A Fair Hearing

It is a common complaint against the Office of Personnel Management that the particular Claims Representative who reviewed the file and issued a denial in a Federal Disability Retirement application failed to look at, or review, the medical evidence; that the denial letter was merely a restatement or regurgitation of a template referring to a 7-part criteria, and makes statements which could easily have been “cut and paste” from a thousand other such denials.  

Indeed, there have been times when references to a denial were clearly (and mistakenly) extracted from another file, where the names of doctors and medical documents are referred to which have no relation to the particular individual, and are clearly mixed in from another case.  

To be fair, a counter-argument to such criticism is that there is no bureaucracy, with so many cases to review and properly evaluate, and with so few personnel and staff to undertake the massive workload, that could or should “reinvent the wheel” each time a case is set to be reviewed.  Obviously, certain language that is applicable in all (or most) cases will be re-stated, and templates used where such have been standard language used in the past.  Applicable language and statements which merely reiterate the legal and statutory criteria; introductory remarks; conclusory statements — they are all part of a paradigm and template which any administrative bureaucracy may apply.  

But the criticism goes much deeper than that:  It is often the case that, clearly, the Claims Representative who wrote the denial did not even read his or her own denial.  Proofreading is an essential part of reviewing, writing, and issuing a decision.  OPM must ultimately realize that each decision is an important, crucial, and often critical point of importance in the life of the applicant.  It is a Federal or Postal worker who has previously dedicated many years of his or her life to a career with the Federal Sector, and the applicant for Federal Disability Retirement benefits deserves a fair hearing.  A fair hearing is defined by a careful evaluation of the particular case.  That is not too much to ask for.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Expectations

One would expect that there would be a correlative input of effort on the part of the Office of Personnel Management, something like a 1-to-1 ratio of effort reflecting the amount of care put into formulating, preparing, and submitting a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, with the ratio being met by a corresponding amount of effort on the part of OPM.

If only for the sake of appearance; to give some justification, some acknowledgement of the medical reports submitted; of the time expended in preparing the Applicant’s Statement of disability, etc.

One would expect — or at least, should expect, in a denial letter issued by the Office of Personnel Management, enough of an indicator that the OPM Representative reviewed all of the medical reports, and attempted to remain objective.  Yet, more often than not, a mere paragraph is issued, with a great percentage of that paragraph a regurgitation of a template from multiple other decisions.

Expectations are often nothing more than an imaginary line where one perceives a professional standard to be; but, more often than not, only to have the expectation set at a standard of performance too high to achieve.

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 Template Approach

The Office of Personnel Management essentially renders both approvals and denials of a Federal Disability Retirement application with a “template” approach.  This is not surprising, but it is little noticed, and this is why:  For disabled Federal and Postal workers who file for Federal Disability Retirements benefits under FERS or CSRS, and who are not represented by a federal disability attorney, it is their “one-and-only” exposure to the Office of Personnel Management.

Thus, if an approval is received, that approval is the first and only time of having any correspondence from the Office of Personnel Management.  Similarly, if a denial is received, then that is the first exposure and contact from the Office of Personnel Management.  There would be no way of knowing whether or not the approval letter, or the denial letter, was or was not a “standard template”.  Certainly, in a denial letter from the Office of Personnel Management, there are references to submitted medical documents, or supervisor’s statement, or some other document which was part of the Federal Disability Retirement application; but the remainder of the denial letter is in “template form”. 

However, when an attorney represents a Federal or Postal worker and receives an initial denial letter, or a denial at the Reconsideration Stage, it is an obvious issue, because any attorney who specializes in Federal Disability Retirement law has viewed hundreds, if not thousands, of such letters.  Why is it important to recognize that the format is in “template” form?  For many reasons.  The type of template; from whom the template is received; the extent of the template; the issues presented in the format; these are all helpful for any experienced Federal Attorney who specializes in Federal Disability Retirement law, to successfully answer such formatted denials.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire