OPM’S DISABILITY RETIREMENT DIVISION RARELY RESPECTS AN APPLICANTS LEGAL RIGHT TO BE REPRESENTED BY COUNSEL THEY REFUSE, EVEN THOUGH IT IS OPM’S POLICY TO RESPECT THE RIGHT TO COUNSEL.
Every client of mine signs a “Designation of Representative” form appointing me as his or her lawyer. I forward all completed applications to OPM with a detailed transmittal letter listing every document being provided. On every singe transmittal letter, I print something along these lines with a box around the words so that they can’t miss it:
PLEASE RESPECT MY CLIENT’S RIGHT TO BE REPRESENTED BY UNDERSIGNED COUNSE IN APPLYING FOR DISABILITY RETIREMENT. This is particularly important in this case, in that my client suffers from mental illness. My client has chosen to be represented by undersigned counsel, He has a constitutional right to make that choice and OPM must respect it. This means, that all communications of whatever sort, intended for my client, must be directed exclusively to undersigned counsel and not to my client. If there is a specific rule requiring such, you may provide copies of any communications to my client, but first and foremost, you must provide me with such communications.
In almost EVERY SINGLE CASE that I have EVER filed, and that amounts to hundreds of cases, OPM has failed to respect that demand.
19 years ago I complained about this to OPM’s Inspector General, providing him with examples from four then-active cases. Here is part of his reply letter to me dated May 17, 1993:
“According to DSED officials, OPM policy is to recognize a disability applicant’s designation of a legal representative, and provide the legal representative copies of correspondence and notices when they are sent. However, OPM reserves the right to contact applicants directly
Our review of the four cases indicated that OPM on several occasions failed to correspond with you or provide you copies of correspondence with the applicant, when it was clearly the intent of the applicant to have you as his or her representative.”
19 years later nothing has changed. The OPM Disability Retirement division continues to deny applicants the right to representation by counsel.
I could give you numerous reasons whey respecting the right to counsel is critical to applicants. But that is none of OPM’s business. If you request it, you should get it.
This has to change!