Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Psychiatric Conditions

Sometimes, it is asked whether or not Psychiatric medical conditions are more difficult to pass through in filing a Federal Disability Retirement application.  Implicit in that question, of course, is whether there still exists an inherent stigma attached to Psychiatric conditions, as opposed to “physical” medical conditions.

Over the years, there has obviously been a cultural transformation in the legitimization, acceptance, and overall recognition that Psychiatric conditions are just as “valid” as any other medical conditions.  With such acceptance and recognition, the increase in applications for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS based upon Psychiatric medical conditions has had a parallel effect, and the short answer is that there really is no greater difficulty or distinction to be made between filing a Federal Disability Retirement application based upon Psychiatric medical conditions as opposed to, or in contradistinction to, non-psychiatric conditions.  

The legal criteria remains the same. From the wide spectrum of Major Depression, Anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Agoraphobia, Panic Disorder, various forms of Paranoia, etc., the preparation, formulation and presentation of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS remains the same:  Obtaining the proper and substantiating medical documentation; forming the narrative bridge between one’s psychiatric medical conditions and the impact upon one or more of the essential elements of one’s job; and making the proper legal arguments, etc.  

Ultimately, one must approach Psychiatric medical conditions in the same manner as non-psychiatric, physical conditions:  by preparing, formulating and filing an excellent narrative presentation of a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Focusing upon the Bridge

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the multitude of aspects in preparing the application will often lend itself to detracting and distracting from the primary elements of an effective application and presentation.

Thus, worries about what the Supervisor will or will not say; whether the Agency will mis-characterize a supposed “good deed” they performed by declaring it to be an “accommodation”, with the danger that such declaration and characterization will be accepted by the Clerk at the Office of Personnel Management as true, etc. — all of these take away from the essence of creating that important bridge between one’s medical conditions and the essential elements of one’s positional duties.

Because the vast majority of denials issued by the Office of Personnel Management are based upon “insufficient medical documentation”, an undue focus upon other elements of a Federal Disability Retirement application would not be an intelligent utilization of one’s time and effort.

While OPM will certainly argue that the Agency has “accommodated” the Federal or Postal employee (and use that term improperly 9 times out of 10); and while OPM will point to elements in a Supervisor’s Statement as a further basis for a denial; each such supplemental argument by the Office of Personnel Management is nevertheless based upon the centrality of a primary argument, in most cases:  Insufficient Medical Documentation.

As such, it is prudent to focus one’s efforts upon the primary basis which provides the foundation for an effective Federal Disability Retirement application:  The bridge between one’s medical conditions, and the essential elements of one’s job.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: SSDI Impact

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS (CSRS individuals are exempted for this particular issue), the Federal or Postal employee who is contemplating filing for the benefit must at some point in the process file for Social Security Disability benefits (SSDI).  This is because the law is set up for an off-setting feature between the two “pockets” of benefits — where, in the first year, there is a 100% offset between FERS & SSDI, and a 60% offset every year thereafter.  

In some rare instances, Social Security will approve a person’s disability application before the Office of Personnel Management has approved a FERS Disability Retirement application.  In that instance, one can use the SSDI approval as “persuasive” evidence to the Office of Personnel Management.  It is not determinative evidence, but there are legal arguments to be made which essentially state that, since a person has been found to be “totally disabled” by the Social Security Administration, based upon the same or identical medical evidence and documentation, that the Office of Personnel Management should grant a FERS Disability Retirement application based upon the same or identical medical evidence.  

Is the reverse true?  If a FERS Disability Retirement application is approved, can such an approval be used as evidence — persuasive or determinative — for an SSDI application?  That would be a weaker argument, precisely because OPM Disability Retirement does not make a determination of total disability, but rather, a decision that the Federal or Postal employee cannot perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s particular kind of job.  Moreover, the Social Security Administration might also argue that inasmuch as SSDI does allow for some earned income (about $1,000 per month) from a job, such allowance shows that approval of a FERS Disability Retirement, which recognizes that one is merely disabled from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s particular kind of job, should not be determinative of a Social Security criteria which requires a higher standard of disability.

Knowing what impact each aspect or element of a process will have upon another is an important step in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application. As knowledge is the source of success, utilization of such knowledge is the pathway to an approval in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS and CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: OPM, Patience & Frustration

After one’s Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS has left one’s agency (or, in the case of a Federal or Postal employee who has been separated from Federal Service for more than thirty one (31) days, filed directly to the Office of Personnel Management in Boyers, PA), it then goes to Boyers, PA for the intake processing part of the process.  

Thereafter, a CSA Number (if one is under FERS, the 7-digit number will begin with an “8”, and under CSRS it will begin with a “4”, with the eighth and somewhat irrelevant digit being a “0”), which is the case identifier for all Federal and Postal Disability Retirement applications, is assigned in order to be able to easily reference a case for purposes of discussion, adding or supplementing additional information, checking on the status, etc.  

Once it arrives in Washington, D.C., then the “real” waiting part of the process begins — first, waiting for it to get “assigned” to a Case Worker in the OPM Disability, Reconsideration & Appeals Division; then, once assigned, to have OPM review it.  Sometimes, a piece of information is found lacking or missing, and a letter apprising the Federal or Postal employee of such lack is sent out, allowing for the Federal or Postal employee to obtain such information within thirty (30) days of the date of the letter.  

OPM’s general policy is to try and make a decision on a case within 90 – 120 days of a case being assigned to a Case Worker, but that timeline is a malleable one.  One can easily add another 30 – 60 days to that block of time. What occurs during this block of time?  It is a mystery, remains a mystery, and retains the aura of secrecy and mystery.  

As frustration is the flip-side of the virtue of patience, as an emotional expression, it has little benefit or worth to the human soul.  Expression of frustration should be accomplished in constructive ways, and calling OPM in an angry outburst is not considered one of them.  Constrain the frustration; exhibit the virtue of patience; understand that time is a projection of an expectation of hope in one’s mind, quantified exponentially in a mire of frustration when one does not occupy the void and vacuity of time with other things to do.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: The Tool of Repetition

Repetition is an important tool in any written genre; overuse of the tool can always backfire (is there an inherent conundrum in criticizing the tool of “repetition” by saying that it can be “overused” — probably), but in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management, the importance of repetitively stating the important elements of one’s medical conditions and their impact upon one’s ability/inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job cannot be overstated.

As time is a commodity worth its span in gold, the assigned case worker or Disability Specialist (or whatever other name or designation given to the person at the Office of Personnel Management who will review one’s Federal Disability Retirement application for identification purposes) must use such time efficiently; and given the volume of cases which the Case Worker must evaluate, analyze and decide upon, the tool of repetition is important precisely because, in the short time-span within the volume of cases to be reviewed, the ability to catch the attention of the reviewer and to highlight the main points of one’s case by shouting out in bold-faced screams, is an effective way of presenting one’s case.

As paper-presentations go, they are silent vehicles of communication.  However, within the neutral silence of being presented to the reader, it is important to repetitively state (and restate) the main points of a case in formulating one’s narrative in the Applicant’s Statement of Disability.  As with everything else, however, in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS and CSRS, there is a danger point in using the tool of repetition:  too much repetition can make one’s case appear to be “artificial” and conniving.

You don’t want to file a Federal Disability Retirement application by stating the Federal Retirement application too repetitively because to overstate the Federal Disability Retirement application too many times would be to use the tool of repetition too much in a Federal Disability Retirement application (hope one gets it).

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Internet Information

Previous articles and blogs have written quite extensively about the distinction and conceptual differentiation between information and knowledge, and the fact that exponential quantification of the former (information) does not necessarily result in a qualitative increase in the latter (knowledge).  

A similar argument can be made for the “reputation” of an individual.  It has been pointed out on many occasions to this writer that various readers have read many “positive” things on various websites which discuss Federal and Postal Disability Retirement issues.  While such complimentary statements are certainly better and more welcomed than negative ones, nevertheless, one must recognize the age-old principle that where good things may be stated, the very opposite can also occur.  

Reputation is built over time; not everyone can be pleased for all of time; and information which is hastily posted on the internet may or may not be the full story, leaving aside whether or not it is based upon facts or knowledge.  

The plethora of blog writers, websites which merely promote one’s self and reputation — all must be evaluated and analyzed within a greater context of a span of time.  Many writers seem to think that quantity is the key to success — that by repetitively reiterating “key words and terms”, that the internet traffic will increase, and since most people don’t take the time to read, evaluate and discern in a careful manner, such an approach provides for moderate success, if “success” means reaching the greatest number of people.  But preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS must necessarily contain the element of care, meticulous preparation, and thoughtful formulation for the future.  

When an attorney is considered for representation, the choice should be made based upon multiple factors:  knowledge, experience, reputation and accessibility being some of the chief elements to be considered.  Quantity of information is good; quality of information is better; and in the greater context of all such information concerning Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management, careful consideration of all of the relevant factors must be taken.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Meticulous Preparation

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is important to take the time, effort and care to prepare each element of the application for Federal Disability Retirement with meticulousness.  The term and conceptual implication of the word, “being meticulous” involves precision and the imagery of a methodical approach, of attending to the details and formulating the various aspects of the packet with thoughtful thoroughness.  

As a watchmaker who must attend to the minute details of his masterpiece (yes, it is a deliberate pun on using the term “minute” to infer both the idea of size as well as a quantity of time, but pronounced in different ways), it is in the very details of a Federal Disability Retirement case where the battle for approval or denial must be fought. It is often pointed out that ease of effort distinguishes between the professional and the amateur; that the professional makes it all look so easy.  Yet, the amount of preparation and practice which the professional undergoes prior to going on stage, or showing his or her abilities before a watchful crowd, is what the audience does not see.  

Similarly, when the Office of Personnel Management reviews a Federal Disability Retirement application and sees how everything logically “fits” together and proves by a preponderance of the evidence that a Federal Disability Retirement application has met all of the legal criteria for an approval, it is the meticulous preparation which has gone into fitting all of the “pieces of the puzzle” together, which provided the foundation for such success.  

Like those automobile commercials where precision driving through difficult obstacles ends with the cautionary statement:  “Beware, do not try this on your own, as the drivers in this ad were all professionals”; so it is a similar statement to the Federal or Postal employee who is attempting to formulate a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS:  it is not an easy matter, and meticulous preparation must be taken to formulate the medical, legal, narrative and multitudinous elements necessary to qualify for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: FERS & SSDI Offset

This information has been concurrently posted on the “forum” concerning FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement, because it is a pending issue which may impact many (former) Federal and Postal employees who are receiving both FERS Disability Retirement benefits as well as SSDI, and impacted by the offset between the two.  

Under FERS, you must file for Social Security Disability benefits.  However, everyone should be aware of two basic (potential) problems:  (1)  There is a much lower “cap” under SSDI as to what one can earn in income and (2) There is an offset between FERS Disability annuity and SSDI (100% the first year, 60% every year thereafter).  Further, as SSDI has a higher and more restrictive standard of proof (generally, one of “total disability” as opposed to being disabled from being able to perform all of the essential elements of one’s job), most Federal and Postal employees will not qualify for SSDI, and so it is not an issue.  

However, every Federal and Postal employee should be aware of the following:  If a Federal or Postal employee becomes qualified for both SSDI and FERS Disability retirement, and receives the joint annuities from both sources, and if at a later time he/she exceeds the income cap as set by SSDI and loses the SSDI benefit, one would presume/assume that since the source of the offset is lost, that OPM would reinstate the full FERS Disability annuity amount.  Not so.  There is a legal distinction being made by OPM between being “eligible” and being “entitled”, and the fact that one is no longer “eligible” does not mean that one is not “entitled”, and therefore no reinstatement of the full annuity is made.  

A couple of cases are presently be appealed to the 3-Judge panel at the MSPB, and a decision is forthcoming any day.  If favorable, good for everyone.  If not, then an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit will be entertained.

Knowing what the law says is the key to proper preparation in any event, and regardless of what the outcome of the case will/may be, knowing the law will allow for all recipients of a FERS Disability Retirement annuity to adequately prepare and to act accordingly.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Encounters, Problems, Worries…

The entire process of preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS should necessarily anticipate encounters with potential pitfalls, problems, and issues as they appear and erupt, which concern and impact the Federal or Postal employee at every stage of the long procedural process.  

This is a natural part of the application process, precisely because the Federal or Postal employee is suddenly making contact with a multiplicity of personnel and issues:  notification to the agency that one is no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job; filing for a benefit which requires the admission and revelation of the most personal of information — one’s medical condition; encounters with the Human Resources department of one’s agency, one’s treating doctor, one’s supervisor, etc.; the filling out and completing of multiple forms which may determine the outcome of the success or failure of an endeavor which will impact upon one’s financial future and plans; as well as encountering a multitude of other issues, people, and problems in the course of attempting to prove that one is eligible by a preponderance of the evidence for a benefit called, “Federal Disability Retirement”.

Throughout the process, it is important to have the guidance of knowledgeable personnel.  However, there is an important distinction to be made between knowledge and information; there is an infinite plenitude of the latter; the former is what one needs to seek.  

As the process of preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is a long and challenging process, it is best to anticipate unexpected and unanticipated encounters, worries and problems throughout the process, and to prepare to meet, overcome, and answer each one as they appear.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire