OWCP Claims v. OPM Disability Retirement

I still get periodic telephone calls with much misinformation, mixing terms applied to FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement with “Department of Labor Retirement” or Worker’s Comp retirement.  While there are indeed people who remain on OWCP temporary total disability for years and years, OWCP/DOL is ultimately NOT a retirement system.  It is a system meant to pay for injured Federal and Postal workers while he or she is recuperating from an on-the-job injury.

The Department of Labor thus does everything in its power to get the injured worker back to work, by various means:  assigning a nurse to “oversee” the treatment and “progress” of the worker; by sending the injured worker to second opinion doctors to see if there is a medical opinion different from one’s treating doctor; and other means which have nothing to do with the patient’s best medical interests.

I don’t handle OWCP claims; however, because many individuals who file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS have intersecting OWCP issues, also, I have some “on the job” knowledge of such issues.  Ultimately, a worker must decide between the two systems, although one can file for both benefits concurrently, one can only receive from one or the other — not both at the same time.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Time

Time is of the essence in almost everything we do.  There are timed deadlines for filing a Federal Disability Retirement application; a great amount of time is taken in the bureaucratic processing of the application; greater time is taken by the Office of Personnel Management in reviewing, analyzing and deciding upon a Federal Disability Retirement application; appeals to the Merit Systems Protection Board require time within which one must prepare a viable case before an administrative judge, etc.

Time is a presence in every aspect of our lives.  But within that framework, a comparative analysis of time should always be taken into consideration.  To “rush” the preparation of a disability retirement packet is often penny wise but pound foolish; care and patience should always be taken, both in the writing, preparation and filing of anything to be submitted to a Federal bureaucracy; the Office of Personnel Management is no different.  Rushing something in order to “save time” is often counterproductive.  To take the time to prepare an excellent disability retirement packet will actually save time in the long run.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Doctor

The lack of cooperation from a treating doctor, who is asked to provide a medical narrative report for a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, may be based upon one of several factors.

It may be that the doctor merely refuses to engage in any type of administrative support for his patients; it may be that the doctor has private suspicions that, to openly admit that his/her patient must file for Federal Disability Retirement means that his/her treatments have failed, and thus, the patient/disability retirement applicant is considering filing a malpractice action, and asking him/her to write a supportive medical narrative is merely a ploy to set the groundwork for a later malpractice action; it may just be bad bedside manners; or it may be that the doctor does not understand the Federal Disability Retirement process, and how it differs for Social Security Disability, or Worker’s Comp.

If it is the latter reason, then it is the job of the attorney to make sure and explain, delineate, and inform the doctor of the nature, extent, and context of Federal Disability Retirement — and to show how an approval for disability retirement benefits will be the best thing for his/her patient.  This is where an attorney representing an applicant for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS becomes a crucial component in the preparation of such an application.

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: Standard Forms Do Not Mean “Standard Responses”

The problem with “Standard Forms” is that they often appear to solicit “standard responses”, and in a Federal Disability Retirement case under the Federal Employees Retirement Systems (FERS) or the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), nothing could be further from the truth.  Indeed, it is often because a Federal or Postal employee/applicant who confronts and begins to fill out SF 3112A, Applicant’s Statement of Disability, the very “blocked” appearance of the form, and the constricting questions themselves, makes it appear as if a “standard response” is required.  Don’t be fooled.

By way of example, take a “special animal” — that of a Federal Aviation Administration Air Traffic Controller who must take a disqualifying medication, loses his or her medical certification from the Flight Surgeon, and thinks that filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is a “slam dunk”.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Or, a Customs & Border Patrol Agent who goes out on stress leave, or suffers from chronic back pain.  Are there “standard responses” in filling out an Applicant’s Statement of Disability?  There are certain standard “elements” which should be considered in responding to the questions, but don’t be constricted by an appearance of “standard responses” to a “standard form”.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Agency Actions, Part I

Can adverse agency actions to terminate a Federal employee impact a potential disability retirement application?  The short answer is “yes”, but the longer answer would have to consider multiple factors:  what is the underlying basis of the adverse action?  Does a person’s medical conditions (often psychiatric, cognitive dysfunctions impacting upon less than stellar performance ratings, or perhaps impacting upon the essential elements of one’s job in other ways) explain, in whole or in part, the “adverse” nature of the action?

Also, has there been a “paper trail” established with respect to informing the Agency of medical conditions, such that it can “explain” — again, in whole or in part — the apparent basis of the adverse action?  Is the Agency open to negotiating a material change in the proposed removal — i.e., from one which is adversarial (and therefore would be appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board) to one based upon one’s medical inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job (with a stipulation that no appeal will be filed, thereby saving the Agency’s time, resource, and personnel).

It is important to “get involved” in the process of any contemplated Agency action — early.  If the Agency puts an employee on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP), it is time — in fact, overdue — to become active in the future plans for filing a disability retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire