OPM Disability Retirement: Each Step is a New Review

There are only one of several ways in which a Federal disability retirement application under FERS or CSRS can be lost: Either a Judge at the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals renders a final opinion denying a Federal or Postal Employee his or her disability retirement, or the Federal or Postal employee simply gives up.  As to the former:  Even then, if the Federal or Postal employee has not been separated from service for more than one (1) year, he or she may file a new application for OPM Disability Retirement.

Thus, we are left with the latter:  a disability retirement applicant simply gives up.  By “giving up” is meant:  the next step is not taken; the time-frame within which to file a Request for Reconsideration or an appeal is allowed to “lapse”; or, if an appeal is taken, it is done with resignation and surrender.  Nothing good can come out of such an approach.  Each step of the process in a Federal Disability Retirement case must be attacked aggressively.  Each step must be looked at as a potential place for a new review.

Think about it in reverse:  If you don’t take the next step, then nothing good will certainly happen, so what is there to lose?  Indeed, there are times when a client hires me to file a Request for Reconsideration or an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, and the mere filing of my appearance into the case persuades and convinces the OPM representative to reverse course and grant the disability retirement application.

The point of making such a statement is not to “brag”, but to make the larger point:  good things can happen only if you affirmatively act.  Otherwise, you are left with what King Lear said to his daughter Cordelia, that “nothing can come from nothing”.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Summer Waiting

I have written previously about the long and arduous waiting process & period in trying to obtain CSRS & FERS Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management. Remember that, in your calculation in attempting to survive financially, economically, emotionally, medically, physically, mentally — and in all other ways, keep in mind that the summer months from July to August often represent a “dead zone” when many Federal employees take time off for vacation, time for family, and time for relaxation.  While it is understandable that this makes the Federal disability retirement applicant nervous and anxious to be placed “on hold” when such an important decision may be held in abeyance, it is simply a reality which must be taken into account.  Don’t get frustrated; be patient.  The summer months will come and go, and the important point is to keep looking forward to the future.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: A New Beginning

After representing so many Federal and Postal employees over these many years, there are stories which continue to sadden me; as with all professionals, I attempt to bifurcate my life, and not get “personally” involved with my cases.  To blur the lines between providing sound and effective legal advice, and getting “involved” in the personal tragedies of my clients, would certainly undermine the professional effectiveness needed in providing for my clients.  To a great extent, I am successful. Every now and then, however, I am informed of a tragedy — and it touches me. Perhaps that is a good thing; for one can become insensitive, or “de-sensitized” in a way that can be detrimental.

I try and explain to many people that getting Federal Disability Retirement benefits should never be a judgment upon one’s career — let alone one’s life. A career can span a lifetime, or it can extend for a couple of years (i.e., at least the 18 months of Federal Service that is needed to even qualify under FERS). However long, to come to a point in one’s career where it becomes necessary to acknowledge to one’s self that certain medical conditions are directly impacting one’s ability to perform the essential elements of the job — such an admission should never be interpreted to mean that such a circumstance has somehow devalued the worth of a person.

Human beings are complex entities, bundled up by personality, uniqueness, family, job, hobbies, thoughts — a compendium of a history of one’s life.  Note that I merely inserted the concept of “job” within a sequence of many facets.  And, indeed, one’s job is important — it takes us away from the many other bundles of our lives, and forces us to expend 8, 10, 12 or more hours per day, Monday thru Friday, and some weekends, too.  But that which takes up a large quantity of our time does not necessarily or logically result in the definitional essence of a human being; the fact that we spend a great deal of time in the bathroom does not mean that such an activity defines our “essence”.

“Worth” of a human being attaches to each of us, and is inseparable from each human being.  One’s job and career constitute only a small part of us.  Let’s keep that in mind, and in its proper perspective.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: OPM’s Generic Denial

Often, cases are mishandled not because of the “present” mistake, but because the case was never prepared for the “long-term” event.  Let me elaborate and explain. Obviously, an applicant for disability retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS wants to win the case at the earliest stage of the process.  The attorney who is handling any such disability retirement case, similarly, would like to “win” the case at the earliest stage possible.  However, sometimes that is simply not going to be the case. 

In an initial denial, it is often important to not only address the case for the Reconsideration Stage, but also to prepare the case for the next stage — the Merit Systems Protection Board (and, similarly, in preparing an application for Disability Retirement, it is important to prepare such an application not only for the initial review at OPM, but also for the Reconsideration Stage).  By this, I mean that, because there is at least a “possibility” that the disability retirement application will be denied again at the Reconsideration Stage, it is important to point out the deficiencies, the lack of clarity, the inadequate reasoning, the outright lies and mis-statements which the Office of Personnel Management may have engaged in as part of the “Discussion” Section of the denial letter.  Often, while OPM may give some “lip-service” to make it appear as if your case was thoroughly reviewed, a closer reading (on second thought, it need not even be a closer reading) clearly shows that OPM did a shabby job in denying a case.  It is what I ascribe as OPM’s “generic denial” — a denial so devoid of any particularity or care as to reveal a complete lack of proper administrative review of the case.  Such lack of proper administrative review is what needs to be shown; it needs to be shown because, if OPM denies the case again, then it is advantageous to the applicant to have the Administrative Law Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board see that he will be hearing a case which may not have been necessary — but for the lack of diligence on the part of OPM.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The Process & the Office of Personnel Management

The “British Rule” is that “good manners will always get you through any and every form of trouble.”  The process at the Office of Personnel Management is a long and arduous one.  When the disability retirement packet finally arrives at Boyers, PA, it will often sit for approximately thirty (30) days, before it is finally assigned a CSA number (for CSRS employees, it will begin with the number “4”; for FERS employees, it will begin with the number “8”).

The Applicant will receive a form letter from OPM in Boyers, PA, informing you that you have been assigned a CSA number, and that it has been forwarded to the OPM office in Washington, D.C.  This is when patience and good manners must come to the fore.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with calling OPM and inquiring about the status of your case.  However, always remember to be courteous; inquire as to the time-frame that the adjudicating disability specialist is expecting; and ask if it would be okay to call periodically, and to let him/her know that if any further documentation is needed, to give you a call — or, if you are represented, to call your attorney.  Whatever you do, do not get angry, and keep it professional — and courteous.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: the Psychological Barrier

I hear the anguish in people’s voices; an individual has worked for the Federal Government, or the Postal Service, for 20+ years; “I’m not lazy”, “I’ve worked all of my life”, “I gave my Agency the best, each day”, “I am not asking for a hand-out.”  No justification is needed.  No defense is needed.  Disability retirement is not welfare; it is not a hand-out; it is a benefit which was part of the employment package which your employer — the Federal Government — offered to you, when you applied for the job.  You could have applied for a private sector job, and received a higher offer of monetary compensation, but with lesser benefits.  A Federal employee who accepts a Federal or Postal position, does so with the understanding that the monetary compensation may be lesser, but the total package of benefits makes it worthwhile.  Some of those benefits are considered as “safety-net” benefits, and disability retirement is one of those.  No justification is needed.  No defense is needed.  You worked hard; you gave it your best; it is time to take that benefit which you earned, and move on to another phase of your career, your life, and your contribution to society –which yet remains in abundance.  Your best days are yet to come.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The Frustration of Dealing with OPM

The Office of Personnel Management is a large bureaucracy which handles thousands of cases, including disability retirement applications.  Lately, more and more frustrating post-approval issues are appearing, including: sudden interim payments without any prior notice of approval of a claim (not a bad thing to happen, certainly, in comparison to a denial); non-receipt of a letter from OPM, whether approving it or denying it; no communication from OPM after an approval, for months on end; and other problems ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

Unfortunately, once a disability retirement application has been approved, there is very little that an attorney can do, anymore than the client can do. Persistence is the key; courtesy is the keyhole; finding the right, competent person at the Office of Personnel Management, and being courteous and persistent, often opens the door. Remember that there is a wide chasm of qualitative difference between “rudeness” and “persistence”; the former will never get you anywhere; the latter can be accomplished with courtesy, and get you very far.

When contacting someone at the Office of Personnel Management, keep three (3) things in mind: (1) Be courteous (2) get the name and telephone number of the individual you are speaking with, and (3) try to obtain a specific date on which you will call that person back, and be clear as to what action it is that you want taken, and why. Persistence, courtesy, and further persistence.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Christmas Season

Christmas is upcoming. The Office of Personnel Management, along with many other Federal Agencies, is beginning to “shut down” for the Holiday Season. OPM will be making many decisions concerning pending disability retirement applications. For those who receive a denial, obviously a negative decision coming during the Holidays is unwelcoming news; for those who receive an approval, the reaction is normally that it is great news and a needed Christmas present. But a negative decision — a denial from OPM — needs to be put into its proper perspective. Yes, it is an unfortunate bit of news coming at a bad time; but those who file for disability retirement benefits, must always look upon the process as one involving 4 steps: The initial application step; if denied, the Reconsideration step; if denied a second time, an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board; if denied by the Administrative Judge at the MSPB, an appeal to the full Board via a Petition for Review (PFR) — and even a fifth step, to the Federal Circuit Court. Remember, Disability Retirement is a “process”; the fact that it coincides with the Holiday Season does not change the long process which it involves.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Is There Life after a Disability in the Federal Workplace?

In tough economic times, it is often difficult to find that “silver lining”. This is even truer for my clients who obtain disability retirement benefits from the Federal Government, as well as those contemplating it. For, ultimately, I always find (without exception) that Federal and Postal Workers who are contemplating filing for disability retirement don’t want to be in the position he/she finds him/herself in.

They have been loyal and hard working Federal employees.  They have shown such loyalty through years and years of committed service.  But, for whatever reasons, and for whatever circumstances and situations, a sudden medical condition, or a degenerative medical condition, has brought that loyal employee to a point where he or she is no longer a “good fit” for a particular kind of job.

Such an employee can often be placed on a PIP (“Performance Improvement Plan”), or be given a Letter of Warning, or be placed on Leave Restrictions, or be told that no more light duties are available — all indicators that the Federal Agency or the particular Post Office is no longer willing to engage in “bilateral loyalty” — in other words, your 20 years of Federal Service will be rewarded with a boot out the door.

But such Federal and Postal employees must always have a positive attitude:  disability retirement benefits are there for you when they are normally unavailable in the private sector; while it pays a flat amount which one may not be able to necessarily live on, it is nevertheless a “base annuity” that can be depended upon.  And, further, a recent New York Times article concerning the state of the present economy pointed out what I have noted in the past:  Private Companies are hiring more and more older workers who have their own health insurance benefits, and who can work part-time without benefits.

That accurately describes the disability retirement annuitant, who is able to make up to 80% of what his/her former position pays now, on top of the disability retirement annuity, and retain life & health insurance benefits.  Always look for the silver lining.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire