I am often asked whether or not it is more difficult to get disability retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS based upon a psychiatric medical condition (e.g., PTSD, Major Depression, Anxiety, panic attacks, Bipolar Disorder, etc.). Does the Office of Personnel Management deny a disability retirement application which is based solely upon a psychiatric condition? Should a FERS or CSRS disability retirement application always include a physical condition? The short and simple answer is an unequivocal “No”.
Let me provide a slightly more expanded answer: (1) In my experience, psychiatric disabilities present no greater obstacles than physical disabilities. So long as we can prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the medical condition — physical or psychiatric — prevents one from performing the essential elements of one’s job, there really is no difference between the two. (2) Do not “add” a physical disability because you think that a psychiatric disability is “not enough”. This would be a foolish approach. Focus upon the primary medical conditions, whether physical or psychiatric, in proving your case. (3) Remember that disability retirement often has other complex factors which come into play — accommodation issues; certain jobs are more easily shown to be “incompatible” with a psychiatric disability (for instance, Law Enforcement Personnel who have psychiatric disabilities obviously must have the mental acuity to perform the inherently dangerous aspects of the position); and remember that psychotropic medications, prescribed and necessary for daily functioning, often have side-effects which impact one’s ability to perform one’s job. The point in all of this is that there really is no substantive difference between psychiatric disabilities and physical ones, anymore; the societal stigma of “psychiatric medical conditions” has largely disappeared, and the Office of Personnel Management — in my experience — treats both psychiatric disabilities and physical disabilities on an equal par.
Robert R. McGill, Esquire
Dear Mr. McGill,
I have just submitted my application for medical retirement. I have degenerative disc disease, just had back surgery from a on the job injury, plus anxiety and depression. [whew, that looks bad uh?]
Anyway, I am a registered nurse, and work on an acute psych unit for the VA. I read your article of building a bridge, and also had my physician write his narrative along the same lines. I am hoping that since my job is quite dangerous, requires physical strength and mental acuity, that my case will be accepted on the grounds of my inability to perform the duties I had been hired to do. They did have me in a temporary position, but was not accommodated beyond that. I have not read the supervisors statement, or HRs statement as they completed it just recently.
Now, I was told by the HR employee that DOL has no say on whether my application for medical retirement is accepted or not. Is that true? My concern is that DOL is sending to another second opinion exam, I’m sure, to try to derail my retirement application. My question is this:
Can OPM use DOL findings to deny my application? If I am approved, will DOL have to pay the difference between my retirement and my salary? I heard that they do, up to 66% of my salary, but I’m not sure. I will not be applying for disability through workmans comp. They are jerks to deal with, and I want them out of my life!!!
Any information you can provide will be helpful.