Attorney Representation in Federal Disability Retirement Cases

Many times during the free initial consultation, I am often asked about whether or not, or how helpful, legal representation would be in an OPM Disability Retirement case.  To ask a Federal Disability attorney such a question is often unhelpful, for there is always the question as to how much “self-interest” an attorney has in answering such a question.

What I can state, however, is the following:  Remember that everyone believes that his or her case is a “sure thing” — this is natural, because the very individual who is filing for disability retirement is the one who is suffering from the medical condition, and so it is a very “personal” matter, and a sense of objectivity is difficult to maintain in these matters.

Second, remember that when you hire an attorney, you are not just hiring someone who “knows something” about FERS & CSRS disability retirement; instead, you should be hiring that lawyer for his or her reputation, his knowledge of the administrative & legal process with the Office of Personnel Management and the Merit Systems Protection Board, and how well he is “thought of” by OPM (i.e., how long has he been practicing in the field of Federal Disability Retirement law, does he know the people at OPM, and more importantly, does OPM know him/her?).

Finally, always keep in mind that, while attorneys can be expensive, you must always do a cost-benefits analysis, and look at the benefit you will be receiving (or not receiving) if you do or do not hire a Federal Disability lawyer.  Disability retirement benefits are essentially a means of securing one’s financial future, and as such, the benefit to be secured is important enough to consider hiring an attorney.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Discretionary Decisions Made by Federal Disability Lawyers

As an OPM Disability attorney, I am often asked questions by people of which I am unable to answer.  They are not questions concerning “the law” underlying Federal Disability Retirement, but rather questions which go to my “professional discretion” as an attorney in putting together a Federal Disability Retirement packet, prepared to go forth to the Office of Personnel Management.

By “professional discretion” questions, I mean those questions which go to making decisions and choices concerning medical reports, percentage ratings received from the Veterans Administration; permanency ratings received from Second Opinion or Referee doctors, or the fact that one has reached “maximum medical improvement” and is now “permanent and stationary”, and whether to use such collateral sources of medical documentation in putting together a disability retirement packet.

The practice of law is not all objective and straight-forward; part of the “practice” of law is of an art form, based upon one’s experience, and professional discretion sharpened by repetitive experiences in working with the Office of Personnel Management and in representing Federal and Postal employees before the Merit Systems Protection Board.  Further, there are some questions which I answer only for those whom I represent.  I am happy to provide general information about the process of filing for federal disability.  For those whom I represent, however, I reserve for them the art of practicing Federal Disability Retirement law.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Discretionary Judgments

There are many things in the long process of getting a Federal Disability Retirement application approved, which are purely “discretionary”, based upon one’s experience, sense of a case, an ear to listening to a client, and based upon a compendium of factors, facts and circumstances, to come up with the “best” decision on a particular issue.  A person who tries to go through the process alone, without the ear, mind, experience or judgment of an attorney who knows the process governing Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS, has to make such discretionary decisions without the benefit of past experiences.

Such decisions can range from small issues of:  how and when a treating doctor should be approached in the request for a medical narrative; how much guidance the doctor would need or want in preparing a medical narrative report; when and how to inform the agency of the pending decision to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, etc.; to the larger decisions, such as which medical conditions and reports to include in the final packet to be submitted to the Office of Personnel Management; and many other such discretionary decisions.  Yet, when grouped together, the complex interactions of the multiple “discretionary judgments” can often make or break a case.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal & Postal Service Disability Retirement: Hindrances

One would think that the Human Resources Department of the Agency from which a Federal or Postal employee is attempting to file a Federal Disability Retirement application, would be a “helpful” entity.  It is indeed a baffling phenomena when one pauses and reflects upon it:  What is the purpose of the Human Resources Department?  Specifically, what existential purpose does a person serve, who has a positional designation of “Disability Retirement Specialist”?

Let me attempt to answer the question in the way it is supposed to be answer:  1.  The purpose of the Human Resources Department is to help the Federal and Postal employees of the Agency or Department of which they have been established.  2.  The person who holds the designated job entitled, “Disability Retirement Specialist” is one who, theoretically, is there to assist in any way, within the legal confines established by the Agency, in as much as possible, to help the Federal or Postal employee to finalize and complete the disability retirement packet for submission to the Office of Personnel Management.

Now, let me pose the following hypothetical:  an H.R. person calls up and says, “I cannot forward the disability retirement packet because Box Number ___ on Standard Form _____ has not been checked.”  Does this sound like the Human Resources Department is fulfilling the existential purpose for which it was established?  On the other hand, rhetorical questions are fun to ask, precisely because they are rhetorical, and allow one to expiate some build-up of frustrations on a Friday night, after a long week dealing with multiple agencies.  Have a good weekend.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal & Postal Service Disability Retirement: The Level of Objectivity

I was trained in Philosophy, first; obtained my undergraduate degree in Philosophy; then went on to graduate school to study Philosophy.  Somewhere along the line, I decided to switch lanes and go to law school.  However, the training I received in philosophy — of symbolic logic; of the analytical discipline of evaluating the logical consistency, force, soundness and validity of argumentation and methodology of argumentation, has remained with me throughout my legal career.

In recent years, I have found that logic, validity, soundness of arguments, and consistency of argumentation, has become a rare breed.  Whether this has more to do with a greater lack of rigorous education, or the belief that there is little to distinguish between “objectivity” and “subjectivity”, I do not know.  I do know, however, that there remains, even today, a sense of the “integrity” of an argument.  An argument’s integrity is found in an objective, dispassionate description of a case.

That is the role of an attorney — to give the narrative of the Federal Disability Retirement applicant under FERS & CSRS a sense of proper context, a picture of objective validity, and a substantive presentation of the issues which are relevant:  medical, life, impact, occupation, and the intertwining of each issue with the others, without undue and over-reaching emotionalism which can often undermine the very integrity of the narrative presentation.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The Decision (Again)

Yes, it is a difficult decision to make — to come to terms with filing for Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS.  It makes it all the more difficult when individuals wait until the last possible minute before calling up the attorney (me) to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  There have been a few times in the past (very few) when I simply could not take on a case with only a week left before the Statute of Limitations runs out.  The only thing I can do at that point is to identify which forms to fill out (however imperfectly), and give the fax number and the address to Boyers, PA for the individual to file.

Remember the important point:  You can always make factual, medical and legal arguments after you have filed; you cannot make any arguments if you have failed to file on time.  Of course, it comes with the territory — as an attorney who exclusively represents Federal and Postal employees to obtain disability retirement benefits (there are many attorneys who practice Federal Disability Retirement law as one aspect of a larger practice which includes other areas of Federal Employment law), I understand how intertwining the medical condition is, with the anxiety and stress of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, and how procrastination is often part and parcel of the medical condition itself.

At the same time, however, I take pride in doing a good job; I like to service my clients; I like to see the successful outcome.  As such, I am reluctant to take on cases where there is very little time to file.  I have, and will, take on cases where the Statute of Limitations is about to run out, but there must be at least some time left.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal & Postal Service Disability Retirement: Right Questions (Part 2)

Beyond asking questions of one’s self (financial; employment; future; whether one will last until regular retirement, etc.), it is also important to take a two-step process in preparing for a disability retirement application:  First, to do your own, independent research (in this day and age, internet research is the obvious first step), and Second, to contact an attorney.  By the time you contact an attorney concerning disability retirement issues, you should already have an idea as to what your intentions are.

Hopefully, the attorney you contact will be experienced and knowledgeable concerning all aspects of Federal Disability Retirement laws under FERS & CSRS.  There are many attorneys “out there”; some attorneys do work in Social Security, Federal Worker’s Comp, etc.  Other attorneys perform work in various Federal labor matters; and still others perform work in State and private disability insurance issues.  Remember, Federal Disability Retirement is a specific, specialized field of law; it is best to retain an attorney who specializes and focuses upon your specific area of concern.  Finally, in speaking with an attorney, you should come to a point of becoming “comfortable” with that attorney:  and “comfort” comes only as a result of competent and confident advice — advice that is consistent with the facts you have gather from your prior research on the matter.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Differing Perspectives

The old adage, “Walk in your fellow man’s shoes for a mile” is a saying which is meant essentially to teach a child (and many adults) to have a different perspective than one’s own, self-centered universe.  In practicing law, it is a good idea to attempt to obtain a perspective from the multitude of differing “shoes” — and this is especially important in putting together a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS. 

The gathering of such differing and different perspectives — that of the treating doctor; that of the applicant; that of the Agency (the Supervisor and the Agency in its determination that accommodation or reassignment is not available or appropriate for a given employee, given the particular medical conditions and the type of positional duties of the specific job which the Applicant must perform, as well as taking into account what constitutes “efficiency” in the Federal Service, etc.); and further, that of the Office of Personnel Management. 

It is the job of the Attorney representing a Federal or Postal employee in preparing a Federal Disability Retirement packet under FERS or CSRS, to pull together the various perspectives; write up and prepare, and gather the information from the multiple and differing perspectives; to neutralize those perspectives which may impact negatively upon the Federal disability retirement application; then to present the fullness of the different perspectives such that it meets the legal criteria and “perspective” of the Representative from the Office of Personnel Management:  that “ultimate” perspective which determines a “yes” or “no” in determining the viability of a Federal Disability Retirement Application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal & Postal Service Disability Retirement: Differing Legal Criteria

Similar benefits, at the State, Local, Private levels, and at the Federal level, each contain differing legal criteria for eligibility. Thus, for instance, Social Security Disability benefits require one set of standards of eligibility; private disability insurance policies require a different set of standards; and state disability benefits often differ from state to state.  This is of course true of Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS and CSRS — where the legal standard of eligibility is different from Social Security, Worker’s Comp, and State or private disability criteria.

Often, a question is asked whether a medical narrative report which is prepared for submission to the Office of Personnel Management can be used for submission for other “similar” benefits.  The short answer is, “It all depends”, but the long answer is that, in most cases, one must be very cautious.

When I represent a Federal or Postal employee under FERS or CSRS, one of the first steps in preparing a viable case is to request of the treating doctors a detailed medical narrative report.  One must understand that the treating doctor has, generally speaking, next to no idea as to the legal criteria that must be met under FERS or CSRS.  Furthermore, the treating doctor has no legal knowledge as to the differences between private disability insurance policies, State, Social Security, OWCP or FERS & CSRS.  It is the job of the Attorney to make sure and guide the treating doctors as to the criteria which must be met as to the particular and specialized field for which the medical narrative is being prepared.  This must be done with care, and with detailed guidance.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal & Postal Service Disability Retirement: Experience & the Medical Condition

Often, when a client receives the finalized disability retirement packet, I receive a response that goes something like:  “I didn’t realize I was so bad off, until I read through the prepared packet.”  While I have not personally experienced the medical conditions of my many clients over the years, I have the experience of having spoken to them, and have learned about the symptoms, the words which best describe the pain, the impact, and the symptoms which are experienced on a daily basis.

That is why it is an absurdity for the Office of Personnel Management, for example, to continually and redundantly refer to Fibromyalgia cases as ones with symptoms which “wax and wane”.  Or, with severe Major Depression, Anxiety and panic attacks, the Office of Personnel Management will systematically deny many such claims by stating that there is no “objective medical evidence” to show that the individual is unable to continue to provide efficient service in a cognitive-intensive job.

It is the job of the attorney, in a Federal Disability Retirement case, to be the one who projects the experience of the disabled Federal or Postal employee.  The attorney does not have to personally experience the medical condition in order to properly and descriptively convey the impact of the symptoms and debilitating conditions; however, it is helpful if the attorney has had a wide range of experience — by having spoken to multiple individuals over the years who have personally experienced such conditions.  In this way, the attorney can obtain the experience to express the medical experience of the applicant.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire