Connecting Two Important Dots in a FERS Disability Retirement Application

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 the nexus — the connections which are made between any two or more issues, concepts, evidence, etc. — which raises a Federal Medical Insurance Retirement application to meet the standard of required proof under the law. Such connections to be made are vital, and determine the success or failure of a Federal Medical Retirement application.

We have all encountered eccentric individuals in our lifetimes — whether of the proverbial “batty-aunt” who talks incessantly about things which nobody understands; or the “flighty friend” who can talk a mile-a-minute about a thousand disconnected issues all in one breath; or perhaps it is a chance-meeting with a stranger who, after a long conversation, one realizes didn’t make a bit of sense in anything that was said.

In conversation, one can engage in such language games which have little to no correspondence to reality, and not have to pay a price for such engagement.  In the world of Federal Disability Retirement, failing to make the necessary connections will most certainly lead to a denial of a Federal Retirement application.

Thus, the persuasive connection between one’s positional duties and the health conditions; the argumentative connection between the prevailing law and one’s factual statements; the impacting connection between the medical reports and the entirety of the submitted case; and multiple other connections — each must be carefully crafted.

In a world where we come upon a “noumenal” world (as Kant would state), and where our cognitive categories organize the disparate world we discover, establishing the necessary nexus between X, Y & Z is something which the Federal Disability Retirement applicant should never overlook.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal OPM Disability Retirement and “the Decision”

The decision to finally go forward and start the process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS is often a hard one.  One needs to consider multiple factors, and the process of deciding to move forward in and of itself can be a complicated one.  Such factors as the medical condition itself and how progressively deteriorating it is; whether and for how long you can “mask” the medical condition; how perceptive your supervisor is; whether your supervisor and coworkers will continue to provide cover for you, and overlook some of the growing deficiencies; whether, even if you cannot do one or more of the essential elements of your job, whether the amount and type of work you are doing are significant enough for you to continue; whether you have a good rapport and relationship with your doctor; whether your doctor will be supportive and understanding; whether your agency will suddenly and without notice place you on a PIP or file a Notice of Proposed Removal; and a host of many other reasons and factors need to be considered.  For many of these questions, an attorney who specializes in Federal Disability Retirement law under FERS & CSRS can be of help.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Federal Workplace (Part 2)

In filing for FERS or CSRS Federal Disability Retirement benefits with the Office of Personnel Management, it is important to stay away from issues which may explicitly or implicitly characterize the particular medical condition as being “situational” in nature.  However, this does not mean that the medical condition cannot have originated from, or been exacerbated by, the workplace environment.  Remember that OPM disability retirement is not like OWCP/Worker’s Comp — the issue of causality, or whether the medical condition occurred as a result of your occupation, is not important to prove.

However, sometimes, it is simply an indisputable fact that the medical condition originated from the workplace, or was exacerbated by conditions in the workplace.  Such origination or exacerbations, once it takes on a “life of its own” and becomes chronic and pervasive such that the medical condition impacts a person both at the workplace as well as outside the workplace, then it has transformed into a medical condition beyond being merely “situational”.  Thus, that which originated as a “situational” medical condition may well no longer be a situational one.  In such cases — and that is normally the case in almost all medical conditions which begin as a situational disability — there would be no problem with filing for OPM disability retirement benefits.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Last Minute Filing

Too often, I receive calls from Federal and Postal employees (or rather, formerly thereof) who have waited until the very last conceivable moment to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS.  Yes, I realize that time erodes away slowly, almost imperceptibly, and all of a sudden it is an emergency.

Can a case be put together within a couple of weeks?  Yes.  Is it best to wait until the very last minute?  No.  Remember that all Federal and Postal employees only have up until one (1) year from being separated from Federal Service, to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  But life happens; time slips away; what was once 6 months is now only 30 days, or perhaps 2 weeks.

I may have told this story before, but here goes:  On the desk of a civil clerk in a local County Courthouse, is a sign which reads:  “The fact that you procrastinated does not make your filing my emergency”.  That is essentially true; however, whenever I get calls by panicked individuals who have failed to use the 1-year Statute of Limitations wisely, in most cases, I have been able to properly put the case together, and file it on an emergency basis.

In such circumstances, adaptation is the key:  some things need to be filed later, but the essential forms to meet the deadline must be immediately filed.  There are very few true emergencies in life, and most cases can meet the deadline — no matter how much the Federal or Postal Employee has procrastinated.  However, it is better not to wait until tomorrow, that which can be done today.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The Decision

I have often spoken about the “process” of filing, but that mostly concerns the administrative ordeal of filing:  of preparing, of gathering the medical documentation, of writing up the proper applicant’s statement, of putting together the legal arguments in support thereof, etc.  Then, of course, I have spoken about the “human” side of things — of the difficult human ordeal of going through the process.  There is the initial psychological barrier — of starting the administrative process, which is somewhat of an implicit acknowledgment that a person is indeed “disabled”, as if that concept or label has some sort of a “stigma” attached thereto.

One would think that in the 21st Century, all such stigmas would have been extinguished and extinct; and, indeed, most such stigmas are merely self-imposed.  Often, we are our own worst enemy; there is the barrier of ourselves in the process, of actually starting the process.  This is often why an attorney is the best person to handle a Federal Disability Retirement application — because it allows for the process to begin, without it being so intimately and personal a matter to the applicant.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Which Disabilities To List

When I look at a potential disability retirement case, I find it helpful to look at the case not only prospectively, but retrospectively. While not a “rule” cast in stone, when the Office of Personnel Management approves a disability retirement case, it will normally attach a page which identifies which disability — normally one, often two, sometimes three — was/were the basis for the approval.  Thus, it is important when preparing a disability retirement packet and application, to identify which medical disabilities will be listed and depended upon; and further, once is it approved, it is helpful to look to the future, for there is a random chance that every 2 years or so, you will be selected to answer a Medical Questionnaire to determine if you are still disabled.

Thus, if you list a minor medical condition, and you get approved for that minor medical condition, if you recover from that condition, you can potentially lose your disability retirement benefits in the future. (Note:  for those of you who are my clients, please do not worry; no client of mine who has received a Medical Questionnaire has ever lost his/her disability annuity).   Thus, it is important to identify those medical conditions which are the “most serious”, and base your medical disability retirement packet upon the most serious, long-term disability first –before listing secondary or additional medical disabilities.  This is not to say that you should not list more than one medical disability; indeed, in preparing my packets for my clients, I will often list more than one, but I do it in sequential fashion, and when I put together my legal memorandum in arguing my case on behalf of my client, I constantly refer back to the central medical disability.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Symptoms versus Diagnosis

If disability retirement were merely a matter of determining the proper diagnosis of a medical condition, and having a doctor ascribe a percentage rating of disability, then the process of disability retirement would substantively be altered, and perhaps there would be far fewer cases to adjudicate at the Merit Systems Protection Board level.  For, if the criteria were that ‘cut and dry’, there would be little for OPM and the applicant & the applicant’s lawyer to argue over.

However, it rarely is that ‘cut and dry’ — because the major battle is rarely over the diagnosis; it is rarely over an issue concerning a percentage ascription of disability; rather, it is over the symptoms manifested, the significance of such symptoms upon the type of work one does, and in the impact such symptoms have upon the essential elements of one’s job.

That is why descriptive terms are important in disability retirement law. It is not so important ‘what it is’, as opposed to ‘how it is characterized’.  From this perspective, it is important for a disability retirement attorney to be more of a poet than to be cold and analytical — although, the best approach would be to have a little bit of both.

Remember to always know the context — the applicant will not be standing in front of an OPM representative showing how terrible the applicant’s medical condition is; there will be no visual presentation; everything is based upon a narrative — the applicant’s statement, the medical documentation, the legal memorandum of the attorney, etc.  Thus, it is all-important for the attorney who represents a disability retirement applicant to have a good command of the English language.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal OPM Disability Retirement: Notifying the Agency

Fervent loyalty by the Federal and Postal Employee to want to work for as long as possible, and to do the best job possible, is often taken for granted; what is not as common, however, is a “bilateral loyalty” — meaning, loyalty shown by the Agency back to the Federal or Postal employee, especially when such loyalty is needed, during the long process of filing for, and obtaining, disability retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management.

In representing a client, I am often asked whether or not the Agency should be notified of our intentions immediately, and my response always is: It depends.  If there is a strong and positive relationship between the employee and supervisor, where there are strong indicators that the Agency will be supportive during the lengthy process, then I will often advise informing them fairly quickly.

More often, however, the Agency has had a long history of acting in a “less than sympathetic” manner — and that is in most cases.  In such cases, I normally advise to wait until the disability retirement packet has been prepared and finalized, and it is ready to be submitted to the Personnel or District H.R. Office.

Each case must be looked at independently, and there are never any easy answers.  Agencies are comprised of individuals; individuals are complex beings, with the potential for compassion and empathy, but just as well with a potential for cold disregard for the plight of an individual. So long as Agencies are comprised of individuals, Agencies themselves act as individuals, and each case must be viewed in that light.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: Remember the Basics

Time goes by too quickly; Christmas, New Years, winter — and now the dawn of Spring approaches; and the timeline of 12 months from the time one is separated from Federal Service can suddenly come and go; prospectively, 12 months can seem like a sufficient amount of time; retrospectively, when 10 months passes by and suddenly there are only a couple of months left to file; where has the time gone?

Do not wait until the last moment; all arguments about one’s medical inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job become irrelevant if you miss the statutory deadline. To be eligible for Federal Disability retirement, you must file within one (1) year of being separated from Federal Service.

All of your medical records and reports will be worth merely the paper they are written on if you fail to file within that 1-year deadline. The statutory clock begins to toll once you have been separated from Federal Service. Always keep the basics in the forefront of your mind; otherwise, if the basics are not attended to, everything else becomes a moot point.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

In Filing for OPM Disability Retirement, Remember the Basics

In the opening sentence of Davis v. the Office of Personnel Management, PH-844E-06-0242-I-1, the Merit Systems Protection Board reminds us all that the “burden of proving entitlement to a retirement benefit is on the applicant…” In past federal disability articles, I have discussed a variety of issues, from important legal principles based upon Bruner v. OPM, to showing how to build the “proper bridge” in preparing a disability retirement application. In preparing a disability retirement application, however, remember to always satisfy the “basics”, because if you fail at the basic level, you will never get to the “substantive” level to argue your case. Davis is a case about a disability retirement applicant whose application was denied at the first Stage (the “initial application stage”) because she “did not present any medical evidence to support her claim.” Strike One — how can you file a medical disability retirement application without any medical evidence?

Next, Ms. Davis failed to file her “Request for Reconsideration” within the 30-day period. She filed it 5 days late. Strike Two — you won’t even be able to argue the substance of your disability retirement case if you don’t take care of the “basics” — like filing your Request for Reconsideration in a timely manner. In OPM’s denial letter, it clearly stated: “Your Request for Reconsideration must be received by OPM within 30 calendar days from the date of your initial denial letter.” Ms. Davis had no excuse.

Now, every now and then — but very, very rarely — an exception will come along. Such was the case in Goodman v. Office of Personnel Management, 100 M.S.P.R. 43 (2005), which was cited as a distinguishing case by the Board. In Goodman, multiple factors allowed the appellant to be excused for her tardiness — including, being misled by OPM verbally over the telephone; receiving the denial letter some three weeks after being postmarked (thereby leaving her with only a week to respond); and being a quadriplegic who had to rely upon others to assist her in responding. Be aware: only under the most exceptional of circumstances will being late in responding be excused. You must take care of the basics, before going on to the substance of a case.

Ms. Davis filed an appeal to the Full Board. Her appeal was, as you might guess, denied. The Board stated that in cases such as this, where Ms. Davis “fails to show that she was not notified of the deadline and was not otherwise aware of it, or that she was prevented by circumstances beyond her control from making the request within the time limit, we will not reach the issue of whether OPM was unreasonable or abused its discretion in denying her untimely request for reconsideration.” (italics added).

Strike three. Ms. Davis is out. As I have reiterated throughout this article, unless you take care of the basics, you cannot even get to the substance of your disability retirement claim. Like the parable of the mighty army which could defeat its enemy, that army could not survive to fight the battle unless it took care of a basic need — water for its troops to cross the scorching desert to meet its enemy. It failed to take care of the basics.

In life, we are all busy doing multiple things, and when a Federal or Postal Employee comes to a point in his or her life where filing for disability retirement becomes a necessity, it is often a good idea to hire an attorney — not only to ensure that the “basics” are taken care of, bur further, to make sure that you get the opportunity to argue the substance of your particular case. My name is Robert R. McGill, Esquire. I am a duly licensed Attorney who specializes in representing Federal and Postal Employees, to obtain disability retirement benefits through the Office of Personnel Management. If you would like to discuss your particular case, you may contact me at 1-800-990-7932 or email me at federal.lawyer@yahoo.com, or visit my website at www.FederalDisabilityLawyer.com.

As an aside, let me point out some other “basics”:

1. Remember that you have one (1) year from the date you are separated from service to file for disability retirement. The one (1) year date does not begin when you stop working; it doesn’t begin when you get placed on LWOP; it doesn’t begin from the time you get disabled. It begins from the date you are separated from Federal Service.

2. For my clients (and those who are not my clients) whom I got disability retirement for — remember that you are allowed to get another job and make up to 80% of what your position currently pays, in addition to the disability annuity you are receiving. It is earned income that counts — not rental income, not investment income, and certainly not your disability income.

3. A teaser — I will probably address this issue in my next article — the Office of Personnel Management seems to, more recently, be scrutinizing those who are already receiving medical disability retirement benefits. For those of my clients (and those who are not my clients) who receive disability retirement, remember to take OPM’s Medical Questionnaire seriously. I have had more cases than usual where disability annuitants have had their disability income discontinued. More on this later….

 

Robert R. McGill, Esquire