FERS Medical Retirement: Meeting the basic requirements

As with any endeavor, meeting the basic requirements is the minimum standard.  For Federal employees and U.S. Postal workers who are considering filing a Federal Disability Retirement application, it is important to understand the basic eligibility requirements in order to qualify for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether the Federal or Postal employee is under FERS, CSRS or CSRS Offset.

Here are a few: The minimum Federal Service requirement (18 months); of having a medical condition during the tenure of one’s Federal Service that prevents the Federal or Postal employee from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal position; and an inability by the agency to provide reasonable accommodations or reassignment; and some further factors to be considered, as well.

Beyond the basic requirements, of course, are the technical issues that have developed over many years and decades, primarily through statutory interpretation as expounded in court cases and decisions handed down by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.  There are, moreover, legal refinements and interpretations that go beyond the “basics”, and while meeting the basic requirements is an important start, it is critical to understand the technical legal refinements which have evolved over the years. “Always start with the basic requirements; and from there, consult with an expert for further details.”

Such is the sage advice often given before involving oneself in a complex process, and Federal Disability Retirement Law is one such administrative endeavor that should take such counsel into account.

Start with meeting the basic requirements — of the minimum 18 months of Federal Service; of having a medical condition such that the Federal or Postal employee is no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal job; and from there, seek the advice and counsel of an attorney who specializes in Federal Disability Retirement Law — another “basic requirement” in preparing, formulating and filing an effective Federal Disability Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

OPM Disability Retirement under FERS: Factors to consider

The universe of thoughtful decision-making shrinks exponentially and in direct correlation with the pertinent and relevant information gathered, and it is too often the case that factors not considered are the very ones which lead to a non-decision or, more importantly, to a wrong conclusion.

What factors should be considered when a Federal or Postal employee is going to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether the Federal or Postal employee is under FERS, CSRS or CSRS Offset?

Certainly, age can be a factor — for, if OPM engages in a recalculation of a Federal Disability Retirement annuity at age 62, and you are fast approaching that age, the factor of “how long it takes” to get an OPM Disability Retirement approved (about a year, give or take a few months on either side of the equation); whether you get any backpay once it is approved (back to the last day your Agency or the Postal Service has paid you anything); and whether the time you are on Federal Disability Retirement counts towards your total number of years accrued until the recalculation age at 62 (it does) — should all be factors to consider.

Further, even if you are still relatively young, should those same factors be considered?  The short answer is an unequivocal “yes” — and probably many others, besides, including: Do I intend on working at another job in the private sector while on Federal Disability Retirement?  Do I have Service-Connected disabilities that can play a factor [sic] in the factors to be considered?

The universe of factors to consider in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether the Federal or Postal employee is under FERS, CSRS or CSRS Offset, are innumerable; and then, there are likely factors that you have not even considered, but which may be prompted by consulting with an attorney who has already considered multiple factors besides, and who may be able to guide you in this complex process called “OPM Disability Retirement”.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

Medical Retirement from Federal Government Employment: Terms

Language is a malleable vehicle.  There have been times in the history of language, when the staid and stodginess period of loss of vibrancy became the rule, followed by epochs of radical vicissitudes, upheavals and counter-conventional revolutions in the medium of language games.  Whether this encapsulated slice of linguistic alteration, upending traditional forms of communication because of electronic media and the hype of language abbreviated by Twitter, Texting and Tablet Titillations, will last the short life of technological innovation and obsolescence, is yet to be determined.

For example, the time of Shakespeare’s linguistic explosion of experimentation and expansive usage became in retrospect a richness of entering into connotative language meanings from which we benefit to this day.  But steadiness, continuity and conditions of stability are also important in order to take the proverbial breather to accept, embrace and assimilate (a term widely used for contextual purposes in modernity applied to immigration reform, as well) the linguistic revolutions that become incommensurate with meaning, communication and conveyance of terms.

Terms are important, both in common usage and in technical application.  In the arena of Federal Disability Retirement Law, different words are splayed about, sometimes without regard to proper application, especially when the “law” often requires a greater attention to precision of meaning.  Some simple and common crossovers of linguistic confusion involve:  “medical retirement” and “disability retirement” – do they mean the same thing?

If reference to either term involves the submission for an early retirement to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, then the answer is “yes”, they do mean the same thing.  Federal Disability  Retirement is identical to “Federal medical retirement” if by such words the query is referring to filing for an early retirement based upon the Federal or Postal worker’s inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal position, and therefore the intention is to access an early annuity because of one’s early retirement based upon the medical condition, and submitted to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Some other terms often confused or conflated:  “On-the-job injury” or “pre-existing condition”; these terms are often used in the language-arena of Worker’s Compensation issues, and rarely have any import – or applicability, at all – in the context of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  For, in a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether the applicant is under FERS, CSRS or CSRS Offset, it matters not whether or not one has been disabled “on the job” or away at a skiing accident; instead, what is important is the impact of the injury or disease upon one’s ability and capacity to perform the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal position.  As for a “pre-existing” condition – that, too, is more likely appropriately defined in an OWCP context, and rarely in filing a Federal Disability Retirement application.

In any event, “terms” are meant to be used within a context-appropriate content of filings, and in preparing, formulating and filing an effective Federal Disability Retirement application, it is important to clarify and conform to the applicable statutory mandates in defining and using the terms which are most appropriate and effective.

For, in the end, the explosion of language during the era of Shakespeare and the Elizabethan Age reverberates with critical linguistic richness to this day; yet, if we were to have a conversation with a bloke from that era, the terms employed would not only confuse us, but confound us with a profound sense of despairing lack of cogency despite our self-aggrandizing declarations of superiority and advancement in the modern parlance of greater self-esteem.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

OPM Accepted Medical Conditions

The problem with “lists” is that, the moment one realizes that one is not on the list, the tendency is to simply give up and go home.  But lists are rarely exhaustive; rather, most are merely to provide a “paradigm” or “type”, as opposed to exclusionary intent by failing to specify or name.

PTSD

Federal Civilian employees with PTSD may qualify for OPM Disability Retirement depending upon the circumstances.  There is no need to prove that this condition is pre-existing or job-related

Thus, for Federal employees and U.S. Postal workers who are considering preparing, formulating and filing for OPM Disability Retirement benefits, whether the Federal or Postal employee is under FERS, CSRS or CSRS Offset, the critical issue to recognize is threefold:  First, becoming qualified for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through OPM is not dependent upon having an officially identifiable diagnosis which matches a “list” compiled at OPM; Second, in some ways, the symptoms manifested are just as important as the underlying diagnosis, precisely because what the Federal or Postal employee “suffers from” is what impacts the capacity and ability of the Federal or Postal employee in performing the essential elements of one’s positional duties; and Third, because Federal Disability Retirement is based upon the nexus between one’s medical condition and the positional duties required in one’s job, there is a requirement of showing the “connection” between the Federal or Postal job and the manifestation of the diagnosed medical condition(s).

Sleep Apnea

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (or Apnoea) may also qualify for OPM Disability Retirement if this condition causes fatigue and sleepiness in such a way that it interferes with work productivity

Thus, while a 1-to-1 ratio between a medical condition and an “essential element” of one’s positional duties is not required (the recent Henderson case reiterated that issue), a showing of incompatibility between the medical condition and the positional requirements is enough to establish eligibility for OPM Disability Retirement Benefits.  In the end, providing a “list” is somewhat more of a disservice than not, because no list would ever be complete, and an incomplete list has a tendency to dishearten and dissuade.

Sciatica and Low-back pain

Sciatica is a type of pain affecting the sciatic nerve, often as a result of repetitive strain injury.  U.S. Postal employees are especially vulnerable to low back pain and repetitive strain injuries when pulling “cages” (Mail Handlers); standing, twisting, turning, and bending when working with Flat Sorting Machines (Distribution Clerks); standing for long hours (Windows Clerks); and when sitting in mail trucks and carrying heavy mailbags on their shoulders for several hours (Letter Carriers)

That being said, there are overarching “types” of medical conditions in either categories:  of Psychiatric (Major Depression, Generalized Anxiety, Anxiety, panic attacks, suicidal ideations, Paranoia, Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Psychosis, ADD, ADHD, OCD), but which also fall under the general aegis of “cognitive dysfunctions” as well; and of Physical (Chronic Pain, Degenerative Disc Disease, Cervical degeneration; disc bulges and herniations; disc impingements; RSD; chemical-sensitivity issues; Asthma; pulmonary issues; anatomically-targeted issues involving hands, wrists, knees, feet, etc.; as well as GERD, Sleep Apnea, Profound Fatigue; IBS; residual effects from treatment regimens; symptoms which impact, directly or indirectly, the ability and capacity to perform the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal positional duties); and many, many more.

Doctors' OPM narrative

Doctors are usually familiarized with SSDI rules, not with OPM Disability law; so, even if they are willing to help, they will be typically unable to do so

There:  the disservice has been accomplished; like being back in elementary school where the “list” for the most popular, the coolest and the best dressed did not recognize your name, for Federal and Postal employees, the focus needs to always be upon that “secondary” issue of the 2-part nexus: Whatever the “it” is, is it impacting your ability or capacity to perform one or more of the essential elements of your job?

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

OPM Disability Retirement: Explicit versus Implicit

The former leaves no room for confusion or doubt; the latter, a bit of “wiggle room” where insinuations, hints and suggestive openings are characteristic invitations of open regards.  They are not mutually exclusive within a paragraph or even a sentence; they are, however, antonyms, and should be used with context-defined relevance.

For Federal employees and U.S. Postal workers who are filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether the Federal employee or the U.S. Postal worker is under FERS, CSRS or CSRS Offset, the choice of either can determine the future viability of one’s Federal Disability Retirement application.

Certainly, there are times in life when one chooses the latter methodology, for various reasons — perhaps being forthright and blunt is not the “right” approach; perhaps there is fear of offending, or mere laziness and sludge of confrontation prevents one from being straightforward.  In the legal arena, the former approach is preferable, if only to squeeze out the light of linguistic malleability and flexibility in supercilious argumentation.  But in the context of an OPM Disability Retirement packet, there will often contain multiple usages.

One’s Supervisor, in completing SF 3112B (Supervisor’s Statement), may present contradictory information by checking a box which is relatively unequivocal (is that an oxymoron — to use the terms “relatively” and “unequivocal” in the same breadth of a sentence?) but placing remarks implying the exact opposite in response to “explanatory” and more expansive questions.  Or, for the Federal Disability Retirement applicant, in completing SF 3112A, the “Applicant’s Statement of Disability”, there may be a strategy in mixing both explicit statements and providing for implicit openings for meanings and connections.

Certainly, the “law” of Federal Disability Retirement allows for it; but one must always take care in addressing the nature, extent and susceptibility of statutory interpretation in formulating one’s Federal Disability Retirement application.  Ultimately, as in most things in life, the former is preferable to the latter; though, wiggle room and the dictates social conventions may sometimes require one to be explicitly implicit in order to be inefficiently efficacious.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

Federal Disability Retirement: A Return to Basics

Every few decades, there is a “new” movement which upholds the divinity of returning to the foundational core of one’s existence:  of going back to being a farmer; living a life of an ascetic; stripping away all “unnecessary” accretions and accoutrements deemed as vestries of comfort and “bourgeois” by definition (whatever that means); or, in common parlance and language more amenable to the ordinary person, living more “simply”.

The perspective that such a “movement” is somehow “new” is of itself rather an anomaly; but then, each generation believes that they have discovered and invented the proverbial wheel, and all such past epochs were mere ages of primitive imbecility.   And, perhaps, we are once more in that familiar circle of life, and such a movement has beset the quietude of modernity, again.  As such, let us return to the basics:

For Federal employees and U.S. Postal workers who suffer from a medical condition, such that the Federal or Postal employee may need to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the “foundational” eligibility criteria needs to be met:  For those under FERS (Federal Employees Retirement System — or the “new” system sometime around 1986 and thereafter), the Federal or Postal employee must have a minimum of 18 months of Federal Service in order to apply.  For those under CSRS, the accrual time is 5 years — and, as such, anyone under CSRS would presumably have met that basic requirement, although a CSRS employee with a long “break in service” could potentially fall short, but that would involve a unique set of circumstances rarely seen.

Further, the Federal or Postal employee who sets about to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits must either be (A) a current employee (in which case he or she would file first through the agency’s Human Resource Office, then to be forwarded to OPM, (B) if not a current employee, then separated from service not more than 1 year (as the Statute of Limitations in filing for Federal Disability Retirement requires that a former Federal or Postal employee file directly with OPM within 1 year of being separated from service), (C) if separated from the Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service, but not for more than 31 days, then to file with one’s former Agency, and (D) if separated for more than 31 days, but less than 1 year, then refer to (B) and file directly with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in Boyers, Pennsylvania.

These are some of the “basics” in filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  There is much, much more to the entire process, but then again, if one were to expand too far astray from the foundational core of the “back to basics” movement, one would be a hypocrite for allowing the complications of life to accrue beyond the essential elements of life — of water, food and shelter or, for the Federal and Postal employee filing for Federal OPM Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS, CSRS or CSRS Offset, the bridge between one’s position and the medical conditions one suffers from.  Go figure.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

Federal Disability Retirement: The Legal Language Game

Wittgenstein’s contribution to Western Philosophy was an extension of a line of English linguistic/analytical approach to unraveling substantive issues of confounding puzzlement.  Leave it to the British to resolve all problems through the correct usage of language — or, in his case, of Austrian-British conversion.

Within every context of societal constructs, there are unique conventions of linguistic acceptance.  Thus, the “language game” when engaging a Rapper will necessarily be different from that of having a polite dinner conversation with the Pope, and discussion with a computer geek will take on a different tone and content than speaking to a 2-year old.

Similarly, there is a specific language game when entering the legal arena — often characterized by aggression, subtle threats, compelling force and the Roman Centurion admixture with troubadourian  characteristics ready to paper-massacre the opponent.  Words like “liability”, “sue”, “court order”, “subpoena”, “deposition”, “money damages” — they comprise the extensive corpus of the language game of lawyersAdministrative law is a sub-facet of that legal route, but involves a bureaucratic maneuver which involves just as a great a level of complexity and specialized knowledge.

Preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is an administrative legal process which asserts the right to, and compels the attainment of, a Federal benefit from OPM for Federal and Postal employees under FERS, CSRS or CSRS Offset.  It is not simply “given away”, and must be secured through proof of a level rising to a preponderance of the evidence.  There are legal precedents to follow, statutory and regulatory components which must be adhered to, and laws both stated and implied which encapsulate the whole of the language game of OPM Disability Retirement.

As a subset of the greater language game of “The Law”, it is a winding route of mazes within precipitous promontories involving a complexity of conundrums — not quite as esoteric as the language game of mathematics or physics, but somewhat akin to computer geekery and macro-economics.  Add to that the sword of yore utilized by a Roman Centurion ready to attack, transformed into the mighty pen (or, in modern linguistic update, the laptop computer).

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire