FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Responses

Whether fair or not; whether consistent or a lack thereof; the one who holds the power of determination ultimately has the authority of interpretation — until and unless a higher authority supersedes such power.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the Federal or Postal employee can seemingly comply with all of the requirements of the laws and case-laws governing Federal Disability Retirement eligibility and entitlement, and still be denied.

The standard response on the telephone is often, “I thought I had a slam-dunk case…”  But the problem with approaching a governmental bureaucracy is that one assumes (wrongly) that application of the law will be implemented in an interpretively consistent manner.  But where individuals are involved, a multiplicity of interpretive approaches will surface.

Some OPM personnel will focus upon certain legal aspects over others; others will apply a “higher” bar of passage as to what meets the “preponderance of the evidence” test; and still others will be so obtuse as to refuse, or merely fail to, accept that when a doctor (for example) states that a condition is “permanent”, that such a statement logically entails and encapsulates the satisfaction of the requirement that a medical condition will last a “minimum of 12 months“.

How to respond to such inconsistencies? By reasserting the law; citing applicable case-law; by preemptively guiding OPM into approving one’s Federal Disability Retirement case.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: OPM, Authority & Rights

The decision-making process in filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is placed into the hands of an administrative agency known as “The Office of Personnel Management“.  

OPM, as the acronym which the agency is known by, is the administrative bureaucracy which makes a determination on each individual Federal Disability Retirement application, after reviewing the submitted medical records, Statement of Disability as formulated and presented by the Applicant and his or her Attorney; the Supervisor’s Statement; The Agency’s Efforts for Reassignment and Accommodation — in other words, the full compendium of the evidence, based upon a legal standard which is low on the totem pole of legal standards — that of “Preponderance of the Evidence“.  

It is helpful to understand that the Office of Personnel Management is merely following the statutory procedures as created and mandated by law:  OPM, as the first-line administrative agency, must make an initial determination on a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, not because they want to, desire to, like to, etc. — but because they are the designated entity set up to do so.  They have the “authority” under statutory mandate to make a determination of eligibility at the “First Stage” of the process, as well as at the “Second Stage” (the stage often known as the “Reconsideration Stage”) of the process.  

As an inverse matter, however, the individual Federal or Postal applicant has the “right” to dispute any negative determination made by the Office of Personnel Management at either of the first two stages of the process.  

It is important to distinguish between the conceptual differences and distinctions between “Authority”, “Rights”, and the use of the term “right” as in “right or wrong”.  OPM has the authority to make an eligibility determination on a Federal Disability Retirement application because they are statutorily mandated to do so; the individual Federal or Postal employee has the right to appeal such a decision; the fact that OPM may have the right to deny a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS does not mean that they are “right” in doing so; they merely have a statutory authority, and nothing more.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: OPM and the Law

The Office of Personnel Management is the agency which determines all applications for Federal Disability Retirement, whether under FERS or CSRS (or CSRS-Offset).  In making such a determination, a standard of “objectivity” is expected by each and every Federal and Postal employee, in making such a determination.  

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) applies a set of criteria as determined by statute and further expanded upon by the Merit Systems Protection Board and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.  The entirety of “the Law” which governs and guides the eligibility and entitlement to Federal Disability Retirement benefits is thus based upon a patchwork of legal holdings, statutory language, and cases and legal opinions which have “evolved” over the years.  From this patchwork of laws, one expects a “representative” from OPM to apply it fairly, objectively, and without any arbitrariness or capricious intent.  Yet, since the individuals applying “the Law” at OPM — at least at the first and second “Stages” of the process — are not themselves lawyers, how realistic is this?  

Ultimately, legal arguments in persuading OPM to approve a case are best made when they are concurrently explained — explained in their logic, their force of argumentation, and in their applicability to a given issue.  Simply declaring that “the Law” applies will not do; one must sensitively guide OPM to understand the very laws which govern their behavior.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: What the Agency Can Do

It is always striking (and suspicious, of course) when an individual tells me that his or her Agency has said that they will “OK” the Federal disability retirement application.  I always remind the individual that it is not the Agency; rather, it is the Office of Personnel Management which approvals or denies an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  In many ways, the Agency attempts to assert for itself greater influence and impact than it really has.  I try and remind people all the time that a Federal Disability Retirement application is a medical retirement application — it is not an Agency retirement application; it is not a Supervisor’s disability retirement application; it is not up to the Human Resources’ Department of the Agency.  The ultimate arbiter of the entire process is the Office of Personnel Management; and the criteria for eligibility is based upon a set of statutory requirements, which must be met by a preponderance of the evidence; and the overwhelming focal emphasis concerns the medical eligibility.  Agencies are too often given too much credit for the success or failure of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  In my view, the influence, input and power of an agency is almost always overstated.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire