Federal and Postal Service Disability Retirement: Patience is a Necessity

I have said this many, many times:  If patience is a virtue, then Federal employees must be the virtuous of all people, especially those who are filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits and waiting upon the Office of Personnel Management to make a decision.

Then, even after it is approved, it is often months and months until one’s case is finalized and taken out of the “interim” pay status to final pay status; or, if the case is denied at the First Stage and you have to file a Request for Reconsideration, submit additional medical and other evidence, file a Memorandum of Law to try and convince the Second Stage Representative that, indeed, contrary to what the First Stage Representative had argued, you have been in full compliance and meet with all of the criteria for eligibility for FERS or CSRS disability retirement benefits — which can take an additional 120 – 150 days.

Then, of course, if it is denied at the Reconsideration Stage of the process, you must file an appeal within thirty (30) days to the Merit Systems Protection Board, where the Administrative Judge is mandated by statute to conclude a case from the time of appeal within 120 days.

The entire “process”  — and this is precisely why I refer to the administrative procedure of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS as a “process” — requires and demands patience.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: OPM May Say So, But… (Part 1)

I often wonder how many unrepresented disability retirement applicants there are who, having received a denial letter at the First Stage of the process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS, never file a Request for Reconsideration because they believe what the Office of Personnel Management stated in the Denial Letter.  Sometimes, I will get telephone calls from people who want to file, and during the course of the conversation, it will come out that they had filed a few years previously, and had been denied.  “Did you file a Request for Reconsideration, at the time?” I ask.  “No,” is the answer.  “Why not?” I ask.  The typical answer?  “Because I just thought there was no way to fight them on it.”

I used to be amazed at such answers, but after some thought, it makes sense.  As an attorney, my first instinct (both trained and natural) is to always take something to the next level, with the firm belief that I will prevail just by pure persistence, and by using the law as “a sword” in the process of fighting for my clients.  But most people are not lawyers (some would say, thank goodness for that, we have enough lawyers in the world), and when the Office of Personnel Management writes up a denial letter, then allegedly cites “the law”, and makes bold conclusions such as, “You do not meet the eligibility criteria under the laws governing disability retirement…”  It all sounds convincing.  It all sounds like any further action will be an act of futility.  But just because OPM “says so” doesn’t make it true, doesn’t make it right, and certainly doesn’t make it unwinnable.  They may say you don’t meet the eligbility criteria; I would argue otherwise.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

See also: OPM May Say So, But… (Part 2)

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: OPM’s Rationale

Too much time is often spent on the “rationale” or “reasons” for a denial from the Office of Personnel Management, under the “Discussion” Section of a denial letter.  By “time spent”, however, is not meant that one should not selectively rebut, refute and address some of the reasons delineated in an OPM denial letter; rather, what too many people do is to complicate matters by “reading into” the reasons given for the denial.

One of the jobs of an attorney who specializes in Federal Disability Retirement law under FERS & CSRS is to prepare an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, rebut a denial, or file an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, based upon one’s experience, wisdom and sense of that which OPM is looking for.

This is accomplished by having learned from a myriad of sources:  from seeing the types of prepared disability retirement packets which have been successful in the past; from learning from past legal arguments and rebuttal arguments as to which have been most persuasive for OPM; and from having conducted multiple Hearings before the Merit Systems Protection Board and learning exactly what the Administrative Law Judge has been most persuaded and convinced by.

Further, having read countless denial letters by people who have attempted to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits at the first stage without an attorney, it is important to focus upon the relevant issues which OPM is seeking, and to disregard those issues which are peripheral or irrelevant.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Decisions of Denial in FERS Disability Retirement Cases

It is a frightening thought that there may be a percentage of Federal or Postal Federal Disability Retirement applicants who read an initial denial from the Office of Personnel Management, and take their words at face value.

From statements such as, “Your doctor has failed to show that your condition is amenable to further treatments” (by the way, when did the Office of Personnel Management obtain a medical degree or complete a residency requirement?) to “you have not shown that you are totally disabled from performing efficient work” (hint:  this is not Social Security, and the standard is not “total disability”), to a full spectrum of error-filled statements in between, one may suspect that there may be a knowing strategy in rendering a denial, knowing that a small percentage of the corpus of disability retirement applicants will simply walk away and not file a Request for Reconsideration.

Further, I suspect that this occurs more often with certain more “vulnerable” medical conditions — Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Major Depression, PTSD, anxiety, panic attacks; Chemical Sensitivity cases, etc.  Why do I suspect these?  Mostly because such cases are attacked for “lacking objective medical evidence” (see my articles on Vanieken-Ryals v. OPM, and similar writings) and failing to provide “diagnostic test results”, etc.

There was a time, long ago, when it used to mean something when someone said, “The Government says…”  In this day and age, I would advise that you take it to an attorney to review whether or not the words of the Office of Personnel Management are true or not.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Disability Retirement: Discretion in a Response (Part 2)

In responding to an initial denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application before the Office of Personnel Management, it is important to remain professional, and not to “overload” the response with unnecessary or otherwise irrelevant responses.

Initial anger and disbelief over the selective criticisms contained in an OPM denial letter should not be reflected in a response to the denial.  Why not?  Because there is a good possibility that the case may be denied a second time, and it may appear before the Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board.

Don’t write things to OPM that you will regret having an Administrative Judge — one who may be deciding your case — look at and read.  Thus, the “first rule”:  never write an immediate response back, because your anger and emotional disbelief will show itself.

If you need to “get rid” of your anger and expiate the emotionalism, then write your emotional response on a separate piece of paper, then set it aside.  Your “real” response will come later — when you can with a rational perspective, review the unfair and selectively biased denial letter, and begin to compose the serious response that your case deserves.  Or, better yet, get your attorney to do it.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Discretion in a Response (Part 1)

When a Federal Disability Retirement applicant under FERS or CSRS receives an unfavorable response from the Office of Personnel Management (translated:  an initial Denial), you have the right (which must be asserted in order to move forward in the future, i.e., to the MSPB and beyond) to file a Request for Reconsideration.  If you receive a second denial, then the only response required (and which should and must be asserted) is an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board.  A response to the initial denial, however, should include a reply to the (often) detailed “discussion” section of the denial letter.

Normally, when I file a response (in addition to obtaining additional medical documentation from the doctors, and any other substantiating documentation which may be relevant), I normally write up a 5 – 7 page responsive legal memorandum rebutting the denial letter.  Now, this is where “discretion” is necessary.  Upon an initial reading of a denial letter, one’s first response is normally not that which one should act upon, because it is often a reaction of, “What???”   Discretion is a virtue to follow; there must be a proper balance between responding to every single criticism from OPM (not a good idea), to ignoring everything in the denial letter (also not a good idea), to choosing two or three of the more substantive issues brought up and addressing those issues.  How to address them, with what tone, what manner & style, etc., is what an attorney is for.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The “Process” at the Reconsideration Stage

It is important to understand that the “process” of filing for Federal Disability Retirement, when it comes to the Second, or “Reconsideration” Stage, encompasses two factual prisms:  (1)  The application has now been denied (obviously, and for whatever reason — most likely because of “insufficient medical evidence”) and (2) it is the stage in the process prior to an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board. 

This dual prism of the stage, while self-evident, is important to keep in mind, because it requires a duality of duties:  A.  It requires (for the Disability Retirement Applicant) a duty to show something beyond what has already been shown, while B.  It requires the Office of Personnel Management to be careful in this “process” of review, because if OPM makes a mistake at this stage, then the likelihood is great that they will be required to expend their limited resources to defend a disability retirement case before an Administrative Judge, and if it becomes obvious that the case should have been decided favorably at the Second Stage, it reflects negatively upon the Agency.  OPM is an agency made up of people (obviously); as such, just as “people” don’t like to look foolish, OPM as an Agency made up of people, does not like to look “badly” or “foolish”.  This duality of factual prisms is important to understand when entering into the Second, Reconsideration Stage of the “process”.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement & the Reconsideration Process

In the process of applying for Federal Disability retirement under FERS or CSRS, it is the “hope and wish” of each applicant that it will smoothly sail through at the initial stage of the application. However, the reality of the process is that a certain percentage of applications get denied at the initial stage (Stage 1 of the process). It is both discouraging and befuddling to receive a letter from the Office of Personnel Management informing you that your disability retirement application has been “denied”.

You are now required to Request Reconsideration of your case within thirty (30) days of the date of denial, and you must submit additional medical evidence or other supporting documentation within 30 days of requesting such reconsideration (Stage II of the process). It is, indeed, a time of disappointment to receive a denial. It is all the more so when it is unclear as to the basis for the denial. Often, a denial letter will refer to the medical evidence without much commentary beyond acknowledging the submission of a medical report, then in the last paragraph, simply make a declarative statement that the medical evidence submitted “was insufficient” to show that you are disabled. Or, more often than not, the OPM Benefits Specialist will actually mis-state the law by claiming that you have “not shown that you are so disabled as to keep you from the workplace” (no such legal standard is required under disability retirement rules, regulations or case-law).

Whatever the reasons given, it is both discouraging and disheartening to receive a denial letter from OPM. However, it is important to calmly, systematically, and with pinpoint focus reply to the letter of denial — even if it doesn’t seem to make any sense. This is done most effectively by using all of the tools required in persuading eligibility and entitlement to disability retirement benefits: the law; the medical report; the medical records; rational and legal arguments –in short, the “nexus” needed to win.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: The “nexus” between the Reconsideration Stage and the Merit Systems Protection Board

It is an accepted fact that there is a “psychological” aspect to almost everything in life, and this is no less true in the field of disability retirement law.  The “psychological” aspect is the nexus, or bridge, from the Reconsideration Stage to the Merit Systems Protection Board.  From OPM’s viewpoint, this is the last chance to make a decision on a case, before it is taken out of the hands — and therefore “control” — of the Office of Personnel Management.  Thus, OPM wants to be able to “justify” that its decision was reasonable, and legally-based and legally sufficient to withstand the scrutiny of an Administrative Judge.   From the Applicant’s viewpoint, it is a chance to show that OPM was unreasonable for not approving the case.

While it is true that all cases which come before the MSPB are heard de novo (meaning, anew, without regard to prior decisions by OPM), OPM nevertheless never wants to be viewed as ignoring the law and appearing unreasonable, and the Applicant wants OPM to appear unreasonable in the face of the medical evidence already provided.  This is the psychology behind trying to convince OPM to approve a case at the Reconsideration Stage.  Thus, at the Reconsideration Stage, it is important to cite applicable law to OPM, to corner them into a position of appearing unreasonable if the disability retirement application is denied.  On the other hand, the reasonings and underpinning of foundational bases provided in Reconsideration Decisions are often far more superior and accurate than those handed down at the Initial Stage.  In any event, always remember that there is a “psychological” aspect to everything, and it is the duty of an attorney to identify it, use it to the best advantage possible, and cite the appropriate law.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire