Federal & Postal Disability Retirement: An Aristotelian Approach

Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics has been the primary foundation for the Western paradigm of proper behavior in philosophy. Quite distinct from his obtuse Metaphysics, the ethical framework of Aristotle takes a pragmatic, almost Confucian approach to correct behavior — balancing context, temperament, timing and correct behavior in formulating a modulated encompassment of how one should act.

As with all things in life, there must be a “balance” — and a recognition that time and relative context of affairs must be taken into consideration before one should act. In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether one is under FERS or CSRS, one must similarly recognize that there is an insight into the balance of life before one can proceed with any action, whether it is an administrative action before the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, or before one’s own agency.

A Federal Disability Retirement application must be “proven”; as such, there is a distinction to be made between that which one “experiences”, and that which one can “prove”.

In such a context, sometimes a medical retirement packet may take some time in order to fully develop and evolve. Doctors may not be able to be approached immediately; instead, at the right time, and in the right manner, they may be willing to provide the necessary medical and professional support in order to make one’s Federal Disability Retirement case successful and productive.

The pragmatic approach which Aristotle used in his ethics is still relevant today: at the right time, in the proper context, and taking into consideration the temperament of others. In this way, success can be attained by possessing an insight and wisdom into the world of human affairs. This was the approach of Aristotle; and so it was with Confucius.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS Disability Retirement: Supervisors, Agencies and H.R. Personnel

I am sometimes pleasantly surprised at Supervisors — ones who actually recognize that an individual filing for FERS Disability Retirement does so out of necessity, and not out of any personal or professional spite against the Supervisor or the Agency, and that the proper response to convey is one of support, empathy, and cooperation, without needing to compromise the goal and mission of the Agency.  Further, I am taken aback by the unprofessional and utterly unhelpful attitude of many Human Resources personnel in the processing of a Federal Disability Retirement application.

Too often, the H.R. person finds it his or her mission in life to be an obstacle to the smooth processing of an OPM Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  Yet, the law is clear (though not to many of the H.R. Departments at various agencies):  it is the Office of Personnel Management which has the sole legal authority to make a positive or negative determination on a Federal Disability Retirement application; at the agency level, the role of the Human Resources person is to try and expedite and efficiently process the disability retirement application.  Hopefully, those who have the positional designation of “Human Resources” will come to realize what it all actually means:  he or she is supposed to be a “resource” (a positive one, for that matter) with a “human” emphasis.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Years Later, Still On the Rolls of the Agency

The Postal Service is especially guilty of this, but many other Federal (non-Postal) agencies are also “negligent” on the issue of keeping an injured worker on the rolls for years on end.  Often, such “non-existent” Federal and Postal workers receive OWCP payments, or simply go on with their lives while unofficially still a Federal or Postal employee.

Never having been separated from Federal or Postal service, such individuals are still eligible for filing FERS Medical Retirement benefits because the 1-year statute of limitations has not been violated.

So long as a Federal or Postal employee files for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under CSRS or FERS within one year of being separated from service, you have met the statute of limitations.  If you were never officially separated from service, then your 1-year deadline never began.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

OPM Disability Retirement: The Right Timing

Timing the preparation and submission, and ultimate separation/retirement from Federal Service in getting Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS is rarely a method of precision; it is closer to art than it is to science.  That is because there is the “human” element involved — of when does the medical condition reach its critical point where one cannot withstand the daily and chronic pain; is the doctor ready to support the Federal Disability Retirement application; is the Agency sympathetic or suspicious; can the reduced finances be worked out for a livable standard of living; will the future allow for all of the elements to coalesce?

There are many, many such human elements which must come into play.  All too often, however, the “right time” for contemplating filing for Federal or Postal Disability Retirement benefits is simply determined by external circumstances, such as reaching a critical point in one’s medical condition such that there is simply no other choice left, as opposed to being able to rationally and calmly make an affirmative decision for one’s future.  Whatever may be the particular and peculiar circumstances of a given Federal or Postal employee, the time to consider preparing a FERS Disability Retirement application must be a decision made by each individual, based upon that individual’s unique circumstances.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Applicant’s Statement & Essential Elements

When an applicant for FERS Disability Retirement benefits begins to craft his or her Applicant’s Statement of Disability, certain foundational questions must be considered before composing the historical, emotional, substantive and impact-descriptive narrative.  For instance, to the legal criteria, to be eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, one must show that one’s medical conditions prevent one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job — the initial and most foundational question obviously is:  What are the “essential elements” of one’s job?

Now, that may seem like a simple — even simplistic — question.  One needs only to look at the official position description and pick out the major factors of the position.

If only it were that easy.  For, there are many “implicit” essential elements which are not explicitly stated, and it is often those unspoken, “un – described” elements, which are directly impacted by one’s medical conditions and disabilities, which must be creatively woven into the narrative of one’s written statement.  Always remember to take care of the “foundational” issues first; thereafter, the narrative can extrapolate from the major factors of the position description.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OWCP Claims v. OPM Disability Retirement

I still get periodic telephone calls with much misinformation, mixing terms applied to FERS Disability Retirement with “Department of Labor Retirement” or Worker’s Comp retirement.  While there are indeed people who remain on OWCP temporary total disability for years and years, OWCP/DOL is ultimately NOT a retirement system.  It is a system meant to pay for injured Federal and Postal workers while he or she is recuperating from an on-the-job injury.

The Department of Labor thus does everything in its power to get the injured worker back to work, by various means:  assigning a nurse to “oversee” the treatment and “progress” of the worker; by sending the injured worker to second opinion doctors to see if there is a medical opinion different from one’s treating doctor; and other means which have nothing to do with the patient’s best medical interests.

I don’t handle OWCP claims; however, because many individuals who file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS have intersecting OWCP issues, also, I have some “on the job” knowledge of such issues.  Ultimately, a worker must decide between the two systems, although one can file for both benefits concurrently, one can only receive from one or the other — not both at the same time.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Reconsiderations

The Office of Personnel Management does not give a decision over the telephone.  At least, that is their stated policy.  They ask that you instead wait for their written decision, which will be “sent in the mail shortly”.  Sometimes, of course, either by the tone of the conversation or by some slip of the tongue, one can discern whether or not a Federal Disability Retirement application has been approved or denied.  But such “guessing” can be a dangerous endeavor to engage in, and as such, I follow the very policy of OPM and will not convey to my client any “internal thoughts” following upon any discussions with an OPM representative. 

First of all, I find that calling an OPM representative too often is counter-productive; they are overworked as it is, and repeatedly inquiring about the “status” of one of my cases only irritates them further, and there is always the danger of having it denied simply to get rid of it (aghast — can this possible ever happen?)  Second, I made the mistake many, many years ago of once telling my client that his/her case had been approved, when in fact it had been denied.  I learn from my mistakes.  Hopefully, my experiences gained from such mistakes have made me wiser today.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Time

Time is of the essence in almost everything we do.  There are timed deadlines for filing a Federal Disability Retirement application; a great amount of time is taken in the bureaucratic processing of the application; greater time is taken by the Office of Personnel Management in reviewing, analyzing and deciding upon a Federal Disability Retirement application; appeals to the Merit Systems Protection Board require time within which one must prepare a viable case before an administrative judge, etc.

Time is a presence in every aspect of our lives.  But within that framework, a comparative analysis of time should always be taken into consideration.  To “rush” the preparation of a disability retirement packet is often penny wise but pound foolish; care and patience should always be taken, both in the writing, preparation and filing of anything to be submitted to a Federal bureaucracy; the Office of Personnel Management is no different.  Rushing something in order to “save time” is often counterproductive.  To take the time to prepare an excellent disability retirement packet will actually save time in the long run.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Doctor

The lack of cooperation from a treating doctor, who is asked to provide a medical narrative report for a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, may be based upon one of several factors.

It may be that the doctor merely refuses to engage in any type of administrative support for his patients; it may be that the doctor has private suspicions that, to openly admit that his/her patient must file for Federal Disability Retirement means that his/her treatments have failed, and thus, the patient/disability retirement applicant is considering filing a malpractice action, and asking him/her to write a supportive medical narrative is merely a ploy to set the groundwork for a later malpractice action; it may just be bad bedside manners; or it may be that the doctor does not understand the Federal Disability Retirement process, and how it differs for Social Security Disability, or Worker’s Comp.

If it is the latter reason, then it is the job of the attorney to make sure and explain, delineate, and inform the doctor of the nature, extent, and context of Federal Disability Retirement — and to show how an approval for disability retirement benefits will be the best thing for his/her patient.  This is where an attorney representing an applicant for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS becomes a crucial component in the preparation of such an application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire