OPM Disability Retirement: Pre-Conditional Preparatory Steps

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether a Federal or Postal employee is under FERS or CSRS, there are steps to be taken — not only at each “stage” of the administrative process, but moreover, in the weeks and months prior to the actual formulation, compilation and submission of the Standard Forms, documentary support, writing of the Applicant’s Statement, etc.

As a “process”, one may bifurcate the necessary steps into the following:  the pre-conditional stage; the preparatory stage; the time of formulation & actualization; finally, the submission of the disability retirement packet.

In the “pre-conditional” time period, one should focus upon the single most important aspect of a Federal Disability Retirement case — that of garnering, concretizing and establishing the necessary physician-patient relationship, such that there is a clear understanding of what is required of the physician; what the physician expects of the patient; and, wherever and whenever possible, a continuing mutual respect and understanding between the doctor and the patient-applicant.

This is why the Merit Systems Protection Board has explicitly, through case after case, opined upon the preference for “treating” doctors of longstanding tenure.  For, in such a relationship of long-term doctor-patient relationships, a greater ability to assess and evaluate the capabilities and limitations of the patient’s physical, emotional and psychological capacities can best be achieved.

In every “rule”, of course, there are exceptions, and sometimes more “distant” methods of evaluations can be obtained — through OWCP doctors, referee opinions, independent examinations (indeed, one can make the argument that because it is “independent”, therefore it carries greater weight), functional capacity evaluations, etc.

For the most part, however, the cultivation of an excellent physician-patient relationship will be the key to a successful Federal Disability Retirement claim, and as such, the pre-conditional stage to the entire process should be focused upon establishing that solid foundation.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Speaking with the Doctor

Communication is the key to a successful outcome:  such a trite truism is certainly applicable in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS & CSRS.  The primary focus when a Federal or Postal employee has a medical condition which is impacting his or her ability to perform all of the essential elements of his or her job, is to take care of the medical condition — i.e., to have the necessary treatments, to undergo the proper prescriptive treatment modalities, including surgery, medication regimens, pain management treatments, psychotherapeutic intervention, etc.

Beyond such treatment modalities, however, there may come a point in the life of a Federal or Postal employee when it is becoming apparent that the medical condition is simply “incompatible” with the useful and efficient retention in the Federal or Postal Service.  Such a determination is best made by the Federal or Postal employee, if possible, as opposed to having the Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service suddenly and unceremoniously make such a determination — in the form of a proposed removal based upon one’s failure to maintain a regular work schedule; or because of taking “excessive leave“; or putting a Federal or Postal employee upon a Performance Improvement Plan.  Such a determination may best be made by the Federal or Postal employee by communicating one’s concerns to the treating doctor, and asking some incisive questions.  Another trite truism:  The only stupid question is the one not asked.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The “Cover” of an FCE

Most doctors are unfamiliar with the process of obtaining Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS, but are more often than not familiar with the process, procedures, and correlative headaches associated with Worker’s Comp benefits.  Because of this greater familiarity, there is often an underlying suspicion that comes along with it — that rendering any medical opinion must be accompanied by some underlying justification and “objective” methodology of supporting the medical opinion.  And this is understandable. 

In this day and age of malpractice lawsuits, of questioning every test, procedure and opinion, it is rare that a medical doctor is comfortable and secure in rendering a medical opinion about one’s ability or inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, based solely or primarily upon clinical examinations and reviewing of diagnostic results.  Enter the FCE — the “Functional Capacity Evaluation”.  The FCE provides “cover” for a doctor’s medical opinion, because the doctor can point to an apparently “objective” evaluation — a third party rendering a number of physical tests, exertional exercises, physical capacity movements, etc., which serve to provide a framework from which a doctor can render an “objective ” opinion.  Why it is accepted that pointing to someone else’s evaluation — as opposed to relying upon one’s own clinical examinations, reviewing one’s history, reviewing diagnostic test results, etc. — is any more valid, is a great mystery.  But if it makes the doctor feel more comfortable, then a person considering filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS should go ahead and agree to submit to an FCE, if that is what it takes to get the doctor on board.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

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