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

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

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Issues

The issues upon which the Office of Personnel Management denies a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS are normally rather limited.  There are recurrent themes, and some of the more prevalent ones are:  insufficient medical documentation; issues concerning accommodations and attempted accommodations by the Agency; situational disability and issues which focus upon work issues which never should have been included in the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (SF 3112A).  

These are generic designations of the types of issues which an OPM Claims Representative may argue as the primary basis of his or her denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application, and there may be multiple corollary issues which are described — but, ultimately, when all is said and done, there are limited reasons as to why an Initial Stage application for Federal Disability Retirement is denied.  

That fact, however — of the limited basis and reasons — does not mean that the issues are simple; rather, that in responding to a denial from OPM, no matter how lengthy the denial letter may appear (or how short, for that matter), the issues can be neatly “broken down” and placed into manageable categories in order to respond.  Responding to a denial properly (in addition to filing the Request for Reconsideration in a timely manner) is important; how to respond, is all the more important.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Chronic Pain

Chronic pain in a Federal Disability Retirement application can result in a “catch-22” (as that famous Joseph Heller novel forever captured that phrase) — on the one hand, the diffuse and radiating, incessant pain results in such a high level of distractability that one is unable to focus and concentrate upon either a sedentary job, or a job which requires physical exertion because of the limitation and restriction of movement which such pain induces; but further, if one ingests pain medications, such medications will often create sedation to the extent that it results in greater lack of focus & concentration, or result in making a Federal or Postal worker into a “workplace hazard” because of the potential for accidents, etc.  

In such a case, “accommodation” in the workplace becomes a moot point in a Federal Disability Retirement case.  Such tripartite connections — between the Federal or Postal Worker and the type of work he or she engages in; the medical condition the Federal or Postal Worker suffers from; and the symptomatologies which manifest themselves which impact one’s ability to perform all of the essential elements of one’s job — are important to explain, delineate, and ultimately narrate effectively in preparing, formulating, and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

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

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: If all Roads Lead to …

If all roads lead to Point A, then it is obviously Point A which is of importance; the multiple roads which lead to it, while supportive and secondarily of importance, it is that critical point which must be taken care of.  This principle is important to keep in mind in preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  What is the critical “Point A” of the process?  What is that essential centrality around which everything else coalesces and points back to?  That which is determined to be the foundational center of any process is that which must be thoughtfully formulated and constructed. 

In a Federal Disability Retirement case, for Federal and Postal workers under FERS & CSRS, that critical “Point A” is the Standard Form 3112A — the Applicant’s Statement of Disability.  Think about it for a moment.  That is the form — and the opportunity — to discuss the medical conditions; how the medical conditions impact one’s inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job; whether or not your medical condition can be accommodated, etc.  What is the relevance of a medical report?  Its relevance surfaces only when it is explained in relation to one’s job.  What is the relevance of a job description?  Its relevance emerges only in relation to the explained medical condition.  What is the relevance of how a medical condition impacts one’s life outside of work?  Its relevance becomes apparent only in relation to its pervasiveness and described impact.  All of these issues become relevant because they point back to Point A — the Applicant’s Statement of Disability.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Revisiting the Concept of “Accommodations”

Accommodation” is a legal term of art.  At least, in preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is a specific term, with specific definitions, with underlying meanings that need to be fully understood in preparing a viable and successful disability retirement application.  In very loose, non-legal terms, there is never anything wrong with an Agency Supervisor “accommodating” a good and loyal Federal employee — by allowing the person to take LWOP; of instituting liberal leave policies; of lessening the workload; of allowing for temporary light duties; of minimizing travel, restricting certain physical requirements, or reassigning certain complex projects to other employees of the Agency.  Every good supervisor does this; and, indeed, sometimes everything works out for the best, and the temporary measures undertaken by the supervisor may allow for the employee to sufficiently recover and later reaffirm all of the essential elements of the position.  But the remaining question is:  Were those measures considered an “accommodation“?  The answer is:  No.  Why not?  Because such measures do not constitute and meet the definition of “accommodation” under the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement.  They may be “good” for the Agency, but they do not preclude one from filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Return from Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving was a time of quiet reflection; of family, friends and faith; of taking a slice of quietude and having conversations, about the past, present; and somewhat about the future.  I realize that those who need legal assistance in filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS have important and weighty issues on their minds — of medical conditions which will not go away; of financial obligations; of Supervisors who are unsympathetic; of Agencies which will not or cannot accommodate; of impending personal improvement plans; of upcoming projects or workloads which may not be completed; of uncooperative agencies and downright mean coworkers; and the stresses of thinking about filing for federal disability retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, and the future and what it holds.  With Christmas and the “holidays” around the corner, it is often a time of greater stressors.  Remember that one avenue of relieving stress is to become informed.  Read up on what is out there, and ask questions.  The answers provided may be able to set aside some of the stressors.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Can the Agency Accommodate You?

The term “accommodations” continues to be a highly misused one.  There is the general conceptual application, as when an agency attempts to do something to help a Federal or Postal employee by “allowing” for “light duty”, or allowing one to work at a reduced schedule, or to take sick leave, annual leave, or Leave Without Pay.  But such actions (as kindhearted as they might be intended) do not constitute a legal accommodation under disability retirement rules, statutes, laws or case-law. 

To legally accommodate someone must always mean that the agency does something, provides something, or creates something of a permanent nature, such that it allows you to perform the essential elements of your job.  Temporary measures, or allowing you to take time off, does not allow you to perform the essential elements of your job — instead, it merely allows you take time away from being able to do your job.  Remember, on the other hand, that there is nothing wrong with your Agency doing these things to “help you out”.  It simply does not constitute, or rise to the level of, an “accommodation” under the law.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Accommodations

While I am often asked about the intersecting connection between the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and Disability Retirement laws under FERS & CSRS, and the issue of accommodations, my short answer is that the two areas of law rarely directly intersect. “Accommodation issues” under disability retirement law rarely present a problem in a practical sense. 

The term itself is rarely applied properly; the best way that I can describe what the term “accommodation” means, in its technical application, is by giving the classic example:  A secretary who suffers from a chronic back condition is unable to perform her secretarial duties because of the high level of distractability from her chronic pain.  The agency purchases an expensive, ergonomic chair, which relieves the chronic pain; she is able to perform the essential elements of her job.  She has thus been “accommodated”. Thus, the definition of “accommodation” is essentially where the Agency does X such that X allows for employee Y to continue to perform the essential elements of Y’s job.  Further, an accommodation cannot be a temporary or modified assignment; in fact, it is not an “assignment” at all — it is something which the Agency does for you such that you can continue to perform your job. 

Thus, as a practical matter, it is rare that an Agency will be able to accommodate an individual. Further, when it comes to psychiatric disabilities, it will be rarer still -especially when the essential elements of one’s job requires the cognitive capabilities which are precisely that which is impacted by the psychiatric medical conditions.  As such, the issue of accommodations is rarely a real issue, and further, people who are attempting to enforce the provisions of the ADA are not those who are truly seeking disability retirement, anyway.  It is the very opposite — they are trying to preserve their jobs, and to force the Agency to provide an “accommodation” under the law.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire