OPM Disability Retirement: Termination (Part 1)

Termination by a Federal Agency or the Postal Service can be a trying time, even if it has been a long time in expectancy.  The key is to try and begin negotiating with the agency even before the Notice of Proposed Termination is issued.

During that period when you know that the Agency is considering filing a Notice of Proposed Termination, is precisely the window of opportunity to try and convince & persuade the agency that the underlying basis of any proposed termination is and should be based upon your medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of your job.

This would be done through various means:  Submission of medical documentation to your supervisor, agency & Human Resources personnel; addressing key points concerning conduct or performance with medical evidence showing a direct and causal correlation between such conduct or performance with the medical evidence, etc.

If, on the other hand, a Notice of Proposed Termination is issued but one which is not based upon one’s medical condition, that does not mean that the window of opportunity has been lost — it just may mean that the strategy and tactic to try and persuade the Agency to amend the proposed termination may have to be adapted.  The key to all of this is to make sure and aggressively attack, rebut, and answer, at all stages of any proposed termination, in order to gain an advantage for one’s medical disability retirement.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: After Separation from Service (Part 2)

Of course, it is always the separation from service based upon reasons delineated other than medically-based reasons which give rise to concerns in a federal disability retirement case.  Understand, however, that the “Bruner Presumption” is essentially a “scale-tipper” for the Office of Personnel Management (supposedly) and for the Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board (of somewhat greater certainty).  By this, I mean merely that, with or without the Bruner Presumption, a Federal Disability Retirement applicant under FERS or CSRS must still prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he or she is eligible and entitled to federal disability retirement benefits. “Preponderance of the evidence” is essentially proof such that it is “more likely the case than not”.  Thus, when all things are equal, the Bruner Presumption is supposed to tip the scale in favor of the federal disability retirement applicant. 

On the other hand, if an individual was removed for reasons other than medically-based reasons — i.e., as a hypothetical, let’s say he was removed “for cause” — an act of dishonesty; failure to follow certain agency procedures; or whatever the case may be.  Does such a removal tip the scale the other way?  Not necessarily; however, it makes gathering the proper medical evidence that much more important, and what I often do is to try and tie in the underlying behavior which resulted in the removal “for cause”, with the medical basis — if at all possible.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Service Disability Retirement: After Separation from Service (Part 1)

It should be well established for anyone who has looked into Federal Disability Retirement issues, that a person has one (1) year from the time of separation from Federal Service to file for Federal Disability retirement benefits.  Separation from Federal Service can take many different forms:  Resignation; separation for cause; administrative separation based upon one’s medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job; etc.  The latter of these delineated forms (separation for medical inability to perform) is obviously the most beneficial to one contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement (first and foremost because it allows for the Bruner Presumption to be applied).

On the other hand, separation based upon a resignation is often neutral for issues concerning disability retirement (unless, of course, one has been foolish to put into his or her letter of resignation that the reason for the resignation is to go and become a professional poker player for the next year — but even then, if a medical condition existed prior to resignation, one might still be eligible for disability retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS); and, obviously, if the resignation was accompanied by a medical reason, and that particular medical reason was reflected in the SF 50, all the better.  Even separation for adverse actions — if there was a medical condition which existed prior to separation — can be explained away and fought for.  The point here is, regardless of the nature, reason and expressed rationale for separation from service, if a medical condition existed prior to separation from service, such that the medical condition prevented one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, there is a viable basis for filing for, and fighting for, Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Clarity over Question

While a compromise position on certain issues in Federal Disability Retirement for FERS & CSRS may be the best that one may hope for, obviously, clarity over question is the better course to have.  Thus, for instance, in a removal action, where a Federal or Postal employee is being removed for his or her “excessive absences,” it is best to have the proposed removal and the decision of removal to reference one or more medical conditions, or at least some acknowledgment by the Agency, that would explicate — implicitly or otherwise — that the underlying basis for the “excessive absences” were as a result of the medical condition.  There are cases which clearly state that where excessive absences are referenced by medical conditions, the Bruner Presumption would apply in a Federal Disability Retirement case.

Now, in those cases where the removal action merely removes a Federal or Postal employee for “excessive absences”, there are other methods which may win over an Administrative Judge to apply the Bruner Presumption.  Such “other methods” may include emails or correspondence, at or near the time of the removal action, which appears to put the Agency on notice about specific medical conditions, including attachments of doctor’s reports, medical notations, etc.  Such concurrent documentation can convince an Administrative Judge that, indeed, the question as to whether the “excessive absences” were as a result of a medical condition, and whether the Agency was aware of such an underlying basis, is clarified by documents which provide a proper context within the reasonable time-frame of the issuance of the proposal to remove and the decision to remove.  It is always better, of course, to have clarity over a question, but sometimes the question can be clarified with additional and concurrent documentation.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Argument by Analogy

Attorneys argue “by analogy” all of the time; cases and decisions from the Merit Systems Protection Board, and language from the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, provide the fertile fodder for such argumentation.  Thus, such issues as to whether the Bruner Presumption should apply in the case; whether a case is similar to previously-decided Federal Disability Retirement cases; the similarity of fact-scenarios and legal applications — they are all open to argument by analogy.

That is why case-citations are important — even in arguing a Federal Disability Retirement case to the Office of Personnel Management.  Whether and how much influence such legal argumentation can have at the first two stages of the disability retirement application process, may be open to dispute; but cases should never be compiled and prepared for the first or second stage alone; all disability retirement applications should be prepared “as if” it will be denied and will be presented on appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board.

Such careful preparation serves two (2) purposes:  First, for the Office of Personnel Management, to let them know that if they deny it and it goes on appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, they will have to answer to the scrutiny of the Administrative Law Judge; and Second, for the Administrative Law Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board, to let him or her know that you did indeed prepare the case well, and that your particular Federal Disability Retirement application conforms to the law, and should therefore be approved.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The Bruner Presumption – Agency Actions, Part II

One must never misunderstand the law and its application.  This is true in any legal arena of every area of law; when it comes to Federal Disability Retirement law, the misunderstanding of an application of law can have direct and irreparable consequences:  the failure to secure disability retirement benefits and, therefore, the financial security for one’s future.

The “Bruner Presumption” is one such application of law which is often misunderstood.  Without revealing all of its proper applications, it can (and is) often misunderstood to be equivalent to a “presumption of innocence” — but that would be wrong.  The Bruner Presumption comes about as a result of an Agency Action — of removal based upon the employee’s medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of the job.

With or without the Bruner Presumption in Federal Disability Retirement law, the “Burden of Production” — i.e., of the medical documentation, the factual establishment that the Agency is unable to accommodate the individual — still rests and remains with the applicant.  One must never think that the applicability of the Bruner Presumption makes a case a “slam dunk” of any sort.

This is especially so where we are talking about those medical conditions which are often viewed as “suspect” by the Office of Personnel Management — such as Fibroymyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity cases, etc (by “suspect”, however, I do not mean to imply that such medical conditions make it harder for an applicant to get it approved; rather, it merely requires that the one who is preparing such an application, do it properly, thoroughly, and with legal force).

Remember that the initial, and continuing, burden of production always remains with the applicant; what the Bruner Presumption merely does is to “shift” some of the weight of the burden of proof over to OPM, and in the event of an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, of placing a Federal Disability Retirement case into a more favorable light with the Administrative Judge.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Using the Law

The growing body of law is a pliable, ever-changing process, and where appropriate, it is the implied duty of the attorney to apply arguments and persuade by analogy. Sometimes, actions by agencies which, in one particular context, may be deemed as a negative factor, yet in the context of filing for disability retirement, it can be turned around and applied as “proof-positive” that, indeed, it only further shows that one’s medical condition has impacted one’s ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job.

Thus, while an employee may be placed upon a PIP (“Performance Improvement Plan”) or placed on LWOP and subsequently terminated and separated from federal service based upon unacceptable attendance (and in such termination cases, perhaps the Bruner Presumption would not be applied in a technical sense), it is appropriate to argue to the Office of Personnel Management, and further, to the Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board, that while the technical application of the Bruner Presumption may not apply, nevertheless, such Agency actions are indicators of the acknowledgment and concession, that the employee suffered from a medical condition, that the medical condition indeed impacted his or her ability to perform the essential elements of the job, and that is why unacceptable attendance and/or a PIP plan was initiated. Negative agency actions, in the context of applying for disability retirement, must be interpreted and argued in the best light possible, in each instance.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS disability retirement: What it means to have the “burden of proof”

Remember that the applicant who is requesting disability retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management always has the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that he or she is entitled and eligible for disability retirement benefits.  Even if the Agency proposes and effectuates a removal based upon one’s medical inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job (thereby invoking the “Bruner Presumption”); nevertheless, the burden of persuasion always remains with the applicant.

Never assume anything; yes, the Bruner Presumption is nice to have, but don’t ever rely upon it to have your disability retirement benefits handed to you, because it won’t be.  The Bruner Presumption “can be rebutted if adequate evidence is identified in the record to establish that the appellant actually is not entitled to disability retirement; even with the rebuttable presumption, the appellant retains the burden of persuasion at all times to establish his entitlement to disability retirement” (See Morton v. Office of Personnel Management, 88 M.S.P.R. 691 (2001).

Remember:  you always have the burden to prove your entitlement to disability retirement benefits; you must prove it; you must work tirelessly to show it.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: What It Means to Have the “Burden of Proof”

Remember that the applicant who is requesting disability retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management always has the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that he or she is entitled and eligible for disability retirement benefits.  Even if the Agency proposes and effectuates a removal based upon one’s medical inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job (thereby invoking the “Bruner Presumption”); nevertheless, the burden of persuasion always remains with the applicant.

Never assume anything; yes, the Bruner Presumption is nice to have, but don’t ever rely upon it to have your disability retirement benefits handed to you, because it won’t be.  The Bruner Presumption “can be rebutted if adequate evidence is identified in the record to establish that the appellant actually is not entitled to disability retirement; even with the rebuttable presumption, the appellant retains the burden of persuasion at all times to establish his entitlement to disability retirement” (See Morton v. Office of Personnel Management, 88 M.S.P.R. 691 (2001). Remember:  you always have the burden to prove your entitlement to disability retirement benefits; you must prove it; you must work tirelessly to show it.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire