There is often an expressed concern regarding how confidential the medical records submitted through one’s Agency are kept. It is a valid concern, but one which must be weighed and considered in light of the ultimate goal: to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits under either CSRS or FERS.
There are multiple instances of confidentiality breaches — both at the agency level and at OPM. OPM has sent out letters in the past to the wrong individual, and in the letters they discuss details of medical conditions, contents of medical reports, etc. Such mistakes, while (fortunately) rare, do occur at times.
At the Agency level, of course, the concern is of greater import. If a Federal or Postal employee is still on the rolls of the Agency and has not been separated from Federal Service for more than thirty one (31) days, then an OPM Disability Retirement packet, with all of the attached medical reports, must be submitted through that Agency. Disclosure of such medical reports and records are to be kept to an “as needed” basis — for the limited purpose of seeing whether the Agency can accommodate a medical condition, for instance.
Federal and Postal employees who are filing for FERS Disability Retirement benefits often express the concern that unauthorized individuals may be able to view the confidential medical reports, and sometimes use them for alternative, unauthorized purposes. One such concern, of course, is if there is a pending collateral case ongoing — such as an EEOC case or some similar filing, where the evidence gleaned from the medical records can be used against the Federal or Postal employee in another forum.
Ultimately, the Federal or Postal employee must weigh the pros and cons, and do the best to ensure confidentiality, and view any concerns of confidential breaches as merely an intermediate step of necessity to attain the ultimate and more important goal, of obtaining an approval from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in a Federal Disability Retirement case.
Robert R. McGill, Esquire