CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: OPM May Say So, But… (Part 2)

Then, of course, there are the multiple “other” issues which the Office of Personnel Management “says so”, such as failure to pay the full amount of back-pay due; failure to compute the average of the highest-3 consecutive years correctly; reinstating the full amount of FERS once a person becomes no longer eligible for Social Security Disability benefits; arbitrarily and capriciously deciding that the medical report is not “good enough” in answering a post-disability approved, Medical Questionnaire; failing to compute the earned income in any given year properly, and thereby informing the disability retirement annuitant that he or she earned over the 80% limit of what the former federal employee’s former job currently pays; and a host of other issues.  My specialty is in obtaining disability retirement benefits for my clients; I only selectively get involved in post-disability annuity issues, but the point here is that the Office of Personnel Management has a track-record of being in error, in multiple ways, on multiple issues, in volumes of cases.

It is thus important to recognize that the Office of Personnel Management is not an infallible agency.  Far, far from it, they are merely made up of people who are subject to error, but often stubbornly so — unless you counter their denial in an aggressive, but calm and rational manner.  If a denial comes your way, do not get distressed; prepare your case well, and lay out the groundwork necessary to win.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

See also: OPM May Say So, But… (Part 1)

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: OPM May Say So, But… (Part 1)

I often wonder how many unrepresented disability retirement applicants there are who, having received a denial letter at the First Stage of the process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS, never file a Request for Reconsideration because they believe what the Office of Personnel Management stated in the Denial Letter.  Sometimes, I will get telephone calls from people who want to file, and during the course of the conversation, it will come out that they had filed a few years previously, and had been denied.  “Did you file a Request for Reconsideration, at the time?” I ask.  “No,” is the answer.  “Why not?” I ask.  The typical answer?  “Because I just thought there was no way to fight them on it.”

I used to be amazed at such answers, but after some thought, it makes sense.  As an attorney, my first instinct (both trained and natural) is to always take something to the next level, with the firm belief that I will prevail just by pure persistence, and by using the law as “a sword” in the process of fighting for my clients.  But most people are not lawyers (some would say, thank goodness for that, we have enough lawyers in the world), and when the Office of Personnel Management writes up a denial letter, then allegedly cites “the law”, and makes bold conclusions such as, “You do not meet the eligibility criteria under the laws governing disability retirement…”  It all sounds convincing.  It all sounds like any further action will be an act of futility.  But just because OPM “says so” doesn’t make it true, doesn’t make it right, and certainly doesn’t make it unwinnable.  They may say you don’t meet the eligbility criteria; I would argue otherwise.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

See also: OPM May Say So, But… (Part 2)

Federal & Postal Service Disability Retirement: The Level of Objectivity

I was trained in Philosophy, first; obtained my undergraduate degree in Philosophy; then went on to graduate school to study Philosophy.  Somewhere along the line, I decided to switch lanes and go to law school.  However, the training I received in philosophy — of symbolic logic; of the analytical discipline of evaluating the logical consistency, force, soundness and validity of argumentation and methodology of argumentation, has remained with me throughout my legal career.

In recent years, I have found that logic, validity, soundness of arguments, and consistency of argumentation, has become a rare breed.  Whether this has more to do with a greater lack of rigorous education, or the belief that there is little to distinguish between “objectivity” and “subjectivity”, I do not know.  I do know, however, that there remains, even today, a sense of the “integrity” of an argument.  An argument’s integrity is found in an objective, dispassionate description of a case.

That is the role of an attorney — to give the narrative of the Federal Disability Retirement applicant under FERS & CSRS a sense of proper context, a picture of objective validity, and a substantive presentation of the issues which are relevant:  medical, life, impact, occupation, and the intertwining of each issue with the others, without undue and over-reaching emotionalism which can often undermine the very integrity of the narrative presentation.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: How Many Should Be Listed?

I am often asked the question:  How many medical conditions or disabilities should I list in my Applicant’s Statement of Disability (SF 3112A)?  This question is often preceded by another question and answer:  What are your medical disabilities (me to the caller)?  Answer:  I have about ten of them (caller to me).  Let me start out by giving some free advice:  Don’t list ten medical conditions.  Don’t list nine.  Don’t list eight.

When the Office of Personnel Management reviews a Federal Disability Retirement submission under FERS or CSRS, the OPM Representative will review your disability retirement packet until it is approved — and no further.  Approval comes about upon a finding that one of your listed medical conditions disables you from performing one or more of the essential elements of your job.  Now, sometimes OPM will find that a combination of 2 or 3 medical conditions disables you together:  meaning that OPM perhaps found that while a single one did not disable you under their criteria, a combination of two or three did.

Furthermore, it is important to understand that, because the medical conditions and disabilities upon which OPM makes their decision on will be the basis for future continuation of your disability retirement annuity (in the event that you receive a Medical Questionnaire in the future), it is important to limit the listing of one’s medical disabilities on the SF 3112A to those conditions which will likely last for more than 12 months.

Conclusion:  It is important to sequentially prioritize the medical disabilities, in the order of severity, chronicity and duration.  Further, it is important to NOT list the minor medical conditions which, while they may be aggravating, and have impacting symptoms, may not necessarily prevent one from performing the essential elements of your job.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Last Minute Filing

Too often, I receive calls from Federal and Postal employees (or rather, formerly thereof) who have waited until the very last conceivable moment to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS.  Yes, I realize that time erodes away slowly, almost imperceptibly, and all of a sudden it is an emergency.

Can a case be put together within a couple of weeks?  Yes.  Is it best to wait until the very last minute?  No.  Remember that all Federal and Postal employees only have up until one (1) year from being separated from Federal Service, to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  But life happens; time slips away; what was once 6 months is now only 30 days, or perhaps 2 weeks.

I may have told this story before, but here goes:  On the desk of a civil clerk in a local County Courthouse, is a sign which reads:  “The fact that you procrastinated does not make your filing my emergency”.  That is essentially true; however, whenever I get calls by panicked individuals who have failed to use the 1-year Statute of Limitations wisely, in most cases, I have been able to properly put the case together, and file it on an emergency basis.

In such circumstances, adaptation is the key:  some things need to be filed later, but the essential forms to meet the deadline must be immediately filed.  There are very few true emergencies in life, and most cases can meet the deadline — no matter how much the Federal or Postal Employee has procrastinated.  However, it is better not to wait until tomorrow, that which can be done today.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The Decision

I have often spoken about the “process” of filing, but that mostly concerns the administrative ordeal of filing:  of preparing, of gathering the medical documentation, of writing up the proper applicant’s statement, of putting together the legal arguments in support thereof, etc.  Then, of course, I have spoken about the “human” side of things — of the difficult human ordeal of going through the process.  There is the initial psychological barrier — of starting the administrative process, which is somewhat of an implicit acknowledgment that a person is indeed “disabled”, as if that concept or label has some sort of a “stigma” attached thereto.

One would think that in the 21st Century, all such stigmas would have been extinguished and extinct; and, indeed, most such stigmas are merely self-imposed.  Often, we are our own worst enemy; there is the barrier of ourselves in the process, of actually starting the process.  This is often why an attorney is the best person to handle a Federal Disability Retirement application — because it allows for the process to begin, without it being so intimately and personal a matter to the applicant.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal & Postal Disability Retirement: The Agency & the Individual

The National Reassessment Program (NRP) now implemented in full force, along with the Voluntary Early Retirement, the cash incentives (many have called to ask whether or not, if one is not eligible or offered the early retirement, but the cash incentive with a resignation is still being offered, should you take it?), and the Postal Service’s ultimate goal of shedding its payroll of anyone and everyone who is not “fully productive” by doing away with all “light duty” or “modified duty” slots (there actually is no “slot”, but rather merely an ad hoc set of duties “made up” on a piece of paper, which is what I have been arguing for years and years, and as the Bracey Decision by the Federal Circuit Court addressed) — all of these developments are merely a large-scale, macrocosmic level of what happens every day on an individual, singular basis. 

This is merely a reflection of an Agency, and how it acts, reacts and responds to injured workers, workers who have medical conditions which impact one’s ability to perform one’s job, and worker’s who are not “fully productive”.  It is merely that which happens every day to individual workers, but on a larger scale.  Think about it:  A Federal or Postal employee who develops a medical condition, and cannot perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job; job performance soon begins to suffer, although perhaps imperceptibly at first; and the question becomes:  How will the agency, via its representative, the “Supervisor”, treat such an employee?  Sadly, more often than not, in a rough-shod, unsympathetic, and often cruel manner.  The Postal Service is simply doing it on a larger scale; but be fully aware, that every day, a Federal or Postal employee who is suffering from a medical condition, encounters such behavior and treatment — only, on a microcosmic, individual scale.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Thank the Medical Professionals

If not for the doctors, disability retirement would obviously not be a possibility.  Of course, one may make the self-evident statement that being supportive of a Federal Disability Retirement application is simply part of a doctor’s job; and, to some extent, that would be true.  Doctors should indeed be willing to write up supportive medical narrative reports for their patients.

Nevertheless, it is because of the doctor, the effort expended, the willingness to testify at a Merit Systems Protection Board Hearing, that the Office of Personnel Management even listens, or reverses a prior denial, and grants a disability retirement application.  Especially when a case gets denied twice by the Office of Personnel Management, it becomes crucial to have the cooperation of the treating doctor to testify in an MSPB Hearing.

This is normally done by telephone, thereby making it a minimal imposition upon the doctor’s time.  Indeed, I often only take a total of 30 minutes of the doctor’s time, including preparation and actual testimony, for an MSPB Hearing.  But the very fact that the doctor is willing to testify — to speak to the Administrative Judge directly to give his or her medical opinion — is often enough to convince OPM to change course, and grant the disability retirement benefits.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill