CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The Decision (Again)

Yes, it is a difficult decision to make — to come to terms with filing for Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS.  It makes it all the more difficult when individuals wait until the last possible minute before calling up the attorney (me) to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  There have been a few times in the past (very few) when I simply could not take on a case with only a week left before the Statute of Limitations runs out.  The only thing I can do at that point is to identify which forms to fill out (however imperfectly), and give the fax number and the address to Boyers, PA for the individual to file.

Remember the important point:  You can always make factual, medical and legal arguments after you have filed; you cannot make any arguments if you have failed to file on time.  Of course, it comes with the territory — as an attorney who exclusively represents Federal and Postal employees to obtain disability retirement benefits (there are many attorneys who practice Federal Disability Retirement law as one aspect of a larger practice which includes other areas of Federal Employment law), I understand how intertwining the medical condition is, with the anxiety and stress of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, and how procrastination is often part and parcel of the medical condition itself.

At the same time, however, I take pride in doing a good job; I like to service my clients; I like to see the successful outcome.  As such, I am reluctant to take on cases where there is very little time to file.  I have, and will, take on cases where the Statute of Limitations is about to run out, but there must be at least some time left.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Perspective from the Office of Personnel Management

In effective argumentation, persuasion, written memoranda, oral presentation, and the entire spectrum of attempting to convince the “other side” of the validity, force, appropriateness, and viability of any administrative or legal filing of any nature, it is often a useful tool to attempt to view an issue from that “other” perspective.

Remember that, in filing a Federal disability retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is good to consider the fact that the OPM representative who will be reviewing your particular application, merely sees your application as one among hundreds of files assigned to him or her.  With that in mind, the essential question becomes: How can my particular application, as one among many, be reviewed in such a way that it “stands apart” so that it will be quickly approved? If you ask that question, or any variation of such a question, then you may be taking a wrong approach.

Remember that filing for disability retirement under FERS or CSRS is not like applying for a job; you are not filing a resume that needs to stand out; rather, it is often best if your particular application is nothing more than a “run of the mill” application — with strong, unequivocal and irrefutable medical evidence, along with strong legal arguments to support your case.

Yes, of course your Applicant’s Statement of Disability should explicitly describe the human condition of medical disablement; yes, the “nexus” between your medical condition and your job should be carefully constructed; but no, your application should not necessarily “stand out” as uniquely different — for such an application will often be viewed as “suspicious” and “over-stated”, and may well lead to not just a first viewing, but a re-viewing, and a possible denial

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

Accommodation under FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement

The issue of Accommodations is always an important one in FERS & CSRS disability retirement cases. Agencies on the one hand will often attempt to “put together” a set of duties for the employee to perform, and try and keep a productive employee with the Agency.

There is nothing wrong with this. Indeed, it may even be commendable for the Agency to try and “accommodate” a good employee in such manner. However, such an ad hoc set of duties is not legally an acceptable “accommodation”, and when it comes to filing for disability retirement, it does not preclude a person from being able to file for, and be eligible for, disability retirement. Court cases have upheld this view.

Thus, in Bracey v. Office of Personnel Management, 236 F.3d 1356, 1358 (Fed. Cir. 2001), the Federal Circuit Court delineated and outlined the applicable provisions governing disability retirement, stating that “the pertinent OPM regulation elaborates on the statutory definition by providing that an employee is eligible for disability retirement only if (1) the disabling medical condition is expected to continue for at least one year; (2) the condition results in a deficiency in performance, conduct, or attendance, or is incompatible with useful and efficient service or retention in the employee’s position; and (3) the agency is unable to accommodate the disabling condition in the employee’s position or in an existing vacant position.”

Note this last provision, because that is the “all-important language” with respect to the issue of accommodations. What the Court in Bracey stated, is that the term “accommodation” is a legal, precise term, and it means that in order to be a true accommodation, the Agency must do one of two things: Either, provide for working conditions such that an employee can continue to perform all of the essential elements of the position that the employee is occupying, or place that employee into an existing vacant position — at the same pay or grade. This latter point is also important: in Bracey, the Court clearly stated that an employee must be reassigned to a “vacant” position, and not one which was merely “made up”, and the reasoning of the court is clear: the Court Stated:

“We Agree with Mr. Bracey that OPM’s argument fails, because the term “vacant position” in section 8337 refers to an officially established position that is graded and classified, not to an informal assignment of work that an agency gives to an employee who cannot perform the duties of his official position. A ‘position’ in the federal employment system is required to be classified and graded in accordance with the duties, responsibilities, and qualification requirements associated with it.” Id. at p. 1359

Further, the Court went on to state that the term “vacant position” means “something that is definite and already in existence rather than an unclassified set of duties devised to meet the needs of a particular employee who cannot perform the duties of his official position.” Id. at 1360.

Remember: if you have a medical condition such that you can no longer perform one or more of the essential elements of your job, your Agency can certainly give you a set of duties to keep you in that position, and if you can do those duties, and like the type of work provided, that is great. However, if and when a new supervisor comes he, that supervisor can negate such an ad hoc set of duties, and declare that all employees must henceforth be able to do all of the duties of the official position description. That is why an ad hoc set of duties does not constitute an “accommodation” under the law — because what is assigned “ad hoc” can also be taken away “ad hoc”.

Unless a Federal Employee is legally accommodated, he or she has the option of filing for disability retirement. Don’t be fooled by an Agency who says, “Don’t worry; we’ll reduce your workload and let you work a light-duty position.” That “light-duty” position will not necessarily be permanent, especially when the next Supervisor comes along.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Attorney