OPM Disability Retirement: Termination (Part 1)

Termination by a Federal Agency or the Postal Service can be a trying time, even if it has been a long time in expectancy.  The key is to try and begin negotiating with the agency even before the Notice of Proposed Termination is issued.

During that period when you know that the Agency is considering filing a Notice of Proposed Termination, is precisely the window of opportunity to try and convince & persuade the agency that the underlying basis of any proposed termination is and should be based upon your medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of your job.

This would be done through various means:  Submission of medical documentation to your supervisor, agency & Human Resources personnel; addressing key points concerning conduct or performance with medical evidence showing a direct and causal correlation between such conduct or performance with the medical evidence, etc.

If, on the other hand, a Notice of Proposed Termination is issued but one which is not based upon one’s medical condition, that does not mean that the window of opportunity has been lost — it just may mean that the strategy and tactic to try and persuade the Agency to amend the proposed termination may have to be adapted.  The key to all of this is to make sure and aggressively attack, rebut, and answer, at all stages of any proposed termination, in order to gain an advantage for one’s medical disability retirement.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Again — Reminder as to the Statute of Limitations

I have many, many people who are on all sides of the spectrum concerning the time-line of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS — people who call me 2, 3, 5, sometimes 10 years after being separated from service, saying they were never informed about the benefit of Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  Obviously, such former Federal employees cannot now (except in extremely peculiar and rare circumstances) file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, under either FERS or CSRS.

Then, there are those who are still “on the rolls” — those who have never been separated (normally because of the negligence or neglect of the Agency) from Federal Service, who call to ask whether they can file for Federal Disability Retirement now.  The answer is most often, Yes, and furthermore, once the disability retirement is approved, the annuitant can receive back-pay all the way back to the last date of pay.  Then, there are those who call me in a state of panic, saying that it has been almost a year after the injury; is it too late to file?  No, it is not too late, so long as it has not been over one year from the time of separation from service.  Thus, here is a reminder (again):  A Federal or Postal employee has up until one (1) year to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, from the time of being separated from Federal Service — meaning, when you have been terminated from being a Federal or Postal employee, and are off of the “rolls” of the agency.  I don’t know how to make this any clearer.

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

OPM Disability Retirement: When to File

I still get calls by people who state that (A) they are waiting for a year before they are going to file for FERS or CSRS disability retirement, (B)  It hasn’t been a year since they have been on LWOP, but it almost will be, or (C) They are waiting to be terminated so that their year will begin.  Quiz:  Which of the above (A, B or C) is the correct basis upon which to decide to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits?  Answer:  None of the Above.

Since OPM disability retirement can take anywhere from 6 – 8, sometimes 10 months to get (beginning the time-sequence from the time a doctor is contacted to provide a medical report, to putting the entire packet together, to getting it to the Agency Human Resources Personnel, to getting it to Boyers, PA, to getting it to Washington, D.C., to getting an initial approval, etc.), it is:  A.  Not a good idea to “wait a year” because there is no reason to wait; B. You don’t need to wait a year on LWOP to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, and:  C.  You don’t need to get terminated, or separated from Federal Service, in order to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Let me re-emphasize:  The “1-year rule” has to do with the following:  A.  You have one (1) year from the date you are separated from Federal Service to file for disability retirement — but you can file at any time, whether separated or not, as long as it is not after 1 year after being separated from service.  B. Your medical condition must be expected to last for a minimum of 12 months — but your treating doctor should be able to tell quite easily whether or not the medical condition for which you are being treated will last that long — normally within a couple of months of treatment.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

August 13th, 2009

OPM Disability Retirement: The Law

I will be writing an article of greater length on this issue, but suffice it for now that when “the law” works, it works well. A major second case has been decided in favor of the Federal employee — first, it was Vanieken-Ryals v. OPM, 508 F.3d 1034 (Fed. Cir. 2007), and now, Sylvia M. Reilly v. OPM, decided July 15, 2009. Vanieken-Ryals toppled the irrational imposition of a baseless standard by OPM — that there is a distinction to be made between “objective” as opposed to “subjective” evidence concerning medical evidence (example of the absurdity: How do you prove the existence of pain? While an MRI may show a physical condition, you cannot prove that such a physical condition equates to debilitating pain, leaving aside any quantification of pain. Similarly, how do you prove the existence of Major Depression? Anxiety? Panic attacks?).

Now, Reilly v. OPM has toppled another idol of a false standard imposed by OPM: that medical documentation which post-dates separation from Federal Service is near-irrelevant. This has never made sense, for at least 2 reasons: first, since a person is allowed to file for Federal Disability Retirement within 1 year of being separated from service, why would medical documentation dated after the separation be considered irrelevant? Second, medical conditions rarely appear suddenly. Most conditions are progressive and degenerative in nature, and indeed, that is what the Court in Reilly argues. Grant another win for the Federal employee, the law, and the process of law. It makes being a lawyer worthwhile when “the law” works.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Employee’s Usefulness

Federal Employees and Postal Employees should never consider or entertain the thought that filing for disability retirement benefits is a negative judgment upon his or her lengthy and productive career.

It is merely a statement of reality — that the Federal and Postal employee has had a good career; medical conditions may have shortened the first career, but this merely means that there will be opportunities to have a second career; and, in no way does it mean that there is a blemish upon the Federal career; merely that it is time to move on to something else.  And, indeed, the interruption of the Federal or Postal career as a result of impeding medical conditions merely is a statement that you are no longer a “good fit” for a particular kind of job.

Further, if you are removed from the Federal sector because of your medical inability to perform your job, such a removal is a “non-adversarial” and “non-disciplinary” action, and therefore (again) should not, and cannot, be considered a “blemish” upon one’s career.  And, finally, it is often the case that it is precisely because of the long and loyal hours you put into your job, that you paid a price for such loyalty — by embracing the stresses of the job, of working despite impending medical conditions.

In other words, very often I see that the stresses inherent in the position took a large and heavy toll upon the individual, such that medical conditions resulted from the long years of such heavy toll.  There is never a need to feel guilty about taking disability retirement; you’ve paid your dues; it is time to move on to another phase of your life.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Be Careful

As part of a Federal or Postal employee’s process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, one may have to negotiate, respond to, or fight against an unfair Agency’s attempt to remove the Federal or Postal employee — based upon factors other than what is truly the underlying basis — of his or her medical inability to perform the essential elements of the Federal job.

For whatever reason — of incompetence, of pure unkindness, of personal vendettas, etc. —  Agencies will often refuse to remove an individual for the administratively neutral reason (by “neutral”, to mean that it is not an “adverse” action) of “medical inability to perform the essential elements of the job”.  Instead, they will often revert to other reasons:  “excessive absences”, “AWOL”, “excessive LWOP”; “violation of a PIP”, and other such overtly misleading reasons.

When, the truth of the matter is/was, the Federal or Postal employee was sick, has a medical condition, and could not come to work because of medical reasons.  Be careful.  Fight the removal action.  Don’t accept the unfair basis.  File an appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board.  Remember, a removal for medical inability to perform the essential elements of the job can help you get an approval in a disability retirement application.  Better yet, hire an attorney who will fight for you.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

When Federal Employees Don’t Know about OPM Disability Retirement Benefits and Fall into a Comfort Zone

Many people get confused when they first consult with an attorney about USPS or Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  Indeed, before consulting with an attorney, an individual who is faced with a medical condition which (1) is beginning to impact one’s ability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s position and (2) will likely last at least a year — such an individual should first take the time to research various websites to “get the facts” about Federal Disability Retirement.

I have had many individuals tell me that they didn’t even know that such a benefit existed; that when they were separated from their U.S. Government gency, the Postal worker or Federal employee was never informed that he or she could file for Federal Disability Retirement.  Unfortunately, ignorance of the law is not a valid excuse; if you don’t file for disability retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS with the Office of Personnel Management within one (1) year of being separated from service with the Federal Government, you will have lost your right to file — forever.

Furthermore, it is dangerous to “take comfort” in the fact that the Department of Labor/The Office of Worker’s Compensation Programs deemed you to be 100% disabled.  That “100%” disabled status may last a lifetime, or it may last only so long as your particular OWCP caseworker is working on your case.  The next caseworker may take it upon him or herself and decide that, Well, no, perhaps you are not 100% disabled, and perhaps sending you to a “Second Opinion” doctor (who, it just so happens, is receiving about 95% of his or her income expounding such “second opinions”) will result in a medical finding that you miraculously “recovered” and are able to go back to work.  Benefits cut off.  You waited a year or more after being separated from Federal Service to find this out, without having filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  You are then, unfortunately, “out of luck”.  Make sure that you file in a timely manner; make sure that you do not take comfort in being on OWCP rolls.  Don’t forget —  Postal or Federal Disability Retirement is an annuity that you can rely upon as a “base income” for your financial security.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Long View

What I find when individuals have attempted to file on their own, and get it rejected, is the lack of preparing for the “long view.” Many people hear stories about how “such and such” obtained a disability retirement approval for “far less than the medical conditions I have.”

Fair enough. Those stories may be true (I never engage in a discussion about the validity or truth of such stories; they are what they are — stories); nevertheless, there are multiple factors which are considered at each stage of the process of filing for disability retirement: Who the OPM Specialist is that will be reviewing an application; the subjective application of which criteria are applied in a given case; the personal and professional differences that arise between different bureaucrats at the Office of Personnel Management (no, don’t believe in the story that there is an “objective” methodology of applying the law when reviewing each disability retirement application); and multiple other factors, including whether or not your particular disability retirement packet was reviewed by someone at the Office of Personnel Management when he or she had a “bad day”.

To counter all of the multiple factors over which we don’t have any control, one must always take the “long view” — the view that it may take two denials, and end up before a Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board. At that point, it is important for the Judge to see how well-documented the case has been prepared; that legal arguments have already shown that OPM was unreasonable in its initial decision and its Reconsideration Denial; and how, despite additional attempts at fulfilling OPM’s requests for additional medical documentation, that OPM continued to be unreasonable. By preparing for the “long view”, a disability retirement packet not only has the best chance of getting it approved in the “short run”, but also at the Merit Systems Protection Board.Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire