‘Legal Sufficiency’ in a FERS Disability Retirement Application

When it comes to legal sufficiency within the application for FERS Disability Retirement, this is something that confuses many. Although it’s extremely important, it’s something that doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

Let’s say a postal worker struggles with a medical condition and can no longer perform one of the essential tasks of their role. In this situation, they might be able to note their condition, attach their medical records, and receive approval. However, there has been a growing frustration for many as the US Office of Personnel Management pays more attention to these applications.

What Does ‘Sufficiency’ Mean?
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If you get removed from your role due to your ability to perform key tasks, this suggests the medical condition is preventing you from working effectively, and the agency agrees. This is known as the ‘Bruner Presumption’ and suggests that the burden of proof falls to the OPM to find a reason why the individual isn’t entitled to disability retirement benefits.

When filing, this ‘prima facie’ evidence is a powerful tool…but is it ‘sufficient’ under law? Even with the US Department of Veterans Affairs, is an individual eligible for Disability Retirement after somebody has been rated as 90% disabled with an ‘unemployability’ tag? Surely if the Department of Veterans Affairs has suggested somebody is ‘unemployable’ there’s no other answer but to grant Disability Retirement? You can’t have one without the other, right?

While this argument seems to follow all lines of reason, it isn’t determinative – and this is important. Likewise, a similar argument can be found for those who are approved for Social Security Disability before applying for FERS Disability Retirement. For Social Security Disability, one must show ‘total disability.’ For FERS Disability Retirement, the only proof required is that the individual can no longer perform at least one of the essential elements of their job (or can only perform it to a ‘lower standard’). Therefore, proving ‘total disability’ should be more than enough?

Again, it seems to follow logic, and the OPM certainly needs to consider the awarding of Social Security disability benefits following the case of Trevan vs. OPM. Yet, the important word in that previous sentence is ‘consider.’ Sure, the OPM needs to consider the Bruner Presumption and Social Security disability qualification, but this doesn’t mean they need to automatically accept all applications with this evidence.

Qualitative Application vs. Quantitative Inclusion

When it comes to determining ‘necessary and sufficient,’ this is the challenging concept. With medical evidence, we have something that’s ‘necessary’ but at what point does it also become ‘sufficient’? This is the big question, and it’s an argument of exactly how much evidence is enough to meet the qualifying criteria and succeed in a legal filing.

If you’re applying for FERS Disability Retirement benefits, your first inclination is probably to compile 12 years’ worth of medication documentation in the hope that this ‘quantitative’ evidence would convince the OPM. Sadly, this can be a trap because, despite the many pieces of paper suggesting a medical condition, you still continued to work for this same 12-year period.

Determining Legal Sufficiency

Ultimately, the problem that has caused many individuals headaches is the element of subjectivity that seems to be present with these applications. With this in mind, we highly recommend contacting an experienced attorney who will know what should and shouldn’t be filed and to put you in the right position for acceptance. Rather than including evidence you think is important, you can switch the attention to what the OPM will find important.

To get past the heavy gatekeeping of the OPM, submitting one wrong file could be the difference between success and failure. Don’t get us wrong, the Bruner Presumption and other arguments we’ve presented will certainly help your case, but they should never be relied upon to pass the sufficiency test.

FERS Disability Application