OPM Disability Retirement: Agency Actions, Part I

Can adverse agency actions to terminate a Federal employee impact a potential FERS 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 Federal Disability Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Proper Response to the Agency

It is often difficult to inform an Agency of one’s decision to file for disability retirement. On the one hand, it is often a place where a Federal Employee has spent many years working for; with multiple years of interaction, both good and bad, it is a place which has grown to play a prominent role in the employee’s daily life, with necessary interpersonal infusions of personalities, playing such an influence as important as one’s personal family life — and, because a person may spend 8 – 10 hours a day, week after week, month after month, like life in a family, it has come to embrace a place of primary importance in one’s life.

As such, to inform such a place of one’s decision to file for disability retirement is, in effect, to inform them of one’s separation from that primary location of importance.  Such separation can be as psychologically devastating as a “divorce” which, in many respects, it is similar to.  That is often why the role of an attorney can be important.  An attorney can be a “middle-man”, an arbiter to soften the strain of such a separation from a federal employee from his or her “family”.

Remember, this is an administrative process; it need not be an adversarial process.  An attorney experienced in disability retirement law should know the process, and act to soften the separation which has been long in coming, and work to garner a sense of “teamwork” between Agency and employee, to attain as amicable a separation as possible.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill,Esquire

FERS & CSRS disability retirement: The Proper Paradigm

Whether we like to admit it or not, we all operate, in all segments of our lives, from a certain “paradigm” (reference Thomas Kuhn, Structures of Scientific Revolutions) or “world-view”. When it comes to Federal Disability Retirements, the majority of Federal and Postal workers who comes to me have a pre-formed, generally negative attitude about the chances of getting it. This is because they have heard too many horror stories; or they have had horrendous experiences with OWCP filings, or EEOC complaints, or other experiences which they then relate to how the disability retirement process must be.

Yet, all Federal and Postal employees must understand that the process of Federal Disability Retirement has many, many inherent advantages which make it different from other processes. For instance, the Merit System Protection Board has often observed, with respect to disability retirement, that it is distinguishable from other processes, because it is not — strictly speaking — an adversarial process between an agency and an employee; rather, the MSPB sees it simply as a single issue — that of an employee’s entitlement to disability retirement.

Further, the role of the Office of Personnel Management, while seemingly one of making things overly difficult for the individual, in reality has a very difficult time in ultimately justifying a denial. Why? Because they do not have a right to have a doctor of their own to examine the applicant/patient (note the difference with OWCP, where you can be sent to second, third, and sometimes fourth medical opinions by doctors chosen by DOL and paid by DOL). Thus, it is almost as if OPM must disprove a case filed by an applicant. Finally, it is difficult to attack a treating doctor of an applicant, unless there is something seriously wrong with the credentials or competence of the treating doctor. All in all, disability retirement for Federal and Postal Workers is a fair process — one which is a valuable benefit for the Federal and Postal Employee.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: The Role of the Attorney

Obviously, as with all areas of law, the primary role of an attorney in representing a Federal disability retirement applicant (aside from the obvious role of obtaining the disability retirement annuity), is to render useful and effective advice in the representation of the Applicant’s submission before the Office of Personnel Management.

Often, however, in the process of performing such a role, engagement with the Federal or Postal employee’s Agency and supervisor is inevitable and necessary. The timing of such an engagement is crucial. Attorneys need to be careful that his or her representation is not only rendering good advice; further, it needs to be effective.

As hard as it is for an attorney to admit, sometimes it is better for a Federal Disability attorney to take a “back-seat” role, and quietly advise the client but allow the client to deal with the Agency. Indeed, an Agency will often begin to act irrationally, unnecessarily confrontationally, and further, complicate matters by involving their Agency counsel in the matter. In such a simple matter as informing the Agency that the employee is in the process of preparing a disability retirement application — sometimes it is better for the employee to bring it up with his or her supervisor, without the direct involvement of the attorney, especially if the Federal employee has a good working relationship with the Supervisor. Part of the job of the Attorney is to render good advice — and that sometimes means, taking a back seat.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire