I worked in the field of OPM Disability Retirement Law for 35 years of the more than 50 years I've been a lawyer. I was a pioneer in the field and won the enormous bulk of my cases on either initial application, reconsideration, or appeal. I successfully handled hundreds of federal employment cases such as accommodation, removal, etc.
Nowadays, I spend my time working on this blog, providing advice to disabled federal employees, and writing my memoir.
If you want to hear about how I learned what Disability Retirement is from my first Disability Retirement client, listen below:
1965-JD University of Miami School of Law
1972-JSD Candidate, Columbia University School of Law
District of Columbia Bar
Attorney, Civil Rights Division, US Office of Economic Opportunity
Attorney, Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
Attorney, National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders
Attorney, National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence
Special Counsel, US Senate, Committee on the District of Columbia
Attorney, US Department of Justice
Director, American Bar Association, Special Committee on Crime Prevention and Control
Director, Courts Task Force, National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards
Assistant Professor of Law, (Detroit & Baltimore)
Private Law Practice
1978 to Present, Washington, DC
Private Practice Before Disability Retirement
Before working on Disability Retirement, I had a long career in civil rights, security clearances, and other areas. Below are podcasts, stories, and a video about some of those chapters of my life:
I was side-stepping the KKK working as a Federalized civil rights worker In 1966. The civil rights movement in the south was boiling over. Fire hoses, vicious dogs, and barred entry to almost everything if you were black...
In 1966, it was not considered unreasonable or unusual for a white sheriff in a rural county in Mississippi, to detest the Federal government, let alone some white liberal lawyer working for the Federal government...
Running from the KKK: A story about encounter with the KKK at a church in Mississippi. Listen below.
Moscow Party is a podcast about one of the many security clearance cases Harvey handled. It features KGB Agents, monopoly, lesbian affairs, and much much more! An exciting story completely unrelated to disability retirement, but we hope you enjoy nonetheless. Listen below.
CBS AIDS in the Military Video
Before turning to Disability Retirement Law, Harvey was an attorney for members of the US Military, including some who were diagnosed with AIDS and then faced a legal battle with the US Government. In 1982, Dan Rather's CBS Nightly News reported on a number of cases Harvey won for service members with AIDS.
Harvey briefly discusses the issue at the end of the clip.
Jeremy is the webmaster. He runs the blog, keeps track of who is contacting us, and helps Harvey write his memoir. If you are interested in his work, check out his website at www.jmneff.com.
And here is a little interview that I, Harvey, did with Jeremy back in his school days when he first came to work for me.
We have a real problem with Physician’s Statements from doctors who are too busy to spend time writing them and unwilling to go out on a limb to say it like it really is. So you have to work around this.
When it comes to doctors, you have to…
Following up on my earlier post about getting fired for misconduct:
If you are fired for misconduct, that does not mean your agency can wash its hands of you and not cooperate with your claim for Disability Retirement. Your agency is still required…
What are the specific questions that OPM will ask me?
ANSWER: OPM requires that you fill out an "Applicant's Statement." A cursory review of the questions asked demonstrates OPM's interest in deficiencies in performance, attendance, and conduct. To the extent possible, your responses should be directed to those issues. The following is a composite of the four most critical questions asked of both FERS and CSRS employees:
Describe how you are deficient in your job in respect to performance, attendance, or conduct.
Describe your medical condition(s) (i.e., disease or injury) and how it interferes with performance of your duties, attendance, or conduct.
Describe any other restrictions on your activities imposed by your medical condition(s) (i.e., disease or injury) which you believe should be considered in determining your ability to perform your job in your agency and in other positions in your agency for which you may otherwise be qualified.
What efforts have been made by your agency to change your work area or your job to make it possible for you to perform useful and efficient service in your position or another position?
The Applicant's Statement is the only government form that provides you with an opportunity to express the severity of your disabling symptoms. As you can see from the few questions on the form, it fails to elicit the information that OPM really needs in order to assess your case. In my practice, I have developed a far more detailed questionnaire that allows my clients to provide OPM with the information that it really needs to make a decision. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that they will read it. But there is no guarantee that they will read their own form either.
Remember that your responses on the Applicant's Statement may be useful not only to OPM, but also to your physician who will draft the Physician's Statement (Form SF 3112). Your doctor may have heard your complaints over and over again, but nothing is more effective than having them detailed in writing while your doctor is drafting the Physician's Statement.
Here's an example of the importance of detailing your symptoms to both OPM and your physician. Tests may demonstrate that you have a medical condition known to cause fatigue. However, the fact that you suffer from this particular medical condition means nothing to OPM, and may not in itself remind your doctor of your particular disabling symptoms. Through your answers to these questions, you can make the point that in your particular case, your medical condition causes fatigue, and that your fatigue is so bad that it precludes you from getting anything accomplished at work, because (you might explain further) after being at the office for two hours you can no longer stay awake, and when you are awake, you can't remember from one moment to the next what you just read on the computer screen. This tells everyone much more than just stating that you suffer from fatigue.
If I withdraw all of the money from my retirement fund after separation from government service, am I still eligible for disability retirement?
ANSWER: Probably, but the answer is not clear-cut. Depending on the circumstances, withdrawal of your retirement fund does not necessarily extinguish your right to disability retirement. However, since the law is somewhat unclear, you certainly should not withdraw your retirement fund at separation if you think there is any chance that you may seek disability retirement within the next year.
How do I prove that I am disabled?
ANSWER: You don't have to prove it, in the sense of being required to produce objective medical evidence. In certain clear-cut cases (i.e. that of the typist whose hand was cut off), it is easy to prove disability. But such cases are the exceptions. More frequently, disabling symptoms are impossible to prove, and, contrary to popular belief, the law does not require you to do the impossible. Subjective but very disabling symptoms (such as fatigue, chronic pain, phobias, depression, and allergies) are usually impossible to prove, because no objective medical evidence is usually available. Yet they are among the most common disabilities for which government employees seek and obtain a monthly disability annuity. Employees with subjective symptoms, regardless of their medical condition, face the greatest difficulties before OPM.
Sometimes, even when you can provide objective medical evidence to support your claim, OPM may not be interested in looking at it. In one case, I sent a client's x-rays to OPM to demonstrate that he had a slipped disc. OPM refused to accept them, saying that it had no place to store x-rays. You would think that if only to prevent potential fraud, OPM would have demanded such information, not blindly turned it away.
Will the amount I collect be related to the degree of my disability?
ANSWER: No. The amount you collect has nothing whatsoever to do with the degree to which you are disabled; nor does it have anything to do with how or where you were disabled; nor does it have anything to do with the cost or duration of the treatment you might require.
I have represented Federal government employees and Postal workers seeking OPM Disability Retirement for a long time. I also represent them in agency leave problems such as AWOL, FMLA, LWOP, etc. Leave problems often come along with being sick and disabled. I have stuck to this area of the law for more than 30 years of the 50 years I have been a lawyer.