Federal and Postal Service Disability Retirement: Psychiatric Disabilities & the Holidays

Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years & the Holidays; psychiatric disabilities of Major Depression, Anxiety, panic attacks, and many others; the mixture of the two often create an admixture of conflicting emotions, enhancing and exacerbating the psychiatric disabilities.

Unfortunately, the “Holidays” are a time when stresses and anxieties are further exacerbated; we are all meant to be “happy” and in the “holiday spirit”, when in fact the gathering of friends, family and gift-giving exponentially emphasizes the medical conditions which people suffer from, especially psychiatric conditions.

For Federal and Postal employees considering filing for Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS, the “Holidays” should be a time of rest and reflection; to determine the course for the future; whether the future holds continuation of a long and productive career, and will it continue until the time of regular retirement, or is this the time to consider filing for Federal Disability Retirement.

The “long-term view” must be taken; not to make a hasty decision because of the exacerbating circumstances of the Holidays; rather, to see beyond the holidays, and make the proper decision based upon an “objective perspective” of the “now”, as well as of the future.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal & Postal Disability Retirement: The Futility of Waiting for an Agency

In Federal Disability Retirements, the general rule is as follows:  waiting for your agency to act in some way that may prove to be beneficial to your case, is an act of futility.

Whether it is to wait for a performance appraisal; whether to see if the Agency will accommodate you, or not; whether you are waiting for a response from your Supervisor to see if he or she will support your Federal Disability Retirement application, etc. — in the end, a disability retirement application under FERS or CSRS is a medical issue.  It is not an “Agency Application for Disability Retirement”; it is not a “Supervisor’s Application for Disability Retirement”.  It is a medical disability retirement, inseparable from the Federal or Postal employee who is filing for the benefit.

As such, the proper focus should be placed upon the sufficient and substantiating medical documentation.  If the medical documentation, combined with the applicant’s statement of disability, are persuasive with respect to the correlative force of being unable to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, then such a combined force makes all other issues essentially moot and irrelevant.  Don’t wait upon an agency to act; to act affirmatively without depending upon the agency is always the best route to follow.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: OPM’s Specific Denial II

It is important to always “define”, “corner”, and “circumscribe” any denial from the Office of Personnel Management.  If you do not, then what happens at the next level is that it becomes a “de novo” process.  Now, one might argue that all disability retirement appeals to the Merit Systems Protection Board are de novo, anyway.  That is true enough — meaning, that all of the evidence is looked at “anew” and without prejudice from any previous finding by the Office of Personnel Management. 

Yet, there is the “legal” definition of de novo, and the practical effect of de novo; often, the Administrative Judge at the MSPB will, at a PreHearing Conference, turn to OPM and say, Listen, OPM, it seems that the only reason why it was initially denied was because of X, Y & Z; the applicant certainly answered X & Y in his/her reconsideration answer; is the only thing you are looking for is Z?  What this does is to narrow the issue.  Often, to save time, face, aggravation and other things, OPM will concede the narrowing of such issues, and this is true if you respond to their administrative queries by defining what they are asking for, then providing it to them, then showing how it has been provided to them, so that they are “cornered”.  Thereafter, if it gets denied and it needs to go to the MSPB, the Hearing can then proceed with a narrower, streamlined and limited number of issues to prove.  Again, the reason why it is important to define what it is that OPM is asking for, is not only for the “present” case, but in preparation for the potential “future” case.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS disability retirement: When & how to act

When people call me to ask if they need legal representation in filing for disability retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, I try and provide as “objective” an opinion on the matter as possible. I represent hundreds of people in filing for, and obtaining, disability retirement benefits; it is my specialty, and it is how I make a living. At the same time, however, I believe that I can be completely honest in providing guidance as to whether an individual should obtain legal representation, or needs to obtain representation.

For instance, for individuals who have already sent in their disability retirement packets to OPM (via the Agency for those still on the rolls; directly to Boyers, PA for those who have been separated from service for 31 days or more), I normally advise the applicant to wait — wait until a decision has been rendered, and hopefully the individual will not have to expend the funds for attorneys fees, and an approval will be in the mail. On the other hand, every now and then, an applicant who is waiting for a decision from the Office of Personnel Management, will describe the content and substantive materials comprising the disability retirement packet, and certain statements — during a telephone consultation with me — concerning what is stated in the applicant’s Statement of Disability, will give rise to concern, and in those instances, it may be wise to either withdraw the application, or immediately take steps to supplement the disability retirement packet.

Each FERS or CSRS disability retirement packet is unique, because each individual & individual’s medical condition is unique. That’s what makes the practice of law in the field of representing Federal and Postal disability retirement applicants so interesting, and so professionally satisfying.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: When it Gets to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB)

For whatever reason, a certain percentage of cases reach the third level in the process of applying for Federal Disability Retirement benefits:  The Merit Systems Protection Board.  If an individual is unrepresented at this level, the identical problem as that which occurs in any courtroom presents itself:  an attorney representing an individual provides an appearance of “objectivity” to the administrative judge; the advocacy on behalf of a disability retirement applicant has greater credibility, the arguments made on his/her behalf are now greater efficacy and weight, merely because the person arguing (the attorney) and the person for whom the arguments are made (the disability applicant), are not one and the same.

Whether fair or not, it is important that a disability retirement applicant obtain representation at this level, because Administrative Judges are more likely to listen to the arguments made by an attorney, precisely because the Attorney does not — other than the professional reputation of winning or losing the case — have a “personal” vested interest in the case itself.  As such, the arguments of an attorney have an appearance of objectivity, and it is that weight of objectivity which may be the deciding factor as to whether the applicant will get the disability retirement annuity, or not.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: When to Get an Attorney

As I explain to all potential clients, whether an individual should attempt to obtain Federal disability retirement benefits with or without an attorney, is an individual and personal decision, based upon a number of factors.

I place everyone on a spectrum:  on the far left side of the spectrum is a Letter Carrier who becomes paralyzed.  That person does not need me as an attorney. He/she needs to gather the medical records, fill out the forms, and submit the application.  On the far right side of the spectrum is a Supervisor who goes out on “stress leave”.  That person should almost definitely hire an attorney, because disability retirement based upon the medical condition of stress alone, is difficult to obtain. Most Federal and Postal employees fall somewhere in-between those two extremes.  Further, and obviously, I believe that I am of assistance to my clients, and (hopefully), based upon the years of feedback I have received, my clients firmly believe that my legal methodology and approach were instrumental in obtaining disability retirement benefits for them.

Two further things to consider:  First, I rarely accept cases where an individual has filed the application, gotten it rejected, filed for reconsideration, gotten it rejected, and then went to the Merit Systems Protection Board where the Judge upheld OPM’s decision to deny the application:  when an individual has gone through all three Stages, and asks me to file a Petition for Review, I will normally not take on such a case.  I will, of course, consider being hired to re-file the case (assuming that the person has not been separated from service for over a year); but I cannot take on a case for a Petition for Review and further appeal when I have not been the one instrumental throughout the first three stages of the process.  Second, many individuals come to me with barely 30 days left to file.  I take on such “emergency cases” on a case-by-case basis, depending upon my time-allowance, my schedule, etc.

The Lesson:  Each individual must make the decision as to whether or not to hire an attorney, which attorney to hire, when to hire.  From my perspective:  Federal Disability Retirement is, when all is said and done, a process to secure the financial future and stability of one’s life.  As such, hire an attorney who specializes in Federal and Postal disability retirement, and hire one early on in the process.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: The Role of the Attorney

Obviously, as with all areas of law, the primary role of an attorney in representing a Federal disability retirement applicant (aside from the obvious role of obtaining the disability retirement annuity), is to render useful and effective advice in the representation of the Applicant’s submission before the Office of Personnel Management.

Often, however, in the process of performing such a role, engagement with the Federal or Postal employee’s Agency and supervisor is inevitable and necessary. The timing of such an engagement is crucial. Attorneys need to be careful that his or her representation is not only rendering good advice; further, it needs to be effective.

As hard as it is for an attorney to admit, sometimes it is better for a Federal Disability attorney to take a “back-seat” role, and quietly advise the client but allow the client to deal with the Agency. Indeed, an Agency will often begin to act irrationally, unnecessarily confrontationally, and further, complicate matters by involving their Agency counsel in the matter. In such a simple matter as informing the Agency that the employee is in the process of preparing a disability retirement application — sometimes it is better for the employee to bring it up with his or her supervisor, without the direct involvement of the attorney, especially if the Federal employee has a good working relationship with the Supervisor. Part of the job of the Attorney is to render good advice — and that sometimes means, taking a back seat.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Stating it effectively

Whether an attorney is necessary at the initial stages of filing for OPM Disability Retirement is a question which each individual must answer. One thing is clear, however; there are very few cases where a disability retirement application is “clear-cut” based upon the medical evidence. The reviewing personnel at the Office of Personnel Management are not doctors — though they have a “contract doctor” to review applications.

It is the job of an attorney to be the advocate for the client; as such, the tools which the attorney utilize are: words, and the power of words. In taking over cases at the Reconsideration Stage, or the Merit Systems Protection Board, the mistakes that I see which clients have made prior to representation always involve ‘words’ — either too much, or too few, or stated in the wrong way, or not at all.

Verbosity is rarely an asset or advantage; being succinct is almost always the better way; wise choice of words is a must; the order of delineating the medical disabilities, creating the nexus between the medical disability and the inability to perform one’s job — all of those must be stated forthrightly, descriptively, and with a touch of creativity. Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire