I have previously written about how a Federal Disability Retirement application should be prepared: that it should be looked upon as an administrative “process”, and as such, it is not like taking a test for a driver’s license, or filing an application to obtain a permit — both of which are similarly “administrative” issues. The reason why filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS is different, and is a “process” as opposed to merely filing an “application” for something which will be essentially rubberstamped, is that it requires proof which must meet a certain statutory legal standard — it requires that one prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that one is entitled to receive disability retirement benefits.
Now, wherever “proof” of eligibility is required, there can be a disagreement as to whether or not such proof met the statutory eligibility requirements. Other applications, such as filing for a Social Security Card, may also have certain statutory requirements, but normally such administrative applications are fairly “cut and dry” — such as, certain documents will be accepted to prove X, or certain forms may need to be filled out to obtain Y. But where a legal standard of proof must be met, differences between the Applicant and the Agency may erupt.
OPM may state, and argue, that the medical documentation, the Supervisor’s Statement, the Agency Certification of Accommodation efforts, the comparison between the applicant’s Statement of Disability and the doctor’s statements and notes — did not rise to the level of meeting the legal standard of “preponderance of the evidence”. This is where many people get themselves into trouble — by thinking that it is merely an “application” to file in order to obtain an administrative benefit. Then, when it gets denied at the first level, applicants become devastated, thinking that it is the end of the world. From the outset, it should be looked at as a “process” — one which may take going to the Merit Systems Protection Board, or even further, to the Full Board Review, and then, if necessary, to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.
Robert R. McGill, Esquire