OPM Disability Retirement: Reconsiderations

The Office of Personnel Management does not give a decision over the telephone.  At least, that is their stated policy.  They ask that you instead wait for their written decision, which will be “sent in the mail shortly”.  Sometimes, of course, either by the tone of the conversation or by some slip of the tongue, one can discern whether or not a Federal Disability Retirement application has been approved or denied.  But such “guessing” can be a dangerous endeavor to engage in, and as such, I follow the very policy of OPM and will not convey to my client any “internal thoughts” following upon any discussions with an OPM representative. 

First of all, I find that calling an OPM representative too often is counter-productive; they are overworked as it is, and repeatedly inquiring about the “status” of one of my cases only irritates them further, and there is always the danger of having it denied simply to get rid of it (aghast — can this possible ever happen?)  Second, I made the mistake many, many years ago of once telling my client that his/her case had been approved, when in fact it had been denied.  I learn from my mistakes.  Hopefully, my experiences gained from such mistakes have made me wiser today.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Helpers

Then, of course, there are those Human Resources and OPM personnel who have been, continue to be, and will always be, greater helpers throughout the process in assisting Federal and Postal employees to obtain disability retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS.  They are diamonds in a sea of hindrances and obstacles.  And when you come across such an individual, at any stage of the process, one must always express one’s gratitude.

One might argue that they are “just doing their job”, but what such individuals do is clearly beyond the job that they are paid to do.  No only do they assist in the process, but they “humanize” the process; and, especially when a Federal or Postal employee who has a medical disability receives not only assistance in the process, but guidance in providing help to ease and smooth the road to approval, it is indeed a pleasant experience to come across the human touch. A word of thanks to all such Human Resources Personnel.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: OPM’s Detailed Denial

Neither length nor detail constitutes legitimacy.  The spectrum of the types and styles of denial letters issued by the Office of Personnel Management in Federal Disability Retirement cases under FERS & CSRS range from a short paragraph under the “Discussion Section”, to 3 – 4 pages of apparent references to doctor’s notes, reports, etc. — with a lengthy lecture about the need for “objective” medical evidence, and about how a particular medical condition “may be” treated by X, Y or Z treatment modalities.

Don’t be fooled.  One may think that, because OPM provides a seemingly “detailed” explanation of why a particular disability retirement application was denied, that such lengthy detail means that it is somehow “substantive”.  In fact, I often find the opposite to be true:  the shorter the denial, the greater the substance.

The lengthy denial letters contain “substance”, all right — but substance of the wrong kind.  They contain:  Mis-statements of the law; mis-statements of the criteria to be applied; inappropriate assertions of medical opinions (contrary to what one might think, the OPM representative does not normally have a medical degree, let alone a law degree), and a host of other “mis-statements”.

Sometimes, the weightier the denial, the more confusing as far as how to respond.  And, perhaps, that is one methodology as to how OPM wants to approach the case:  If it seems long and complicated, maybe the applicant will sigh, give up, and go away.  Don’t.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Psychology of the Process

There is, of course, the “psychology” of the process of filing for disability retirement benefits.  The term itself (psychology, psychological) is all too often misused.  All that is meant in this context is that, at each stage of the process (the initial application stage; the Second, Reconsideration Stage; the Third, Merit Systems Protection Board Stage; the fourth & fifth stages of an appeal, either for a Petition for Full Review or an appeal to the Federal Circuit, or sequentially), the applicant should have a general idea of the level of people the Applicant is dealing with.

Thus, for example, at the initial stage of the process, one should not expect the OPM Representative to be fully conversant in the law; whereas, if the case gets to the Merit Systems Protection Board Stage, the OPM representative is fairly well-versed in multiple aspects of the laws governing disability retirement.  Additionally, the level of medical knowledge varies from one OPM representative to the next.

This is not to say that each stage of the process requires a greater level of intellectual input or information; nor does it mean that each stage should be “tailored” based upon the expected level of competence.  Rather, an awareness of what to expect, how to respond, and what level of intellectual responsiveness are all necessary ingredients in preparing and filing a successful disability retirement application. In short, it is important to know the “psychology” of it all.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: The Packet

It is often a good idea to understand the process of Federal Disability Retirement, in order to effectuate the best approach in winning a case.  Remember, for instance, that in all likelihood, the Applicant will not be speaking with the Benefits Specialist at the Office of Personnel Management; even if you call them (and I never recommend calling too often, for there is the “irritant” factor, which may — thinking in purely pragmatic terms — result in a First Stage Denial of your case), you will be a faceless entity, and merely one case in a long line of cases for the OPM representative to review and decide upon.

Thus, the key is to prepare your packet well — to not place superfluous medical evidence into the pile; to not just make a complete copy of your medical records (OPM is not interested in medical records dating back more than 2 years, at most, and in most cases, should only go back 1 year) and send it in, hoping that the sheer thickness of your file will convince and persuade OPM that your case is “serious”; instead, to make your packet neat, essential, and to the point. Think about it in pragmatic terms: If you have a project to tackle, and you have a choice to tackle the one with little or no effort, or that “other one” that is a headache and will consume your entire day, which one entices you?

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Merit Systems Protection Board: Hearings are not inevitable

The third step in the process of filing and obtaining disability retirement from the Office of Personnel Management is to appeal the case to the Merit Systems Protection Board. This is initiated after a disability retirement application has been denied twice: First, at the initial stage, then, upon a request for reconsideration and an opportunity to submit additional medical and other documentation, if the Office of Personnel Management denies the application a second time, then the Applicant has the right to file an appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board.

Such a case is then set to be heard by an Administrative Judge, and mandated to be completed within 120 days from the time it is appealed. Many applicants who go into this third stage have the unwarranted belief that a Hearing is an inevitability, and that there is no further opportunity to convince OPM to reverse themselves, or change their minds. That is simply not the case. Often, the OPM representative at the MSPB level is much more attuned to the evidentiary level required, and will entertain the receipt and review of an updated medical report, or additional diagnostic tests, or more detailed treatment notes, etc. The mere fact that OPM denied the application at the first two stages, and the fact that the jurisdictional landscape has now changed from OPM to the MSPB, does not mean that OPM’s mind cannot be changed. The key is to listen carefully at what OPM’s representative is saying at a Prehearing Conference, or even earlier if contact is made with him/her. By listening and complying with a reasonable request, it can save the applicant needless time and expenses (for the testimony of a doctor can, indeed, be expensive), and have the ultimate outcome that the applicant desires: approval of a disability retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire