Trying it Without an Attorney During the Federal Disability Retirement Process

I get calls all the time by people who tell me that they thought their particular Federal Disability Retirement case was a “slam dunk”; that the medical documentation was there; that everything looked like it should be approved at the first level.  Then, there are people who tell me the same thing after the second, Reconsideration denial — that he or she thought it should definitely pass through.  But law, and especially administrative law before the Office of Personnel Management, has peculiarities beyond a surface, apparent reality.

There is a process and a methodology of obtaining disability retirement. Can a federal retirement attorney guarantee the success of a disability retirement application?  No.  Does an individual applicant have a better chance with the assistance of an attorney who specializes in medical retirement law?  In most cases, yes.  Aren’t there applicants who file for medical retirement, without the assistance of an attorney, who are successful?  Yes.  Should everyone who files for federal retirement hire an attorney?  Not necessarily.

When I speak to a client, I try and place him or her on a spectrum — and on one side of that spectrum is an individual who works at a very physical job, and who has such egregious physical medical disabilities; on the other side of the spectrum is an individual who suffers from Anxiety, who works in a sedentary administrative position (please don’t misunderstand — many people who suffer from anxiety fall into the “serious” side of the spectrum, and I am in no way attempting to minimize the psychiatric disability of Anxiety).

Most people, of course, fall somewhere in the middle.  Yes, I have told many people to go and file his or her disability retirement application without an attorney.  There are those cases which are so egregious, in terms of medical conditions, that I do not believe than an attorney is necessary.  However, such instances are rare.  Thus, to the question, Should everyone who files for Federal retirement under FERS & CSRS hire an attorney?  Not necessarily — but in most cases, yes.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Merit Systems Protection Board

An appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board in a Federal Disability Retirement case means that the disability retirement application has been denied twice by the Office of Personnel Management:  at the initial application stage, then at the Reconsideration Stage.  This is often considered to be the third and last try — of convincing an administrative judge (an “AJ”) that you are entitled and eligible for disability retirement.  There are, of course, two additional stages — an appeal to the Full Board and to the Federal Circuit Court — but such avenues present only the right to reverse a decision of the Merit Systems Protection Board, and no new evidence can be presented.

Thus, one might consider the Merit Systems Protection Board as the “last stop” in the administrative process.  Do not think, however, that the process must necessarily be won before the Administrative Judge in a hearing — much work and persuasive argumentation should be made to the OPM representative who is handling the case at this MSPB Stage.  The OPM representative at the Third Stage of the process is usually an attorney; they are competent; they are versed in the case-law — and thus open to be persuaded by legal argumentation.  While the administrative stages (the Initial Stage and the Reconsideration Stage) involved OPM representatives who are non-attorneys, the MSPB Stage involves seasoned attorneys who present an opportunity for persuasion and argumentation, and thus a golden opportunity to convince OPM to reverse their own decision before coming to a Hearing.  Such an opportunity should never be missed, and every effort should be made by the applicant’s attorney to have multiple contacts with the OPM representative prior to the date of the Hearing.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability, Human Suffering, OPM Disability…

I often refer to a favorite short story of mine, inasmuch as it serves as a paradigm for why I practice disability retirement law: the master storyteller, Anton Chekhov, wrote a brilliant short story entitled, Grief (translator’s subtitle: “To Whom Shall I Tell My Grief,”), where the cab-driver, Iona Potapov, tells the profound story of human need — of a son’s death; a tale of tragedy, and of human indifference.

And in the course of driving various strangers in his carriage/cab, where he attempts to tell his very personal story of human tragedy, in the end, he must turn to his horse, and speak the mournful song of human desire to the only one who will listen: “That’s how it is, my old horse. There’s no more Kuzma Ionitch. He has left us to live, and he went off pop. Now let’s say, you had a foal, you were that foal’s mother, and suddenly, let’s say, that foal went and left you to live after him. It would be sad, wouldn’t it?”

Each of us has a human tale to tell. The human tale in disability retirement is often one of enduring devotion to one’s life work; of a medical condition beyond one’s control; and the need to change course in one’s life.

As an OPM Disability attorney, I am very busy in my practice. The cost of success, of course, is less time — less time for family, less time for personal pursuits (my first and greatest love is and continues to be the study of Philosophy — that is what I studied in College; that is what I studied in graduate school, before heading off to law school; and I find that, each year, I have less and less time in reading the major works of philosophers — but this is often outweighed by the professional satisfaction I get in obtaining disability retirement benefits for my clients); less time for reflection. I receive many, many calls on a daily basis from clients and potential clients who need to file for disability retirement benefits.

I try and listen to each human story — but to listen to the fullness of each story would be to take away from the time needed to spend on someone else.

That is why, often, I must direct the conversation with a series of questions.  I am not a therapist or a doctor — I am an attorney. If I do not focus upon the direct and impactful issues, and help my clients focus upon the significant issues which directly touch upon Federal OPM Disability Retirement, I am not doing my job. Thus, if I am somewhat focused upon certain foundational issues when speaking to people on the telephone, it is only because I am trying to do the best for all of my clients — to direct and re-direct the issues, like a laser-beam, upon the important issues concerning Federal Disability Retirement.

In doing so, I hope I am not like the indifferent passengers who left Iona Potapov on the side of the road, to have him tell his human story to the only one left to tell: his horse.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Proper Response to the Agency

It is often difficult to inform an Agency of one’s decision to file for disability retirement. On the one hand, it is often a place where a Federal Employee has spent many years working for; with multiple years of interaction, both good and bad, it is a place which has grown to play a prominent role in the employee’s daily life, with necessary interpersonal infusions of personalities, playing such an influence as important as one’s personal family life — and, because a person may spend 8 – 10 hours a day, week after week, month after month, like life in a family, it has come to embrace a place of primary importance in one’s life.

As such, to inform such a place of one’s decision to file for disability retirement is, in effect, to inform them of one’s separation from that primary location of importance.  Such separation can be as psychologically devastating as a “divorce” which, in many respects, it is similar to.  That is often why the role of an attorney can be important.  An attorney can be a “middle-man”, an arbiter to soften the strain of such a separation from a federal employee from his or her “family”.

Remember, this is an administrative process; it need not be an adversarial process.  An attorney experienced in disability retirement law should know the process, and act to soften the separation which has been long in coming, and work to garner a sense of “teamwork” between Agency and employee, to attain as amicable a separation as possible.

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

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Other Stories of Success

There are obviously many, many pitfalls in the attempt to obtain disability retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management. Sometimes, I get calls from individuals who tell me that they “heard from a friend” that another employee prepared the disability retirement packet him/herself, and got it through within ___ months (you can fill in the blank with an unbelievably low number — say, 1, 2 or 3), and that there was no need for an attorney, and so why should anyone need an attorney?

I really have no response for such an inquiry; I am always suspicious of such “too good to be true” stories, but on the other hand, inasmuch as I don’t have any facts to refute or otherwise disbelieve such stories, I cannot comment on them.  I can only convey facts, circumstances, and experiences which I have with my own clients (don’t worry — all information received from and on behalf of my clients is protected by attorney-client confidentiality, and I never — ever — divulge personal information; I relate such experiences only in a generic sense, with no names ever mentioned), and indeed, each case is different and unique, and I try and treat each case based upon the specific facts, circumstances, and individual complexities inherent in each.

I really cannot comment on “that other story” that is heard through a chain of mouths and ears, only to be transformed into an unidentifiable success story.

People who come to me and ask for my legal guidance and expertise know that, to the extent I am able, I will answer each question based upon my professional experience; that I try to give a realistic assessment of each case, without embellishment; and my clients remain my clients for life.  Indeed, I get calls almost every week from people who I represented many, many years ago.  If a Medical Questionnaire is received, I am here to guide the recipient so that he/she will be able to retain the disability retirement benefits we fought so hard to obtain.  I have no idea about those “other success stories”; my goal is to satisfy the legal needs of my clients — those who have entrusted their cases in me, and for whom I have a special care and trust for.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire