Federal Disability Retirement: Thanksgiving

This year has seen a tremendous amount of changes: a seeming meltdown of the economy; a coming change of the Presidency; vulnerability of the Big Three Automakers; a housing market downward spiral; a volatile stock market which seems to take two steps back for each day of upward trading; and on and on. In the midst of such turmoil and change, when a medical condition impacts a Federal or Postal employee on top of it all, it makes any potential perspective for a bright outlook to the future look bleak. Remember, however, that this is a week of Thanksgiving. It does well for the soul to pause and reflect upon one’s blessings. Yes, disability retirement benefits may not pay enough, but it is a benefit which is granted by a Federal government which has a compassionate understanding that such a benefit is necessary to allow loyal employees to have an opportunity to receive a financial “base amount” — and hopefully be able to be productive in some other capacity or career. I hope that everyone takes a moment this week and spends time with “the family”. Happy Thanksgiving.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Physician II

This blog is written in response to a question posed: in the event that an individual is unable to have a medical report written by a treating physician for circumstances beyond his or her control (i.e., such as death of a treating physician; uncooperativeness of a doctor; need to move to a different locality and need to switch to another doctor for whatever reason, etc.), would or can a physician’s medical narrative report written by a doctor of “short tenure” still be effective? The answer is, of course, as with all legal questions, “It Depends”.

Think about it this way: Disability retirement has to do with proving that, because of a medical condition, an employee of the Federal Government is no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of his/her job. This simple statement, when broken down, actually has a number of limitless components: What is the job? What are the specific elements? What are the medical conditions? What are the symptoms? How do the symptoms impact the person? Does it require medications? Does it require surgery? Are there other treatment modalities? What specific symptoms impact which specific job elements? And on and on.

Thus, these questions and the answers to such questions can normally be answered only by a treating physician — one who has, over the course of a long tenure of treatment, come to intimately know the patient. At the same time, think of the following issue: A doctor whose primary source of income being to write up “disability determinations” for individuals, and whose name repetitively appears in the Office of Personnel Management — that doctor’s reputation will quickly become questioned. The issue of an effective medical narrative has an inherent component: The credibility of the writer (the doctor), and credibility is usually determined by the tenure of the patient-doctor relationship. Are there exceptions? Absolutely. As with everything else in life, credibility can always be established with the truth — for instance, if a recent change in doctors occurred because of a move, the doctor can simply state that fact, refer to prior medical records reviewed, and move on to the substance of the opinion. Alas, credibility is what always counts.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The Physician I

Initial inquiries concerning filing for Federal and Postal disability retirement benefits often ask the following question: Do I have a doctor to whom I can refer the individual? This question often follows upon the unfortunate circumstance that the individual does not have a very supportive doctor, or has been under the “medical care” of an OWCP-referral doctor.  The answer is always an unequivocal:  No.  The reason:  The Merit Systems Protection Board is very clear about the issue — that in Federal Disability Retirement cases, a medical report is persuasive when written by a doctor who has a long-standing patient-doctor relationship; has had regular contact with the individual; has had clinical contact over a sufficient period of time, such that the doctor can, within reasonable medical probability, provide a rational basis for stating that the individual is no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of his or her job. Thus, even before considering taking a disability retirement, it is important for the individual to make a proper assessment as to whether or not one’s doctor is “supportive”; if not, it may be a good idea to think about switching doctors, and finding one who is supportive.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: First Steps

Before you even think about filing for disability retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, there is often a psychological component which must be overcome: after a lengthy and loyal service provided to the Federal Government, it is often difficult to “come to terms” with the idea that you can “no longer do” the job you have been so competent at, for the past X-number of years.  But remember that filing for, fighting for, and being approved for disability retirement benefits is not an admission or concession that you are disabled; rather, it is only an acknowledgement that you are no longer a good fit for that particular job.  It doesn’t mean you can’t go out and be productive in some other capacity.  Or, another way to look at it, of course, is as follows:  If you can push yourself and ignore what your mind or body is telling you, and you somehow miraculously reach retirement age, you may have crossed the finish line; but are you in any shape to enjoy that retirement?  Retirement should not be an end in itself; it should be a goal with a context of being able to enjoy the continuation of your life.  Too many people look at the conceptual framework of “retirement”, without stopping to consider what it means.  When a medical condition comes about which impacts your ability to do your job, it is time to pause and reflect:  What are my goals?  Is it time for me to do something else in life?  Don’t just suffer your medical condition; listen to it.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Further Basics

In tough economic times, it is often difficult to find that “silver lining”. This is even truer for my clients who obtain disability retirement benefits from the Federal Government, as well as those contemplating it. For, ultimately, I always find (without exception) that Federal and Postal Workers who are contemplating filing for disability retirement don’t want to be in the position he/she finds him/herself in.

They have been loyal and hard working Federal employees.  They have shown such loyalty through years and years of committed service.  But, for whatever reasons, and for whatever circumstances and situations, a sudden medical condition, or a degenerative medical condition, has brought that loyal employee to a point where he or she is no longer a “good fit” for a particular kind of job.  Such an employee can often be placed on a PIP (“Performance Improvement Plan”), or be given a Letter of Warning, or be placed on Leave Restrictions, or be told that no more light duties are available — all indicators that the Federal Agency or the particular Post Office is no longer willing to engage in “bilateral loyalty” — in other words, your 20 years of Federal Service will be rewarded with a boot out the door.  But such Federal and Postal employees must always have a positive attitude:  disability retirement benefits are there for you when they are normally unavailable in the private sector; while it pays a flat amount which one may not be able to necessarily live on, it is nevertheless a “base annuity” that can be depended upon.  And, further, a recent New York Times article concerning the state of the present economy pointed out what I have noted in the past:  Private Companies are hiring more and more older workers who have their own health insurance benefits, and who can work part-time without benefits.  That accurately describes the disability retirement annuitant, who is able to make up to 80% of what his/her former position pays now, on top of the disability retirement annuity, and retain life & health insurance benefits.  Always look for the silver lining.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Other Stories of Success

There are obviously many, many pitfalls in the attempt to obtain disability retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management. Sometimes, I get calls from individuals who tell me that they “heard from a friend” that another employee prepared the disability retirement packet him/herself, and got it through within ___ months (you can fill in the blank with an unbelievably low number — say, 1, 2 or 3), and that there was no need for an attorney, and so why should anyone need an attorney?  I really have no response for such an inquiry; I am always suspicious of such “too good to be true” stories, but on the other hand, inasmuch as I don’t have any facts to refute or otherwise disbelieve such stories, I cannot comment on them.  I can only convey facts, circumstances, and experiences which I have with my own clients (don’t worry — all information received from and on behalf of my clients is protected by attorney-client confidentiality, and I never — ever — divulge personal information; I relate such experiences only in a generic sense, with no names ever mentioned), and indeed, each case is different and unique, and I try and treat each case based upon the specific facts, circumstances, and individual complexities inherent in each.  I really cannot comment on “that other story” that is heard through a chain of mouths and ears, only to be transformed into an unidentifiable success story.

People who come to me and ask for my legal guidance and expertise know that, to the extent I am able, I will answer each question based upon my professional experience; that I try to give a realistic assessment of each case, without embellishment; and my clients remain my clients for life.  Indeed, I get calls almost every week from people who I represented many, many years ago.  If a Medical Questionnaire is received, I am here to guide the recipient so that he/she will be able to retain the disability retirement benefits we fought so hard to obtain.  I have no idea about those “other success stories”; my goal is to satisfy the legal needs of my clients — those who have entrusted their cases in me, and for whom I have a special care and trust for.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire