Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Workplace Issues

The reason why workplace issues, whether having any relevance in a Federal Disability Retirement application or not, continue to be insidious in their persistent appearance and stubborn insistence upon dominating an Applicant’s Statement of Disability, is because they are often perceived to be the originating cause (or so it is often thought to be by the Applicant who is preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS) of a medical condition.

Whether the age-old question of the “egg before the chicken or the chicken before the egg” is answered, and in what way, is often the wrong approach to take.  More often than not, when a medical condition begins to progressively deteriorate a Federal or Postal employee’s health, and the impact upon one’s ability/inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job begins to manifest itself to supervisors, coworkers, managers, etc.; at about the same critical juncture, harassment — or the perception of harassment — begins to occur. Such workplace issues then begin to exponentially quantify and exacerbate, feeding onto each other:  the workplace issues begin to exacerbate the medical condition; the stress-levels rise; soon thereafter, agency efforts to protect itself begin to get triggered — counseling letters on leave usage, sick-leave restriction, placement of a Federal or Postal employee on AWOL, 14-day suspensions, placement on a PIP, all begin to erupt.

The key in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, however, is to have the self-discipline to identify which workplace issues are relevant to bring into the arena of an OPM disability retirement application. Discipline in such matters is a difficult measure to undertake; however, it is a critical step to recognize and initiate, bifurcate and separate, and where irrelevant, to excise and discard, when preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: OPM, Authority & Rights

The decision-making process in filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is placed into the hands of an administrative agency known as “The Office of Personnel Management“.  

OPM, as the acronym which the agency is known by, is the administrative bureaucracy which makes a determination on each individual Federal Disability Retirement application, after reviewing the submitted medical records, Statement of Disability as formulated and presented by the Applicant and his or her Attorney; the Supervisor’s Statement; The Agency’s Efforts for Reassignment and Accommodation — in other words, the full compendium of the evidence, based upon a legal standard which is low on the totem pole of legal standards — that of “Preponderance of the Evidence“.  

It is helpful to understand that the Office of Personnel Management is merely following the statutory procedures as created and mandated by law:  OPM, as the first-line administrative agency, must make an initial determination on a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, not because they want to, desire to, like to, etc. — but because they are the designated entity set up to do so.  They have the “authority” under statutory mandate to make a determination of eligibility at the “First Stage” of the process, as well as at the “Second Stage” (the stage often known as the “Reconsideration Stage”) of the process.  

As an inverse matter, however, the individual Federal or Postal applicant has the “right” to dispute any negative determination made by the Office of Personnel Management at either of the first two stages of the process.  

It is important to distinguish between the conceptual differences and distinctions between “Authority”, “Rights”, and the use of the term “right” as in “right or wrong”.  OPM has the authority to make an eligibility determination on a Federal Disability Retirement application because they are statutorily mandated to do so; the individual Federal or Postal employee has the right to appeal such a decision; the fact that OPM may have the right to deny a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS does not mean that they are “right” in doing so; they merely have a statutory authority, and nothing more.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Government Employees: The Duration of a Medical Condition

In being eligible for a Federal Disability Retirement annuity from the Office of Personnel Management, one of the basic criteria which must be met for eligibility determination is that a medical condition, its symptomatologies and impact upon one’s ability/inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job, must last for a minimum of 12 months.  

As a practical matter, the medical condition normally lasts for much longer, and is quite often a chronic, progressively deteriorating condition.  If the medical condition is expected to last for a short period of time, then the Federal or Postal employee must seriously consider whether filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is “worth it”, inasmuch as it often takes 8 – 10 months to obtain an approval from the Office of Personnel Management for the First Stage of the process.  

As such, for most Federal and Postal employees who are contemplating preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS, there is an implicit acknowledgement and understanding the the medical condition itself is one of chronicity, debilitating in nature, and often progressively deteriorating.  

The fact that a medical condition must last for a minimum of 12 months, however, does not mean that a Federal or Postal employee should wait for the 12 months to pass before filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  That would, upon reflection, be a cruel absurdity — to have to wait for 12 months, then to file and wait about 10 months before the Office of Personnel Management makes a decision, and all of this, only at the First Stage of the process. No — the legal standard is that the medical condition must be “expected” to last a minimum of 12 months; meaning, thereby, that a doctor can normally make a reasonable prognosis as to the duration, chronicity and future behavior of the medical condition; and this can normally be accomplished soon after the identification of a particular medical condition.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: The Difficulty of Making the Decision

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management, it is often the mental act of deciding to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits which is the most difficult to make.  

For, while the actual mechanics of the entire process — of obtaining an attorney (if that has been decided), gathering the necessary medical narratives and supporting documentation; of facing the harsh reality of writing the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (following the format of Standard Form 3112A) and reading about the impact of one’s medical conditions and the direct nexus to one’s inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job — of actually outlining and delineating the symptomatologies resulting from the singular or multiple diagnosed medical conditions; of approaching and having the supervisor complete a Supervisor’s Statement; of essentially declaring to the Agency that you are no longer capable or able to perform one or more of the essential elements of the job, thereby confirming what many at the Agency probably already suspected — all of these “mechanical” aspects of the preparation, formulation and filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, while difficult, pale in comparison to the singular act which propels and initiates the entire process:  that of deciding to move forward.  For, as an old proverb states:  To lift a finger without thought is merely an act; to move with thought only a conscious event; to think, to plan, and then to engage in action, is the essence of man’s strength.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Patience & the Hinge

The hinge on a door is the mechanical contraption which allows for the swinging motion to occur.  Without it, the door will remain in place or, if one attempts to pull at the door, it will merely move towards you and continue to block the pathway.  Metaphors have been created from the invented device — a person can become “unhinged” meaning, similar to a door collapsing, a man or woman can lose the hope that a door represents as an entrance or an exit, to enter or leave.  

Preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS for the Federal or Postal employee can represent that “hinge” on a door.  It allows for hope viewed from a perspective of “now”, representing one side of the doorway, involving the debilitating medical conditions, the impact both upon one’s professional abilities, as well as upon the personal life with its correlative issues touching upon wives, children, parents, financial instability, etc.; and on the other side, the potential to receive a basic annuity so that one may exit in order to attend to the serious medical conditions without fear of becoming homeless.  

Yet, during the process of attempting to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits, because of the long delays, the months upon months of uncertainty awaiting for the decision from the Office of Personnel Management, the hinges can begin to rust and crumble.  This is especially true if a denial is received at the First Stage of the process, because it appears as if the door has slammed shut, and the hope for exiting and entering a different phase of one’s life has been lost.  But one must never lose the proper balance and perspective that is necessary to survive the fulfillment of the entire administrative process.  

Filing for, and obtaining, Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS is a process — the First Step is merely that:  part of the entirety of the process.  A denial at the Initial Stage of the process does not constitute an unhinging of the doorway to the future; rather, it merely represents a moment of time when the door got stuck because of the change in weather, where the wood expanded for a season, making it difficult to open it.  It just needs a little more effort, and patience, to take it to the next step of the process.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire