I am often asked whether or not it is more difficult to get disability retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS based upon a psychiatric medical condition (e.g., PTSD, Major Depression, Anxiety, panic attacks, Bipolar Disorder, etc.). Does the Office of Personnel Management deny a disability retirement application which is based solely upon a psychiatric condition? Should a FERS or CSRS disability retirement application always include a physical condition? The short and simple answer is an unequivocal “No”.
Let me provide a slightly more expanded answer: (1) In my experience, psychiatric disabilities present no greater obstacles than physical disabilities. So long as we can prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the medical condition — physical or psychiatric — prevents one from performing the essential elements of one’s job, there really is no difference between the two. (2) Do not “add” a physical disability because you think that a psychiatric disability is “not enough”. This would be a foolish approach. Focus upon the primary medical conditions, whether physical or psychiatric, in proving your case. (3) Remember that disability retirement often has other complex factors which come into play — accommodation issues; certain jobs are more easily shown to be “incompatible” with a psychiatric disability (for instance, Law Enforcement Personnel who have psychiatric disabilities obviously must have the mental acuity to perform the inherently dangerous aspects of the position); and remember that psychotropic medications, prescribed and necessary for daily functioning, often have side-effects which impact one’s ability to perform one’s job. The point in all of this is that there really is no substantive difference between psychiatric disabilities and physical ones, anymore; the societal stigma of “psychiatric medical conditions” has largely disappeared, and the Office of Personnel Management — in my experience — treats both psychiatric disabilities and physical disabilities on an equal par.
Robert R. McGill, Esquire