OPM Disability Retirement: The Case of Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is one of those medical conditions that the Office of Personnel Management systematically “targets” as a condition which is prima facie “suspect”. This is despite the fact that there are cases which implicitly “admonish” OPM from engaging in the type of arbitrary reasoning of denying a disability retirement application because they “believe” that “no objective medical evidence” has been submitted, or that the “pain” experienced (diffuse as it might be) is merely “subjective”, or that the chronicity of the pain merely “waxes and wanes”, and a host of multiple other unfounded reasonings. Yet, cases have already placed a clear boundary around such arbitrary and capricious reasonings.

A case in point, of course, is Vanieken-Ryals v. OPM, a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit case, decided on November 26, 2007. In that case, it clearly circumscribes the fact that OPM can no longer make the argument that an Applicant’s disability retirement application contains “insufficient medical evidence” because of its lack of “objective medical evidence”. This is because there is no statute or regulation which “imposes such a requirement” that “objective” medical evidence is required to prove disability. As long as the treating doctor of the disability retirement applicant utilizes “established diagnostic criteria” and applies modalities of treatment which are “consistent with ‘generally accepted professional standards'”, then the application is eligible for consideration. Further, the Court went on to state that it is “legal error for either agency (OPM or the MSPB) to reject submitted medical evidence as entitled to no probative weight at all solely because it lacks so-called ‘objective’ measures such as laboratory tests.” Statues are passed for a reason: to be followed by agencies. Judges render decisions for a reason: for agencies to follow. Often, however, agencies lag behind statutes and judicial decisions. It is up the an applicant — and his or her attorney — to make sure that OPM follows the law.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: The Complexity of the Simple

Federal disability retirement law, the statutes and regulations which govern eligibility; the multiple case-law opinions from Administrative Judges and Federal Circuit Judges interpreting the governing statutes and regulations; the lawyers who argue different aspects and attempt to “fine-tune” existing law (including this lawyer) — the entirety results in “making complex” that which was essentially simple.

There is an old adage that the King who declared the first law of his Kingdom was really attempting to reduce the unemployment figures by creating the need for lawyers.  Indeed, “the law” is often made more complex by lawyers.  However, while the multiple issues governing Federal disability retirement law under FERS & CSRS may appear, at first glance, “simple”, it is such simplicity which engenders the complex, precisely because laws which reflect a simple conceptual paradigm require extensive interpretation in order to explain the simpleness of the simplicity.  That is why law itself is complex.  Don’t let the complex confluse you.

As you prepare a disability retirement application, recognize that it is a complex process; at the same time, make sure to explain your medical condition and how it impacts your ability to perform the essential elements of your Federal or Postal position in an easy-going, simple and straightforward manner. Don’t make it complex; keep it simple; but recognize the complexities.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS disability retirement: Don’t rely upon the waiver statute to be able to file

If an individual fails to file for Federal disability retirement within one (1) year of being separated from Federal Service, he/she loses the right to file forever, unless the individual is able to show mental incompetency – and that is indeed a very high standard to meet. The relevant statutory provision is found at 5 U.S.C. Section 8453; to wit:

A claim may be allowed under this subchapter only if application is filed with [OPM] before the employee or Member is separated from the service or within 1 year thereafter. This time limitation may be waived by [OPM] for an employee or Member who, at the time of separation from service or within 1 year thereafter, is mentally incompetent if the application is filed with [OPM] within 1 year from the date of restoration of the employee or Member to competency or the appointment of a fiduciary, whichever is earlier.

Note the heavy burden of relying upon this statute if you failed to file for disability retirement within the 1-year statutory timeframe: First, note the discretionary nature of the statute – that even if incompetency is found, the time limit “may be” waived – not a certainty, but discretionary (now, it is true that as the Board in Barton v. OPM, DC-844E-03-0366-I-1, 2004 decision, stated, the Board will review a decision by OPM “to see if OPM abused its discretion or if its decision was wholly unwarranted” – but again, no one should want to rely upon such a review to be able to file for disability retirement).

Second, you would need to have strong medical evidence that you were “mentally incompetent” within the 1-year timeframe after separation from Federal Service. Third, even if you were found to be mentally incompetent, the 1-year statutory timeframe to file begins to run either when a fiduciary is appointed, or when the person is found to be competent, whichever comes first.

Don’t rely upon the waiver provision. Once a FERS or CSRS member finds that he/she cannot perform one or more of the essential elements of the job, it is time to file.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire