Court Steps in to Remedy ‘Profound Injustice’ by Office of Personnel Management Against a Blind VeteranView this article online at http://www.fedsmith.com/2015/09/20/court-steps-in-to-remedy-profound-injustice-by-office-of-personnel-management-against-a-blind-veteran/
When a federal judge’s decision starts out the way this one does (Minney v. Office of Personnel Management, D.D.C. Civil No. 1:15-cv-1092(RJL), 9/15/15), one knows the OPM is about to have a bad day in court: “This is a tragic case of a severely wounded and much decorated war veteran seeking reinstatement of disability benefits that the federal bureaucracy at the Office of Personnel Management extinguished on a technicality.” (Opinion p. 1)
As the court reports, Mr. Minney was a 20-year highly decorated veteran of the U.S. Navy who was severely wounded in Iraq. He lost his vision due to permanent damage to the optic nerve and destruction of brain tissue. When retired from active duty, Mr. Minney worked with the Patient Advocates Office for the VA. Eventually his disability made it impossible for him to perform his duties, so Minney opted to retire with FERS (Federal Employees Retirement Systems) disability benefits. (pp 1-2)
Minney eventually landed a job with the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) with a salary somewhat higher than his VA position from which he had retired. A year or so later OPM sent him a letter indicating that his FERS retirement benefits would terminate if his income exceeded 80% of the current rate of pay for the position he had retired from. OPM instructed Minney to report his current income, which he did. Upon finding Minney’s income exceeded the “80 percent limitation,” OPM told Minney his FERS benefits would be terminated. He could re-apply for retirement benefits in January 2016. However, the effect was to leave Minney not only without a retirement benefit, but also with no medical coverage for himself and his daughters. (pp. 3-5)
Mr. Minney took his case to court. He argued that neither OPM nor the VA had ever told him about this “80 percent limitation.” OPM argued it had done so, but apparently it was in a notice that the agency sent to the wrong address and in a format that this blind veteran could not read even if he had received it.
Long story short, Minney clearly convinced the court that he had been wronged by OPM. Finding that Minney was entitled to an injunction to prevent OPM from terminating his benefits, the court used strong words: “I find that injunctive relief is not only appropriate, it is necessary to remedy the profound injustice committed by the federal bureaucracy against a blind war veteran. Indeed it is difficult to imagine a situation more extraordinary—or an individual more deserving—of such relief!” (p. 7; emphasis in original)
The court denied OPM’s request to dismiss Minney’s complaint and instead granted his request for a preliminary injunction, ordering OPM to reinstate Minney’s disability benefits under FERS. Once OPM has reinstated those benefits, the agency is “ENJOINED from terminating those benefits until such time as OPM makes a finding as to plaintiff’s eligibility for reinstatement upon his reapplication in January 2016, or until otherwise directed by Order of this Court.” (p. 18)