Immediate Medical Retirement for Disabled Federal Workers: Complex Simplicity

Often enough in life, the most complex of conceptual constructs is constituted by its very simple nature; and, conversely, the seemingly simplest of tasks is characterized by its concealed complexity, only to be revealed upon an attempted unraveling of its internal mechanisms.

Consider the games of basketball or golf; the concept begins with placing a round object into a similarly-shaped chasm.  From a spectator’s perspective, nothing could be simpler; for the one who has practiced the identical motion to succeed, nothing could be more frustrating.  Conversely, witness the passage of a simple law, or of the original amendments to the U.S. Constitution; words of limited complexity; yet, it is the very simplicity of the underlying principles which conceal their complex conceptual underpinnings.

For Federal and Postal employees who first encounter the administrative process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, one might be tempted to “go it alone” because of the seemingly simple construct of the necessary nexus: of the connective bridge which must be established between one’s medical condition and the essential elements of one’s job.

But it should become abundantly (and quickly) clear that it is not the foundational precept of the entire process which makes for complexity, but the ancillary issues, including the required medical documentation, the agency’s attempt to accommodate, or the elements which constitute the essential duties of a position and how they are impacted by a medical condition, etc.  No, it is the coordination of all of the arms and legs which go into preparing and formulating an effective Federal Disability Retirement packet, which makes for its very complexity.

Like the boy who is “all arms and legs” when first he attempts to play the game of basketball, so the nascent encounter with a complex administrative process which has been around for many years, will require some trial and error for the Federal or Postal employee who attempts the feat without assistance.

Trials are fine; it is the errors which become of concern.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The Reason for the Law’s Complexity

The growing complexity of any body of law often reflects the unintended consequences of a poorly-written statute which first created the access to a right, a benefit, or a legal assertion.  Complications and expansion of issues, clarifications of previously-obfuscated matters of law, evolve over time and begin to take on a life of its own.  

For Federal Disability Retirement law, there is the appearance of a simple process:  one only has to look at the Standard Forms which are made available to all Federal and Postal employees who are contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, to recognize that, at least on the surface, the administrative process seems simple enough.  

The SF 3107 series (for FERS Federal and Postal employees) and SF 2801 series (for CSRS Federal and Postal employees) requests basic information of a factual nature.  The “other” series of Standard Forms — the SF 3112 series (both for FERS and CSRS Federal and Postal employees) requests information directly impacting one’s Federal Disability Retirement application.  

The questions asked are quite simple, and appear somewhat innocuous; the body of law which has grown behind each question is comprised by years and decades of litigation, questioning, judicial decisions and case-law.  It is like the proverbial stranger who discovers what appears to be a tuft of hair (perhaps a mouse?) sticking out from behind a bush, reaches down and pulls, only to hear the roar of a lion for having yanked its tail.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: Complexity & the Law

The complaint heard most prevalent is that the “law” is deliberately complicated for the benefit of lawyers, and to the detriment of the lay person.  That is the one of the points which Dickens makes in his work, Bleak House — a lengthy work which meticulously follows the probate of a contested will, where the lawyers involved appear to be the only beneficiaries of the central litigation. But that only tells one side of a story.  

Complexities in any issue surface because of lack of clarity; and lack of clarity manifests itself as each case brings to the forefront questions and concerns previously unspoken or uncontested.  As an example — the issue in Stephenson v. OPM, where the U.S. Office of Personnel Management refused to recalculate one’s FERS Disability Retirement annuity even though the annuitant was no longer receiving SSDI benefits, because OPM interpreted the word “entitled” in a unique and perverse manner — could have been left alone without litigation, and therefore allowed to remain a simple matter.  

This had been going on for decades.  But somebody — Mr. Stephenson in particular — decided that OPM’s actions were unfair, and that it needed to be litigated.  Did it complicate matters?  Complexity is an inherent part of the law, and as issues become contested, the evolution of a body of law can expand into a compendium of complexity.  

It is no different with Federal Disability Retirement.  Yes, Federal Disability Retirement law is a complex body of administrative issues; it requires expertise; but if it was left alone, you can be assured that OPM would step over, on, and around many more Federal and Postal Workers who are otherwise eligible and entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits. That is why complexity can go both ways — for the agency, but also for the Federal or Postal employee.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire