OPM Disability Retirement Application: Starting with Basics

The complexities inherent in preparing, formulating, and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application with the Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, are well-documented.  It can indeed be a daunting, intimidating encounter — for, while the Standard Forms themselves (SF 3107 series for FERS; SF 2801 series for CSRS; SF 3112 series — 3112A, 3112B, 3112C & 3112D for both FERS and CSRS) are rather simple in their outlook, it is the questions which are posed, and how one answers them, which will determine the success or failure of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  

Further, the laws themselves have evolved over time into a complex compendium of technical modifications and adjustments, as various legal issues have arisen in response to different determinations and decisions rendered by the Office of Personnel Management.  

When one first approaches the possibility of preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application, a view of the entire process and procedure is helpful, but then to step back and ultimately start the meticulous formulation of a Federal Disability Retirement packet with the “basics” in mind.  What are the basics?  Proper and compelling medical documentation; a description of the essential elements of one’s job; then the proper bridge between the two.  Without the proper bridge, it will lead to nowhere.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Objectivity

In filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, a level of objectivity in making one’s case is a goal which must always be in the purview of formulating an application.  If a Federal or Postal Worker is attempting to formulate and prepare a FERS or CSRS disability retirement application without the assistance or representation of an OPM Disability Attorney, this becomes a difficult task — for the identity of the person making the affirmative argument for approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application is the same person who is describing the medical condition, the impact upon one’s Federal or Postal job, and the legal reasons why such an application under FERS or CSRS should be approved.  

There are methods to avoid the appearance of “self-promotion” — a term which may not seem applicable to formulating a FERS or CSRS disability retirement application, but one which simply cannot be avoided completely. For, representation and being a proponent for one’s “cause” — however valid, and however arguably sustainable — nevertheless necessarily may imply a self-interest which engenders self-promotion.  If a Federal or Postal employee insists upon formulating, preparing and submitting an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS without proper representation, then one’s focus should be upon an “objective” basis — what the medical reports, narratives, diagnostic tests, psychological tests, etc., reveal, and to attempt to discuss such medical documentation in an objective, independent and dispassionate manner.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Thanksgiving

In representing Federal and Postal employees for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, one encounters multiple medical conditions, from the very severe and debilitating, to manageable but chronic conditions which impact one’s ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job.  

Such review of medical conditions and recognition of what many Federal and Postal employees must undergo, is often a humbling experience; for, while a lawyer’s job is to focus upon the legal aspects of a case, and to bifurcate one’s personal “feelings” as distinct from the legal issues, the antiseptic medical facts, and the ability to provide an objective, analytical view of all of the facts and circumstances — such conceptual bifurcation has its limits.  

Daily, Federal and Postal employees who suffer from various medical conditions must make difficult choices about their future, their career, and their work & personal obligations.  It is well to pause during this Thanksgiving to reflect upon the blessings that we have, as opposed to conditions which have resulted in the loss or reduction of that which we do not have.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Initial Application, Reconsideration & MSPB Appeals

Each Stage of the process in attempting to obtain a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS offers a distinct, yet similar, challenge.  Do not be fooled by responding to a “template” approach; while the Office of Personnel Management may respond in an indifferent, antiseptic manner, a Federal or Postal employee who must respond to OPM’s denial at each stage of the process must pinpoint what OPM is looking for, and respond appropriately.  Indeed, it is the distinction which one observes, which makes all of the difference in the case.  

Often, it is clear that OPM’s denial at the Initial Stage of the process, as well as a denial at the Reconsideration Stage of the process (which then compels an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board), is merely a regurgitation of thousands of previous denial letters, with some minor insertions which are meant to appear “as if” the denial letter has been tailored to a particular case.  

Thus, references to a particular physician’s letter, and even extrapolating a quotation from a doctor’s note or narrative (often something like, “Your doctor stated that you were recovering well from your surgery,” or “Your psychiatrist stated that the medications were working”) have the effect of personalizing a denial letter.  Yet, the remainder of the denial letter is in an antiseptic, template form, and it is clear that you are merely one of hundreds & thousands of responses written by OPM’s representative.  However, while OPM has the power to generate such template-driven denials, the individual Federal or Postal Worker must respond in an independent, individualistic manner.  It must be based upon one’s particular case, and thus the response must not be a “generic” one, but one based upon the uniqueness of the case.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Consequence of Confusion

Often, in a Federal Disability Retirement case, there are “indicators” which are telltale signs as to whether or not something was done or not.  Federal and Postal workers who call in to inquire about the feasibility of filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS are often vague about certain facts and issues, and understandably so, because things have never been explained properly, or as is more often the case, explained but with mistaken information.  For example:  Federal and Postal workers often confuse OWCP & Department of Labor issues, with issues concerning OPM Disability Retirement.  Such statements as:  “I already filed for Department of Labor disability benefits”, or “I filed a CA ___”, or “I’ve been separated for X number of months” (when in fact he or she has merely been on LWOP with the Agency).  

The problem with confusing the concepts between OWCP benefits and OPM Disability Retirement (and to make it even more confusing, to mix those two with SSDI issues) is that a person may be on OWCP or SSDI for over a year after being separated from Federal Service, and fail to file for OPM Disability Retirement — and forever be foreclosed from doing so because he or she never realized that you must file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, independently and separately from OWCP or SSDI.  Read up and study the conceptual distinctions; for, there may be some long-term consequences from such confusions.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: Health

As we begin preparing for the upcoming Thanksgiving Holidays, then into Christmas & New Year’s, it is well to pause and consider those things which we often take for granted, but which form the foundation of a productive life and career.  Health is indeed one of those “things” which are taken for granted.  It is somewhat like automobile insurance:  one never thinks about it, until one gets into an accident.

For Federal and Postal employees who are considering filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, health often becomes an issue with greater and increasing focal emphasis, precisely because the corresponding ratio between “effort expended” and “result obtained” becomes out of balance, where the chronicity of pain, discomfort, and inability to physically or cognitively engage in certain duties or activities, becomes pronounced the more one attempts greater efforts.  

What to do?  Preparatory work in setting the foundation for a successful future formulation of a Federal Disability Retirement application begins with a good doctor-patient relationship.  It is often a good idea to begin to confide in one’s treating doctor, for that is the basis of a future formulation in considering a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement Attorney: Legal Representation

Federal and Postal workers who are considering filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS often call and state that they are unable to find “local” representation; that when the issue of the Federal Agency or the Postal Service is brought up, local attorneys either do not handle such cases or they are obviously unfamiliar with the concepts involved.  

Representation of Federal and Postal employees to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits is a Federal matter, not a state issue, and therefore legal representation is not limited to an attorney who is licensed within a specific state.  Ultimately, the Agency which is the final “arbiter” of a Federal Disability Retirement application is located in Washington, D.C., and is the Office of Personnel Management.

Thus, whether an individual is working in Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, or overseas in Europe, Japan, etc., it matters not — because the application itself will ultimately end up first in Boyers, Pennsylvania, then routed to Washington, D.C.  “Local” representation becomes an irrelevancy, precisely because it is not related to any local or state issues, but rather entirely upon the Federal issue of Disability Retirement either under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Flexibility of Language

Language is inherently a flexible tool; it is meant to communicate, and while precision in communication is the defining purpose in the use of the tool, often the essence of language must nevertheless be flexible enough to embrace other, correlative concepts. To limit the tool of language often will lead to undermining the very purpose of the use of such language.  

In filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the use of language in preparing, formulating and describing the interaction between the medical conditions and how it impacts one’s job duties, must allow for some level of flexibility.  For example, if certain chronic symptomatologies result in a mis-diagnosis of a medical condition, should a later (revised) diagnosis be allowed to be argued to the Office of Personnel Management after it has been filed?  

The answer to the question is contained in how the Applicant’s Statement of Disability on Standard Form 3112A is formulated.  If one merely lists the diagnosed medical conditions without describing the symptoms, then the language used has restricted the flexibility of post-filing inclusion.  On the other hand, if one combines the various medical diagnoses, but also includes a descriptive discussion of the symptoms, then the answer is likely, “yes”.  The use of language should be one of precision; how one utilizes the tools of language, however, should remain flexible.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: Promises

Federal and Postal workers who are contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS must understand that it is the Office of Personnel Management which is the agency that makes the decisions concerning approval or denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  Whether the Postal Service, or any number of agencies “promise” to support a Federal Disability Retirement application, such promises are of limited value to the extent that they are not the governing arbiter — it is the bureaucracy known by its acronym, “OPM” which makes the decision.

While certain forms must be completed by the Agency or the Postal Service; and while certain decisions concerning the SF 3112D, or the basis of a removal action, may aid a Federal or Postal worker in OPM’s decision-making process, remember that any promise made by a Federal Agency or the Postal Service claiming to “get you” an OPM Disability Retirement is one without force or effect.

The Office of Personnel Management is an independent agency which reviews, evaluates, and scrutinizes each application for Federal or Postal Disability Retirement under either FERS or CSRS — they are the final “arbiter” of the matter, in conjunction with any appeals to the Merit Systems Protection Board in the event of a denial at the Initial Stage of the Application, and a second denial at the Reconsideration Stage of the application process.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The Difficulty of Accommodation

For Federal and Postal employees filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the issue of accommodation must be addressed at some point, and one often wonders why a Federal agency is either unwilling or unable to accommodate the medical disabilities of a Federal or Postal employee.  

The line between “unwilling” and “unable” is often a complex one, because Agencies must contend with an obligation to attempt to accommodate the medical disability, but remember that such an attempt and obligation is merely one of “reasonable” accommodation.  This means that an implicit cost-benefits analysis is quickly engaged in, where the effort, likely success, extent of any workplace adjustments, whether in the end the essential and core elements of the job functions can be accomplished even with the reasonable accommodations, etc., can successfully be implemented.

An appearance of attempting to accommodate is often all that is indulged, and so the reality is that the Agency seems more unwilling than unable. Further, the simple fact is that, many medical conditions — e.g., those which are psychiatric in nature, are simply medical conditions which are termed “non-accommodatable“.  For, regardless of what workplace adjustments are made, a Federal or Postal worker suffering from Major Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, delusory thought processes, etc., where symptoms upon one’s focus, concentration, ability to have a reasoned perspective, etc., are all impacted, and therefore is inconsistent with any cognitive-intensive work.  As such, the medical condition becomes “inconsistent” with the particular duties of the job, and therefore it is an unreasonable and unattainable goal to consider any accommodations.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire