Discretionary Decisions Made by Federal Disability Lawyers

As an OPM Disability attorney, I am often asked questions by people of which I am unable to answer.  They are not questions concerning “the law” underlying Federal Disability Retirement, but rather questions which go to my “professional discretion” as an attorney in putting together a Federal Disability Retirement packet, prepared to go forth to the Office of Personnel Management.

By “professional discretion” questions, I mean those questions which go to making decisions and choices concerning medical reports, percentage ratings received from the Veterans Administration; permanency ratings received from Second Opinion or Referee doctors, or the fact that one has reached “maximum medical improvement” and is now “permanent and stationary”, and whether to use such collateral sources of medical documentation in putting together a disability retirement packet.

The practice of law is not all objective and straight-forward; part of the “practice” of law is of an art form, based upon one’s experience, and professional discretion sharpened by repetitive experiences in working with the Office of Personnel Management and in representing Federal and Postal employees before the Merit Systems Protection Board.  Further, there are some questions which I answer only for those whom I represent.  I am happy to provide general information about the process of filing for federal disability.  For those whom I represent, however, I reserve for them the art of practicing Federal Disability Retirement law.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The Coming Year

For all Federal and Postal employees who are considering, or may consider in the coming year, filing an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, I hope that this “continuing blog” has been helpful, and will continue to be helpful. 

In the coming year, I will attempt to stay on top of any changes in the current laws, including statutory changes (if any), any new developments handed down through opinions rendered by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board or the Federal Circuit Courts.  One’s future is what is at stake in making the all-important decision to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, and I will endeavor to remain informative, and provide you with a level of professionalism which all Federal and Postal employees deserve.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Service Disability Retirement: Patience is a Necessity

I have said this many, many times:  If patience is a virtue, then Federal employees must be the virtuous of all people, especially those who are filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits and waiting upon the Office of Personnel Management to make a decision.

Then, even after it is approved, it is often months and months until one’s case is finalized and taken out of the “interim” pay status to final pay status; or, if the case is denied at the First Stage and you have to file a Request for Reconsideration, submit additional medical and other evidence, file a Memorandum of Law to try and convince the Second Stage Representative that, indeed, contrary to what the First Stage Representative had argued, you have been in full compliance and meet with all of the criteria for eligibility for FERS or CSRS disability retirement benefits — which can take an additional 120 – 150 days.

Then, of course, if it is denied at the Reconsideration Stage of the process, you must file an appeal within thirty (30) days to the Merit Systems Protection Board, where the Administrative Judge is mandated by statute to conclude a case from the time of appeal within 120 days.

The entire “process”  — and this is precisely why I refer to the administrative procedure of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS as a “process” — requires and demands patience.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: OPM’s Rationale

Too much time is often spent on the “rationale” or “reasons” for a denial from the Office of Personnel Management, under the “Discussion” Section of a denial letter.  By “time spent”, however, is not meant that one should not selectively rebut, refute and address some of the reasons delineated in an OPM denial letter; rather, what too many people do is to complicate matters by “reading into” the reasons given for the denial.

One of the jobs of an attorney who specializes in Federal Disability Retirement law under FERS & CSRS is to prepare an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, rebut a denial, or file an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, based upon one’s experience, wisdom and sense of that which OPM is looking for.

This is accomplished by having learned from a myriad of sources:  from seeing the types of prepared disability retirement packets which have been successful in the past; from learning from past legal arguments and rebuttal arguments as to which have been most persuasive for OPM; and from having conducted multiple Hearings before the Merit Systems Protection Board and learning exactly what the Administrative Law Judge has been most persuaded and convinced by.

Further, having read countless denial letters by people who have attempted to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits at the first stage without an attorney, it is important to focus upon the relevant issues which OPM is seeking, and to disregard those issues which are peripheral or irrelevant.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

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

Federal Employee Disability Retirement: Discretion in a Response (Part 2)

In responding to an initial denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application before the Office of Personnel Management, it is important to remain professional, and not to “overload” the response with unnecessary or otherwise irrelevant responses.

Initial anger and disbelief over the selective criticisms contained in an OPM denial letter should not be reflected in a response to the denial.  Why not?  Because there is a good possibility that the case may be denied a second time, and it may appear before the Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board.

Don’t write things to OPM that you will regret having an Administrative Judge — one who may be deciding your case — look at and read.  Thus, the “first rule”:  never write an immediate response back, because your anger and emotional disbelief will show itself.

If you need to “get rid” of your anger and expiate the emotionalism, then write your emotional response on a separate piece of paper, then set it aside.  Your “real” response will come later — when you can with a rational perspective, review the unfair and selectively biased denial letter, and begin to compose the serious response that your case deserves.  Or, better yet, get your attorney to do it.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Disability Retirement: The “Process”

In my last writing, I briefly discussed why filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is, and must be looked upon as, a “process” as opposed to a mere “filing” with an expectation of an “automatic” approval.  This is because there is a legal standard of proof to be met, based upon a statutory scheme which was passed by Congress, and based upon a voluminous body of “case-law” handed down by the Merit Systems Protection Board and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.  With this in mind, it is wise to consider that, because it is a “process” with two administrative “stages” to the process, as well as an Appeal to an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board, then potentially to the Full Board via a Petition for Review, and finally to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals — as such, each “step” in the process would naturally have a different and “higher” level of the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement. 

Because of this, it is often a frustrating experience for applicants, because a rejection or denial at the First Stage of the process often reveals the utter lack of knowledge by the OPM representative of the larger compendium of case-laws that govern and dictate how disability retirement applications are to be evaluated and decided upon.  Often, the so-called “discussion” of a denial letter is poorly written, meandering in thoughtlessness, and self-contradictory and with unjustifiable selectivity of statements from a medical report or record.  Such poor writing reflects a first-level decision-making process, and can be a frustrating experience upon reading the denial letter.  It is good to keep in mind, however, that the entire application procedure is a “process”, and each level is designed to have a greater level of competency and knowledge in the law.

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

FERS & CSRS disability retirement: Beyond the MSPB

Not all cases that should be won, are won. No one can win 100% of the time; think about it — even the best Major League Baseball players strike out at least 2 out of every 3 at-bats. Most strike out every 3 out of 4 times. Fortunately, I am able to pass through a high percentage of my clients at Stages 1 or 2 of the Disability Retirement process, and that is how it should be.

Every now and again, however, a case must go to the Merit Systems Protection Board; and out of the small number that must get to that point, an even smaller number goes before an Administrative Judge who is clearly anti-employee, and ignores the law and sides with the Office of Personnel Management. Fortunately, most MSPB judges are fair and understand that disability retirement laws favor, for the most part, approval of disability retirement benefits. In those instances where, for whatever reason, a case has been denied at Stages 1 & 2, and the MSPB Judge completely ignores the strong and unequivocal testimony of the doctor, then there is still a good shot at winning the case at the 4th level — a Petition for Full Review.

Such a Stage must be approached by pointing out the legal deficiencies and, indeed, the Hearing Judge’s complete mis-application of the law. It must be done delicately and respectfully, however, because you are essentially asking that the Full Board (a panel of 3 Administrative Judges) reverse one of the Administrative Judges at the Merit Systems Protection Board — to declare that the Administrative Judge “erred” in applying the law. It is possible to do — but it must be done with care, respect, and technical expertise.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire