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Filing For Disability Retirement Benefits Under FERS & CSRS

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Robert R. McGill

Hume's argument on causality is that there lacks a 'necessary connection' which results in absolute certainty between cause and effect. There is thus always the possibility, however minuscule, that no matter how many repetitions of an event are consistently observed, the very next event could result in an opposite or different effect. Such is the world we live in, where causality is no more viewed as a scientific certainty than the consistent application of a society's laws.
-- From Philosophical Observations


One always hopes, of course, that any application of the law reveals a pattern of consistency; for it is consistency in law which ultimately defines the "fairness" of a society's set of laws.

The statue of the Blind Lady Justice provides a foundational metaphor for the consistent application of the law, for it is consistency -- without regard to preferences, influences or political ties -- which provides for a sense of stability within a society. Otherwise, if consistency of application is thrown out the window, we would be left with legal decisions which are based upon the arbitrary whim of the Judge sitting on the bench, dependent upon his or her feelings on any given day.

Thus it is in federal disability retirement laws, which govern the submitted application for federal disability retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS. In law, there are statutes and codified federal regulations. Beyond these, however, there are judicial opinions called "case-laws" which further define, refine, and interpret the practical interpretation and application of the statutes and regulations. The consistency of judicial interpretations is protected by the various levels of courts within the judicial system.

Thus, in administrative law, specifically in filing an application for federal disability retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, there are essentially three (3) general stages: The Administrative Stage (where an application is submitted first to the Office of Personnel Management; if denied, there is the right to have the initial decision by OPM "Reconsidered"); then, there is a right to appeal a (twice) denied disability retirement application to the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (an administrative law forum where an administrative judge reviews the decision of the Office of Personnel Management); then, there is the optional ability to have a decision rendered by the administrative judge to be reviewed by a full board of the Merit Systems Protection Board, or it can be taken up to the next level within the federal judicial system -- to the

United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

The cases handed down by the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit are supposed to govern the decision-making process of the administrative judges of the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board. Similarly, the decisions of the U.S. Court of Appeals and the MSPB are supposed to govern the decision-making process of the Office of Personnel Management. This process of "governance" is called legal precedent and is based upon the principle of Stare decisis (originating from the Latin phrase, Stare decisis et non quieta movere, variously interpreted to mean, "Remain firm on that which has already been decided and disturb not that which has been established"). By following upon the precedents as established by the "higher authorities", the lower courts and administrative forums and agencies are provided with a framework of guidance, and from all of this, consistency is developed. From consistency emerges stability, resulting from a foreseeable and predictable reliance upon the fair and uniform application of the law.

Now, for those of you who think that this process is perfect, such a population of believers would also think that Hume's argument against causality is an airtight argument. It is far from being perfect. But what is the alternative? Think about it this way: How would you like the federal employees at the Office of Personnel Management to have no set of precedents to work from, no administrative law judges to have rendered any opinions upon which to be guided by, and no opinions handed down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to have a foundational and umbrella criteria to set parameters which define the outer extent of statutory interpretation? In other words, the alternative leaves us in a world where an application for federal disability retirement benefits is based not upon a (fairly) clearly-defined set of criteria, but upon how the personnel at the Office of Personnel Management feel on any given day.

An arbitrary decision-making process would prevail, based upon the caprice of the decision-maker. Incidentally, that is why, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reviews the decision of the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, they are bound by law to affirm the decision unless they find that the decision was "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law; (2) obtained without procedures required by law, rule, or regulation having been followed; or (3) unsupported by substantial evidence." 5 U.S.C. Section 7703(c) (1994). Again, consistency and uniformity result in the fair application of the law, and keeping out the arbitrary nature of any decision-making is what defines justice. Conversely, "justice" relies upon the integrity of the system as a whole.

"Integrity of law" is itself an important concept which all Federal and Postal employees must have -- a confidence in the "system", in order for the system itself to work. A benefit is not truly a benefit unless it is fairly and equitably accessible to all federal and postal employees. Federal disability retirement benefits are governed by a body of laws which can only be maintained if there is a belief in the integrity of the system. As an aside -- for those who are interested in investigating the importance of "integrity" in the "system of laws", read Ronald Dworkin's important work, "Law's Empire". His discussion about "checkerboard solutions" is both interesting and entertaining.

Ronald Dworkin's philosophical quest to set about constructing a foundational basis to justify the integrity of the legal system is worthy of review by all. Indeed, the various titles of Dworkin's works betray this constant and insatiable need to justify the "activity of law" itself -- from "Taking Rights Seriously" (was there ever a question?) to "Law's Empire" (a question of the grandiose reach of the law?), to his concern that the acceptance of the positivist doctrine of law would reduce the "activity of law" to mere recognition and application of rules: all reveal the underlying need for a teleological methodology for justification of the activity itself. This 'first principle approach', of attempting to identify those justifying "first principles" which provide the foundational underpinnings of a legal system, and therefore the integrity of the process, is important for all citizens to understand.

In the end, the federal or postal employee who files for federal disability retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS wants only to know that the process is "fair", that the legal system retains an inherent integrity which will review an application for disability retirement benefits in a fair and impartial manner. Why is it important for citizens, including federal and postal employees, to have some understanding of the philosophical basis of the "process of law"? Because only by understanding the principles which provide the foundation for the legal process, can one have a sense of whether the legal system upon which we rely will give us a "fair shake", or not. Thus, while those black-robed justices "on high" may make the final determination concerning "the law", it is the federal or postal employee who submits an application for disability retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS who test the integrity of the system on a daily basis.

About the Author

Robert R. McGill is an attorney who specializes in federal disability retirement, a practice area he dedicates 100% of his time helping Federal and Postal workers secure their disability retirement benefits under both FERS and CSRS. For more information about his legal services, publications and forum, please visit his CSRS and FERS Disability Retirement Website.

Posted with permission from: MyFederalRetirement.com



Filing For Disability Retirement Benefits Under FERS & CSRS: Maintaining The Integrity Of The Law
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