Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Suburban Sketches

Within the past 2 weeks:  a rabbit’s nest is discovered in the back yard; then, in the early morning dawn of the next morning, that same discovery is met with a predator whose presence is feared only in the limited universe of suburbia — the neighborhood cat.  Laying with a sense of indifference and aplomb, the cat is quickly shooed away, hoping against any glimmer of hope. Sure enough, the heads of the two young bunnies had been eaten.

And the second wildlife sketch (well, not quite, inasmuch as a backyard in suburbia hardly constitutes the wilds of woodland forests):  attending to some chores, a baby squirrel walks without thought or suspicion right up to this human; a moment later, the mother prances frantically, and in the quiet language known only to animals, directs the young prey back to the safety of trees and branches.

Humans are merely a species within the greater genus of animals, and yet we tend to forget that.  It is, of course, at our own peril that we forget the obvious.

For Federal and Postal Workers who encounter and engage the carnivorous power of an agency, the bureaucracy of destruction can quickly stamp out the youthful naiveté which the Federal or Postal Worker may exhibit.  Perhaps it is like the bunnies:  As long as one stays in the metaphorical nest of one’s own making, safety will be assured.  Or, like the baby squirrel:  Be open, and no harm will result.

Whatever the consequences of youthful exuberance, the difference is at least this:  For human, most mistakes based upon a reliance of trust do not end in terminal consequences; whereas, in the wild, a singular mistake can result in death.  Trust in one’s fellow man is a reflection of two sides of a single coin:  the one side, revealing moral character; on the other, naiveté.

When a medical condition impacts the Federal or Postal employee, and consideration is given as to filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether the Federal or Postal employee is under FERS or CSRS, the query is often made as to how much trust should be granted or information should be revealed, and at what stage of the process, to the carnivorous animal known as “the agency”.

One should be able to glean the opinion of the undersigned as to the answer to that question, by the very nature of these sketches.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Chronic Medical Conditions and the Dissonance of Society

Society proceeds with a dissonance of perspectives and beliefs; and the macro-approach of such societal values and norms is reflective of the individual microcosm of such self-conflicting belief systems.

On the one hand, we are taught that the physical universe is what constitutes the entirety of our existence; that consciousness, metaphysics and transcendent spectrums of existence are mere vestiges of our ancient, unsophisticated past.  On the other hand, society attempts to maintain a position that encompasses compassion, values of empathy and caring for those less fortunate.  But if a Darwinian approach of pure materialism is embraced, where survival of the fittest ensures the propagation of the hardiest of species, while at the same time negating the possibility of the existence of a metaphysical foundation for our existence, how can the truncated belief-system work in practical terms?

Witness the workplace:  an explosion of laws are enacted to allegedly protect those who suffer from medical conditions; yet, concurrently, one sees the exponential occurrence of workplace harassment and abuse.  Cognitive dissonance?  The runt of the litter is always shunned by the rest, if only because the “rest” — despite being siblings — have an innate sense that there is something “wrong” with the runt.

In the Federal Work Sector, Federal and Postal employees have legal rights intended to protect Federal and Postal Workers from workplace harassment, hostile work environments, etc.  Further, Federal and Postal Workers have the option and alternative to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which allows for an escape from such a non-supportive environment, in order to enter into a rehabilitative period secured by a monthly annuity, and perhaps to engage a second, more conducive vocation consistent with one’s medical conditions.

Such a paradigm of offering Federal Disability Retirement benefits reveals a side of human nature which is indeed compassionate and intelligent.  But it in no way undercuts the ugly side of human nature — of the workplace harassment which such Federal and Postal employees must often endure for their chronic medical conditions.  The cognitive dissonance of the human species is indeed confounding; but perhaps it is precisely the complexity of our nature which reveals the mystery of the unexplainable, and while Darwin may have a point, such a purely materialistic approach can never fully explain the proverbial ghost in the machine.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Burning Bridges and Walking Away

When a Federal or Postal worker suffers from a medical condition — often, silently, and without complaint — and such medical condition(s) impacts one’s ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job, there is often a tendency to engage in desperate acts, such as resigning, walking away from the job, etc. 

After so much time has vested, and has been invested, by the Federal or Postal employee in the pursuit of a Federal or Postal career; and after so much stress, anxiety, sometimes intolerable working conditions are endured; or, having expended so much loyalty and exerted so much effort in doing an excellent job for one’s agency, it is a self-contradiction to simply walk away from the Agency without filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, especially when such laws governing Federal Disability Retirement were set up precisely for the type of Federal or Postal worker who has performed well, but has come to a point in his or her career where a medical condition has impacted one’s ability to perform all of the essential elements of one’s job. 

Perspectives are often “out of balance” when one suffers from a medical condition.  Before taking steps of “burning bridges” and resigning, it is best to consult an attorney and see what the possibilities are for preparing, formulating, and successfully filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: A Hostile Work Environment

Unfortunately, reality often outperforms and upstages any attempt at fictional characterization of the workplace.  Often, the meanness and temperamental behavior of a supervisor in the “real” workplace can never be properly represented by an actor’s attempt in a sitcom or a drama; the persistent, irrational, capricious and outright cruel behavior and acts of “the boss” or one of his/her underlings can never be accurately depicted in fiction.  Further, the reality of the consequences of such behavior can be devastating.  Workplace stress resulting from demeaning behavior, intentional acts to undermine, cruel and arbitrary acts against a specific employee, can all result in serious medical consequences.  

It is all well and good to talk about internal procedures — of filing an EEOC Complaint; filing a grievance; filing a complaint based upon discrimination, etc.  But beyond such agency procedures to protect one’s self, there is the problem of the eruption of a medical condition, be it Major Depression, Anxiety, panic attacks, physical symptoms of IBS, chronic pain, headaches —  some or all of which may result from such stresses in the workplace.  There is no diagnostic tool to establish the link between the medical condition and the workplace stress.  

For Federal and Postal employees thinking about filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, there is the context of harassment & stress in the workplace, and then the medical condition which prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job. Sometimes, it is difficult to bifurcate the two.  That which is difficult, however, must sometimes be accomplished in order to be successful.  The origin of the medical condition may have to be set aside, because it “complicates” the proving of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  If one is contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, the story — however real — of the workplace harassment, may have to be left behind.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Sometimes, It is the Wrong Question

If the question is asked, “Is it difficult to get Federal Disability Retirement benefits based upon a Stress Claim?” — within the context of the poorly-worded question, you may get a wrong answer.  This is because it is the wrong question to begin with.  

The concept and term “stress claim” is more appropriately formulated in the context of an OWCP claim.  It implies that one is claiming for compensation based upon a situation — a hostile work environment, a harassing supervisor, etc. — because the origin and inception of the medical condition generically characterized as “stress” implies that it is the workplace which is the originating responsibility for the very medical condition claimed.  

Such a question would thus imply a multitude of irrelevant considerations for purposes of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, such as the causality of the claim, whether the cause is merely situational (is it the supervisor causing the stress?  If so, if a Federal or Postal worker moved to another office or agency, could he or she work in the same job?), or contained within the context of the workplace. The problem with using the term “stress” in a question is that, whether as a noun or a verb, it implies too much while revealing too little.  If expanded upon (e.g., while stress may be the origin, is the medical condition Major Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, etc.), then the entire question takes on a new form.  Sometimes, the problem begins with the question asked which is poorly worded; and to a poorly worded question, a wrong answer might be given.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Psychiatric Disabilities — Origin versus Situational

While the issue concerning “situational disability” has been previously discussed and written about in my various blogs and articles, it is helpful to keep in mind certain conceptual distinctions when preparing to file for Federal or Postal Disability retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  

The concept normally applies to psychiatric disabilities, and specifically to two major areas:  Major Depression and Anxiety.  The paradigm of such a case often involves a Federal or Postal worker who has had some difficulties, conflict with, harassment by, etc., a supervisor or coworker within the agency. The Federal or Postal worker begins to manifest symptoms of anxiety, depression, panic attacks, etc.  An EEO Complaint is filed; a grievance is filed; perhaps, several such alternative venues of legal processes are utilized.  Despite fighting back, the hostile work situation fails to resolve itself.  More importantly, the psychiatric medical condition continues to worsen.  

Does this simple hypothetical constitute a basis for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, or is it precluded by the legal preclusion of “situational disability”?  As with all generic paradigms, the answer is:  It all depends.  

One must look at the chronicity of the psychiatric medical condition; whether the symptoms pervade all aspects of the life of the Federal or Postal Worker; to what extent the psychiatric medical conditions impact his or her ability to perform the essential elements of the job; and to what extent the Federal or Postal worker can perform such a job in a different environment.  It is in the details of the conceptual distinctions made, which determine the course of viability in filing for Federal or Postal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Those Workplace Issues

In preparing a Federal or Postal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, there are often multiple collateral issues which arise:  Harassment issues; Unequal Treatment; EEOC issues; Hostile Workplace issues; Discrimination issues; and multiple other issues which may or may not be viable complaints.  Such complaints have their proper place, in the proper forum, within the proper context.  As I have written multiple times previously on this issue — these employment issues should be avoided in the context of preparing for and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application.  

Many of these employment complaints may be viable ones to pursue; some may be pursued concurrently while seeking Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, and will not ultimately defeat or impact such an application (remember that in law, not only can an attorney speak out of three or four sides of his mouth; one is also allowed to make contradictory legal arguments at the same time).  

The point is that such collateral arguments and issues should not be a part of the application itself.  It may be fine to pursue such workplace issues in a separate and different forum — just not in the process of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  If the issue is brought up, the Office of Personnel Management may well use it against you, stating, “Your medical conditions seem to occur as a result of your allegation of the actions of your Supervisor. As such, you suffer merely from situational disability.”  Case denied.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Actions from the Federal Government or the Postal Service

I often receive telephone calls from Federal and Postal employees worried about what their Supervisor will write in the SF 3112B (Supervisor’s Statement) — the lies, half-truths, and vindictive statements that some Supervisors will, for whatever reason, attempt to have that “last parting shot”. Such acts by supervisors are, for the most part, and fortunately, the exception, and not the rule; but each time it happens, it is despicable to the exponential degree — especially in light of the context of attempting to harm a Federal or Postal employee who has a serious medical disability, and needs the financial security offered by disability retirement.

As a general rule, the best approach to take is to follow the rule of thumb of the wise man: Do not worry about those things over which you have no control; focus upon those things over which you do have control. Remember that this is a medical disability retirment — with the emphasis upon the term “medical”. Having said that, a disability retirement application must first and foremost focus upon obtaining the most excellent medical report. If this is accomplished, then in 99% of the cases, it will nullify and make irrelevant anything which the Supervisor puts down on the Supervisor’s Statement. This is the best and wisest approach to take; do not waste your time, emotional energy, or any further part of your life worrying about a Supervisor who lacks the fundamental compassion to be honest and truthful about an individual who has shown years of loyalty to the Federal Service. He/she is not worth it.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Situational Disability II

To reiterate: Situational disability can be an issue which can defeat a disability retirement application, precisely because OPM (and if it gets to the MSPB level, the Administrative Judge) can conclude that the Psychiatric disability in question originates and results in response to the hostile workplace environment.

These three concepts are important to understand — originate, result in, and result “in response to”. A psychiatric condition can originate from a hostile work environment, but as long as the medical condition then pervades beyond the work environment and impacts a person’s life through and through, then that alone does not constitute situational disability, because while it may have originated from A, it is not limited to A.

The second concept — results in — must be seen in the context of the condition of the psychiatric disability. Thus, does the (for example) Major Depression or anxiety result solely from the work environment, or does one experience the symptoms while at home, even while away from the work environment?

And thirdly, does the individual experience the symptoms of the psychiatric condition “in response to” his or her exposure to the work environment, or are the symptoms all-pervasive: i.e., throughout all aspects of the person’s life?

To differentiate these three concepts is important in avoiding the pitfalls of situational disability, and in helping to prepare a Psychiatrist in either preparing a medical narrative report, or in his or her testimony before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Federal Disability Retirement: The Danger of Situational Disability

The danger of falling into the trap of situational disability, which is one of a number of reasons for denying a disability retirement application, can come about quite regularly. Especially because, in the face of contending with a medical disability that is serious enough to warrant changing one’s career, of filing for medical disability retirement — there is often the Agency’s contentious response, of needing to have the continuity of the work accomplished, of being insensitive and lacking compassion for the applicant; in such a context, the applicant views the Agency’s response as hostile.

The employee/applicant, then, in filing for disability retirement, will often make the mistake of focusing upon the hostile work environment, or the lack of compassion and empathy on the part of the Agency — and this will often warrant a denial of disability retirement based upon the medical condition of the applicant as being “situational disability” — meaning that the medical condition of the employee/applicant is limited to the work situation of that particular office or agency. This is a completely wrong-headed approach for the applicant.

That is why, when I represent my clients, I am singularly focused upon the 2 or 3 main issues that form the essence of a disability retirement case, and insist upon focusing my clients upon those very same issues, while setting aside those tangential issues which can ultimately defeat a disability retirement application. Understand that these peripheral, tangential issues may well be “important” to my client — but I would not be doing my job in representing my clients if I allowed the peripheral issues to become “front and center” — for that would be a disaster for my clients. I represent people to obtain disability retirement benefits. That is my job. That is my focus. If I allow my focus to waiver, then I am not representing my clients properly.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

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