OPM Disability Retirement: A Doctor’s Comfort Level

Doctors are funny creatures.  Administrative matters are often distasteful; yet, most doctors recognize that it is a necessary evil as part of the general practice of medicine.  Doctors often act arrogantly; yet, their arrogance is often in reaction to questions and statements which they deem to be irrelevant or insolent.  In filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS, it is obviously important to get the active, affirmative support of a treating doctor.  How does one go about doing this?  It is ultimately up the patient.  Remember — we are speaking about a “treating doctor” — not a stranger, but a person who, normally over the course of many years, has come to know, evaluate and treat the potential applicant who is filing for OPM Disability Retirement benefits.  Over the years, therefore, hopefully a relationship has grown to fruition.  Asking the treating doctor to support you in a Federal Disability Retirement application — or, if an attorney is hired, to let the doctor know that his or her legal representative will be requesting a medical report — should be the culmination of that special relationship which has developed:  the doctor-patient relationship, one which has grown over the many years of contact, discussion, conversation, and treatment.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: The Doctor and the FCE

For whatever reason, the treating doctor — unless he or she is a specialist (i.e., an Orthopaedic Surgeon, a Rheumatologist, a Pain Management Specialist, etc.) — is often uncomfortable and feels a sense of inadequacy in making a determination as to whether a Federal or Postal employee is unable to perform one or more of the essential elements of his or her job.  Under such circumstances, it may be fruitful for physical medical conditions, to undergo a Functional Capacity Evaluation (an “FCE”).  An FCE provides — in addition to “objective” diagnostic test results — an independent basis upon which to rely upon, in formulating a medical opinion.  The FCE provides, for the treating doctor, a “test” upon which the doctor can formulate an opinion, based upon reasonable medical certainty, as to the physical limits, endurance, and capabilities of an individual.  Further, the Office of Personnel Management is often impressed with an FCE.  Ultimately, the medical opinion of the treating doctor, based upon a long history of clinical examinations, diagnoses based upon generally accepted criteria within the medical profession, diagnostic testing, and an attempt at reasonable treatment modalities:  all together, comprise a valid basis for formulating and rendering a medical opinion in a Federal Disability Retirement case.  Nevertheless, if an FCE makes the treating doctor that much more comfortable in coming to a medical opinion, then by all means, go through with the FCE.  It can only make your OPM disability case stronger.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: The Treating Doctor

In a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS & CSRS, what distinguishes the entire process of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that a Federal or Postal employee is unable to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job — from other processes, such as Social Security and OWCP — is that the evidentiary weight is placed upon a treating doctor.  There are “other” types of doctors other than treating doctors:  specialists who are referred to for consultative purposes; doctors who specialize in determining functional capacity & evaluate the functional limits of an individual; occupational specialists, etc.  Why a “treating” doctor?  Because we are talking about workers who, over time, find that he or she is no longer able to perform the essential elements of a job and, over that same time, it makes sense that a doctor would be treating that individual.  Disability Retirement is not normally filed as a result of a traumatic accident (although that can happen, also); rather, a Federal or Postal employee normally files a Federal Disability Retirement application because of a condition which develops over time.  That is why the “treating” doctor would be the best source of knowledge and information:  because, through clinical examinations, long-term doctor-patient relationship, the treating doctor can make a long-term assessment based upon all of the facts and circumstances of the patient.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Understanding the Doctor

A question I often ask the treating doctor at the end of a Hearing before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board (obviously for Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS) is:  Do you have an opinion as to whether Mr. X/Ms. Y is a malingerer? The reason I ask such a question is to establish in the mind of the Administrative Judge, that after all of the clinical examinations, the treatment modalities, the diagnostic testing, etc., does the doctor have a personal opinion about the individual who is seeking to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits

Obviously, there are multiple questions which I ask as a follow-up; and, indeed, the question as to the status of the client/applicant requests a professional opinion about the patient — but implicit in that question is also a rather personal one.  It goes to the heart of who the patient/applicant is, and what the doctor believes about this particular applicant/patient.  For, to resolve any doubts about the underlying motive of the patient is not only important to the Administrative Judge in a Federal Disability Retirement application; it is equally important that the doctor is comfortable in his own mind, as to the clear and honest intention of his patient.  Conveying that comfort from the voice of the treating doctor to the ears of the deciding Judge, is no small matter.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: The Chasm between Denials

From the perspective of an individual Applicant for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS, the individual applicant does not normally observe some other person’s Federal Disability Retirement application, and therefore never has the opportunity to see the “greater process” at work, or patterns of behavior on the part of the Office of Personnel Management.  Yet, there are indeed patterns, and that is why an experienced attorney who has seen literally thousands of Federal Disability Retirement cases over numerous years, has an advantage in responding to OPM’s denials.  Experience lends itself to greater observation.  Experience over time reveals certain patterns.  And patterns of behavior can reveal important principles. 

Certain OPM Representatives provide detailed and (often) irrelevant factual references which can be ignored; others like to “cite the law” and believe that such citations appear irrefutable and authoritative; and still others give scant discussion to laws or to facts.  Thus, there often appears to be a great chasm between the types of denials.  Whether or not there are such differences, an applicant who has received a denial for his or her Federal Disability Retirement case needs to respond to any such denial with a three-pronged attack:  Medical refutation; Factual correction; Legal assertion.  Such an attack will cover any chasm which might exist between the different individuals who send out a denial letter.  More importantly, it will cover the necessary elements for winning a Federal Disability Retirement case.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Preempting OPM’s Arguments

It is important at all stages of a Federal Disability Retirement application for FERS & CSRS employees to predict, anticipate, and preempt the arguments which the Office of Personnel Management may make, will make, and can be expected to make.  Obviously, the three main areas of such concern are:  Sufficiency of medical documentation; Agency efforts for accommodation and reassignment; the impact and interconnection between one’s medical condition(s) and the positional duties of one’s job. 

However, there are multiple other areas, and it is the job of an applicant filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, or his/her attorney, to anticipate the areas of OPM’s concerns, and to address them both factually and legally — the latter, by pointing out statutory authorities and case-law holdings directly or implicitly touching upon those very areas of concern.  Further, one should never be fooled if, in an initial denial of an OPM Disability Retirement application, the substance of a denial is fairly short or if it is detailed and lengthy; the content of a denial letter should not determine the extent of a response by an applicant at the Reconsideration Stage.  Instead, whether short, of “middle length”, or extremely detailed, a response should anticipate all areas of concern, and the applicant who is attempting to secure an approval for his or her Federal Disability Retirement benefits should always preempt any potential areas for a further denial.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Unequivocal Doesn’t Mean That One Is “Right”

In a denial letter from the Office of Personnel Management, the Claims Specialist/Representative will often make statements in confident, unequivocal terms.  “You have not…”   “The medical evidence fails to show…”    “Your doctor never…”   “The law requires that you…”  Such a voice of unequivocal confidence often leaves the impression that there is no room for argument; that the case is lost; that there really is no point in even attempting to argue with the Office of Personnel Management.  Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Merely because an individual makes statements in an unequivocal manner, is not a basis for determining the truth or falsity of his or her argument.  In a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, there is almost always room for disagreement.  We are speaking about interpretation of medical documents, the significance of what is said, etc.  We are talking about the different and proper application of the OPM Disability law, and the multitude of case-law which would be applicable.  Don’t let the voice of a statement fool you as to the validity of the statement.  In a Federal Disability Retirement case, the Office of Personnel Management is rarely right; they just like to sound like they are.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire