Early Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Proof and Consequence

What if you possessed a piece of unique information, but no one else could see it? What if, by all appearances, you seemed perfectly healthy, but you weren’t?  What if you struggled every day to meet the stated professional objectives and goals, but were dying inside?

The silence of a medical condition is the consequence of a duality of contradictions:  many medical conditions, including psychiatric conditions, debilitate the “inner” person, and any such explanation to third parties is met with surprise, astonishment, disbelief and denial; but concomitantly, most people don’t want to hear about the troubles of others, anyway.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, one must always distinguish between the medical condition, and proving the medical condition. That X suffers from medical condition Y, unless it is an amputated limb and is self-evident to the outside world, is known only to the sufferer, and to those whom the sufferer relates.

Proving one’s medical condition is done through the objectification of the medical condition — i.e., through a medical doctor who clinically assesses, evaluates, and concludes with a diagnosis.  From there, the proper nexus must be built between the medical condition and the ability/inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  Having X is one thing; proving X is another.

Knowing the distinction will make all the difference in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Application of a Neutral Legal Criteria

The application of law upon determination of a Federal Disability Retirement application is based upon a set of criteria which focuses upon the impact of a medical condition on the Federal or Postal employee’s ability or inability to perform all of the essential elements of his or her job.  Thus, it is different from other government programs or compensation benefits, in that it ignores such issues as causality or prima facie accepted medical diagnoses.

Indeed, one can have a serious medical condition and still be denied one’s Federal Disability Retirement application if one fails to show the nexus, or the impacting connection, between the serious medical condition and one’s ability/inability to perform all of the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal job.  In that sense, the applicable legal criteria is neutral in its very essence:  first, the Office of Personnel Management should (obviously) apply the law in a “neutral” manner, without regard to the person who applies, or be influenced in any way by the agency; but, moreover, and more importantly, the law itself is neutral to the extent that it makes no judgment upon the medical condition itself — only upon the medical condition in conjunction with the impact to one’s ability/inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job.

As such, in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the primary focus in attempting to prove this point — both from a medical perspective as well as from the applicant’s approach — should be to emphasize the connection between the diagnosed medical condition and the essential elements of one’s job, and not merely upon the seriousness of the former.  Only in this way can the neutrality of the legal criteria properly assess the viability and force of one’s Federal Disability Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Always the Basics Matter

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is always instructive to remind one’s self that the focus of any application should be placed upon the basic components of a Federal Disability Retirement application, and once that focal point is embraced, to reiterate and reinforce that aspect of the Disability Retirement application.

Often, when one requests and receives a blank packet of information, including all of the Standard Forms, instructions, financial forms and life insurance forms, etc., to fill out and complete, the sense of being overwhelmed can easily defeat a Federal Disability Retirement application at the outset.

There are multiple personal questions; information requested on military service, on receipt of OWCP benefits; then the complexity of the queries focuses upon those rather simple but “tricky” questions concerning Agency actions, about whether one has “requested” an accommodation; to describe one’s medical conditions, etc.  How a question should be answered is indeed crucial in the successful filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application; whether the answers given should be consistently coordinated with other answers provided is equally of importance.

Ultimately, the basic components of a Federal Disability Retirement application embrace the relationship between the medical condition suffered, and the impact upon one’s positional duties required to be performed.  But, inasmuch as it is not the Agency of the Federal or Postal employee who makes the decision concerning an OPM Disability Retirement application, but the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, it is important to understand that while the answers given involve the actions of the relationship between a Federal and Postal employee and one’s agency, it is ultimately people outside of the agency to whom such answers must be directed.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The Corresponding Bridge

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the Federal or Postal employee must always keep in mind the overriding connection throughout the entire administrative process — the correspondence between the medical condition and one’s positional duties.

Thus, redundancy and reiteration of the impact and connection between the two elements should be seen at every turn — in the medical reports; in the applicant’s statement of disability; in the Supervisor’s Statement (if possible); in the SF 3112D, Agency Efforts for Reassignment and Accommodation, etc.  

As Social Security bases its decision in determining the disability of an applicant upon factors which involve the medical condition itself and its impact upon daily living abilities, so Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS takes a different focus and approach:  it emphasizes and evaluates the necessary connection between the medical condition one suffers from, and the impact upon one’s positional duties in the official slot held by the Federal or Postal employee.  

As the law focuses upon that “necessary connection,” so the evidence which is presented to the Office of Personnel Management, in meeting the legal criteria by a preponderance of the evidence, must emphasize and repetitively, where possible, delineate such a connection.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Extending the Bridge

In formulating a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is always important to think of the “nexus”, or the bridge which one constructs between the positional duties of one’s job with the Agency, and the medical conditions which prevent the Federal or Postal Worker from performing one or more of the essential elements of those positional duties, as a continuum, as opposed to a singular event.

Thus, during the waiting period once the Office of Personnel Management assigns a CSA Number, and the issuance of a decision (whether an initial approval or a denial; if the latter, then one should obviously file a Request for Reconsideration within the allotted 30-day time period), there is always an opportunity to file additional and supplemental medical and other supporting documentation, in order to “extend” or reinforce that bridge.

Such documentation could include continuing treatment & office notes; any updated diagnostic testing results; any actions by the agency which would imply or otherwise reveal an increasing severity of the medical condition and the acknowledgment by the agency of the medical conditions, including the results of “Fitness for Duty” examinations, letter of proposed removal, withdrawing of medical certification, etc.; and other supporting documentation.

Of course, the general rule is that one cannot “add” to the identified medical conditions which one has established in the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (SF 3112A); however, one can reinforce and extend the strength of the bridge.

Remembering this distinction can help to solidify and exponentially increase the chances of an initial approval from the Office of Personnel Management, in the period of waiting for that decision.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Creating a Meaningful Bridge

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is obviously important to construct an effective bridge, or nexus, between one’s identified medical conditions and the type of positional duties which one performs at the Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service.  

In doing so, one should keep in mind certain essential points, each from the perspective of the Office of Personnel Management (which is the agency which will determine whether the Federal or Postal employee/applicant’s Federal Disability Retirement application will be approved or denied).  

For instance, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will only consider those medical conditions which are identified in the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (SF 3112A).  Once a CSA Number (an administrative identifier which is assigned by OPM — an eight-digit number beginning with “4” for CSRS employees and ending with a “0”; and for FERS employees, beginning with an “8” and ending with a “0”) is assigned to an application, the Federal or Postal employee is no longer able to add any further medical conditions without withdrawing the application completely, and re-submitting it anew.

Further, while the Office of Personnel Management will consider specific duties and descriptions of duties which are delineated and expanded upon in the narrative portion of SF 3112A, it is the “official” position description which will ultimately be controlling. Thus, a logical variance from the official position description as to what a Federal or Postal employee does, will not make any difference.  However, if what the Federal or Postal employee states that he or she is doing, is completely at odds with what the positional description states that he or she should be doing, then the controlling default will be the official position description.  

It is wise to keep these two perspectives in mind, in creating an effective bridge for a Federal Disability Retirement application.  For, ultimately, it is the perspective from the “other side” which matters, and as such, OPM’s perspective of how a Federal Disability Retirement application is reviewed and considered, is an important aspect in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under 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

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Choosing the Medical Conditions

Often, in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the question is asked as to which medical conditions should be included in a Federal Disability Retirement application.  The obvious answer, of course, is to identify the “most serious” of the medical conditions, with a secondary consideration being the ones which impact one’s ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job.  

Whether to list “all of them” is a separate question, and then there are the subtleties which further delve into a more detailed analysis of the creation of an effective nexus between one’s medical conditions, the job description which one is supposed to be doing, and the provability of the medical conditions identified and described.  

Inasmuch as a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is a “paper presentation” to the Office of Personnel Management (and yes, the concept of a “paper presentation” still applies even if and when OPM converts entirely to the technological next-step of a paperless system; the Federal or Postal employee must still present a formatted application), the admixture of legal and medical issues will ultimately come about.  

The conceptual distinction between the diagnosis and the symptomatologies; the extent of willingness of what a treating doctor will state; the concordance between the diagnosis, the symptoms described, and their impact upon the particular elements of one’s position description; the potential impact of being found “disabled” by the Office of Personnel Management based upon a “minor” medical condition which may resolve itself in the future, as opposed to a more serious-listed one; the nebulous areas of “syndromes” (as in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) and the description of symptoms and making sure to relate the symptoms to a particular medical condition — these are all “subtleties” which involve an intersection between the legal standard of proof and the medical “facts”, in formulating a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  But that it were as easy as simply listing one’s medical conditions.  But, alas, OPM is a Federal bureaucracy, and the combination of “the law” and “a bureaucracy” can only lead to one result:  a conundrum.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Applicant’s Statement — from the Generic to the Specific

In preparing, formulating, finalizing and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, one must (of course) describe and delineate the “bridge” between one’s medical condition(s) and how it impacts or prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  This is done on the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (Standard Form 3112A, both for Federal and Postal employees under FERS or CSRS).

In formulating and describing the impact upon the essential elements, or core job duties, of one’s position, it is often an intelligent approach to begin with the generic, then to provide some specific examples.  This is more of an issue of “form” over “substance”, of course, but is often effective, nonetheless.

By way of this approach in describing one’s medical conditions and their impact upon the essential elements of one’s job, it provides a clarity of understanding for the clerk at the Office of Personnel Management — of first being provided with an “overview” of what the job entails, then to be given specific examples within the context of the overview.

Ease of understanding and a compelling force in telling a narrative story of one’s personal experience in having a medical condition, and its impact upon one’s professional life, will enhance the chances of an approval at the First Stage of the process in fling a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, at the Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The Quantitative Approach

The problem with submitting a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS based upon the “quantitative approach” (submitting a voluminous medical file which, by the sheer weight, extent and thickness of the file, reveals the severity of the multiple medical conditions) is that it often fails to provide the proper bridge between the particular medical condition a Federal or Postal employee suffers from, and the impact upon the essential elements of one’s job.

Certainly, medical records, notes, diagnostic test results, etc., can provide a narrative delineation of one’s continuing medical conditions — but the question becomes, a narrative to what end?  The Office of Personnel Management will often review a large stack of medical documentation and simply conclude that there has been insufficient medical documentation, and further, that the medical documentation submitted fails to show that such conditions are severe enough to prevent one from perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job. That is because the mere existence of a medical condition — no matter how extensive such medical conditions have required in terms of hospitalizations, testing, surgical or other procedures, etc. — is not enough to satisfy, by a preponderance of the evidence, the criteria applicable for eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  

Remember, always use the golden rule:  quality over quantity.  And in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, quality means the bridging of that conceptual gap between the medical condition, and the essential elements of one’s job.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire