CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: The Uniqueness of Medical Conditions

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS, there are always unique aspects of particular medical conditions which impact upon specific elements of the positional duties of a Federal or Postal employee.

Thus, for example, shoulder problems (rotator cuff tears; shoulder impingement syndrome, etc.) limits the ability to engage in rotational movements, and specifically restricts overhead lifting, or lifting above shoulder-level, and therefore constrains the ability to perform multiple craft-required duties for the U.S. Postal Service.

Similarly, for psychiatric medical conditions, Major Depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Attacks, and similarly oriented psychiatric medical conditions related or on a coordinated spectrum, impact the ability to maintain a sustained analytical perspective and performance of duties.  Thus, for information-based positions (Information Technology Specialist; Budget Analyst; auditors; personnel management duties, etc.), the very cognitive-intensive duties are directly impacted by such uniquely psychiatric conditions.

These examples, however, are merely referential samples, and in no way reflect an exhaustive discussion of how a medical condition impacts a particular kind of job, or the various elements which make up a Federal or Postal job.

Thus, by way of cross-over example, a person who suffers from shoulder pain can be prevented from performing the essential elements of an information-based administrative job, because of the high distractability of the pain, the inability to take pain medications during work hours because of the sedation it creates, and because of the radiating pain and numbness to one’s extremities, preventing the repetitive type of work on a computer keyboard, etc.

Ultimately, one should never think in terms of a one-to-one ratio or correspondence between a specific medical condition and a particular element of a job.  Crossovers of medical conditions and their impact upon a job are ultimately unique to the individual, and it is the job of the OPM Disability Attorney to properly represent that uniqueness.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Psychiatric Conditions

Sometimes, it is asked whether or not Psychiatric medical conditions are more difficult to pass through in filing a Federal Disability Retirement application.  Implicit in that question, of course, is whether there still exists an inherent stigma attached to Psychiatric conditions, as opposed to “physical” medical conditions.

Over the years, there has obviously been a cultural transformation in the legitimization, acceptance, and overall recognition that Psychiatric conditions are just as “valid” as any other medical conditions.  With such acceptance and recognition, the increase in applications for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS based upon Psychiatric medical conditions has had a parallel effect, and the short answer is that there really is no greater difficulty or distinction to be made between filing a Federal Disability Retirement application based upon Psychiatric medical conditions as opposed to, or in contradistinction to, non-psychiatric conditions.  

The legal criteria remains the same. From the wide spectrum of Major Depression, Anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Agoraphobia, Panic Disorder, various forms of Paranoia, etc., the preparation, formulation and presentation of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS remains the same:  Obtaining the proper and substantiating medical documentation; forming the narrative bridge between one’s psychiatric medical conditions and the impact upon one or more of the essential elements of one’s job; and making the proper legal arguments, etc.  

Ultimately, one must approach Psychiatric medical conditions in the same manner as non-psychiatric, physical conditions:  by preparing, formulating and filing an excellent narrative presentation of a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Employees Disability Retirement: Major Depression

Federal and Postal workers who are inquiring about filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS often lack any context as to his or her own particular situation, in relation to the greater Federal and Postal workforce.  Let me elaborate:  a Federal or Postal employee who suffers from chronic and intractable Major Depression, despite being placed on various psychotropic medications, and having undergone psychotherapeutic intervention, and (in more serious cases) hospitalization for intensive treatment — often believe that his or her “situation” is unique, isolated, and rare.  It is not.  

When an individual suffers from Major Depression, it is common to feel isolated, as if the particular psychiatric disorder is unlike other medical conditions (e.g., physical medical conditions which can be ascertained by an MRI or other diagnostic tools).  This is part of the very medical condition itself — of feeling isolated and trapped, and unable to escape from one’s own plight.  

Indeed, Federal and Postal employees who suffer from Major Depression often ask me the “how many” question — how many people do you represent who suffer from Major Depression, as if numbers correlate to security.  While I am very protective of client confidentiality and information related to my clients, it can safely be said that a “great many” Federal and Postal employees suffer from Major Depression, that it is not uncommon, that your co-worker sitting beside you may suffer from it, and that such sufferers work hard to hide it.  

Further, the success in filing for, and obtaining, Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS is no less than any other medical condition.  Thus, for those who suffer from Major Depression and are contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS:  you are definitely not alone.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Anxiety

Anxiety is a special form of a psychiatric disability — one which must be approached with thoughtful care in preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  While often accompanied by Major Depression, and sometimes panic attacks, Generalized Anxiety Disorder will often have corollary discussions in medical treatment and office notes of references to employment issues involving workplace harassment, discrimination, hostile work environments, etc.  Such references to workplace issues can lead to the Office of Personnel Management denying a Federal Disability Retirement application based upon “Situational Disability” — a medical disability which is self-contained within a particular workplace situation, but which may not necessarily extend to a different office environment with the same job requirements.  

To make moot a claim of situational disability, one would have to show that the medical condition — Anxiety — pervades all aspects of one’s life, and is not just circumscribed by the particular harassing environment of a specific workplace, or a Supervisor, or a hostile workplace, etc.  The more one focuses upon the workplace as the instigating causal force behind one’s anxiety, the more it will compound the problem of being deemed a “situational disability” in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  Ultimately, it is irrelevant what “causes” the anxiety; the important thing is that a person suffers from a medical disability, and the primary focus should be upon treatment of that condition.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: How to Handle those “Second-Class” Medical Conditions

Attitudes toward various medical conditions change over time.  This has certainly been the case with psychiatric medical conditions:  Major Depression, Anxiety, panic attacks, Bipolar Disorder, Agoraphobia, PTSD, OCD, etc.  At one time in our society, the heavy stigma placed upon such medical conditions essentially made them unacceptable.  Over time, however, as greater numbers of such conditions came to the forefront, and greater success at treatment of such conditions became evident, the validity and acceptance of such conditions have resulted in other medical conditions taking their place. 

Thus, certain conditions such as Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic Pain, Chemical Sensitivity cases, etc., have become the psychiatric conditions of a prior age.  Perhaps it is because the medical profession treats such conditions as afterthoughts — where, through a process of elimination of saying that the medical condition is not X, Y or Z, therefore it is A. 

Whatever the reasons, in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, a Federal or Postal employee who is applying for such benefits who is suffering from any of the Second-Class medical conditions must formulate and compile his or her case in a thoughtful, deliberate and forceful manner.  Such an application must include adequate medical support; a clear and concise bridge between the symptomatologies experienced and the type of job which one must perform; and legal arguments which support the basis for an approval.  To some extent, this approach is no different than with any other medical condition; it is merely a reminder that one must cross all “T’s” and dot all “I’s” with that much more care.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: Psychiatric v. Physical Disabilities

People continually inquire as to the difference between Psychiatric v. Physical disabilities, as to whether one is more amenable to an approval over the other.  Psychiatric conditions can include a wide range of variables — from Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Major Depression, Anxiety, panic attacks, Agoraphobia, ADD/ADHD, and multiple other diagnoses.  Physical medical conditions, also, include a wide spectrum of disorders — Cervical, Thoracic or Lumbar conditions; various cardiac conditions; Carpal Tunnel Syndrome; Fibromyalgia; Chronic Fatigue Syndrome; Shoulder Impingement Syndrome; Plantar Fasciitis; Migraine headaches; Lupus; Chemical Sensitivity issues; allergies; COPD; and multiple other conditions.  Is there a difference between these (and the listed conditions are by no means meant to be exhaustive, but merely illustrative of the wide range of medical conditions)?  The answer is, ultimately, No. 

The foundational essence of a Federal Disability Retirement case, whether involving Psychiatric disabilities or Physical disabilities, is the impact upon one’s ability to continue to perform all of the essential elements of one’s job.  Further, recent case law holds that OPM cannot make a distinction between “objective” medical evidence as opposed to “subjective” medical evidence, and so the old distinction between “psychological” medical conditions as distinguished from “physical” medical conditions can no longer be seriously upheld.  Ultimately, and fortunately, there is no difference between psychiatric disabilities and physical disabilities when trying to get approved for a Federal Disability Retirement case under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal & Postal Service Disability Retirement: Experience & the Medical Condition

Often, when a client receives the finalized disability retirement packet, I receive a response that goes something like:  “I didn’t realize I was so bad off, until I read through the prepared packet.”  While I have not personally experienced the medical conditions of my many clients over the years, I have the experience of having spoken to them, and have learned about the symptoms, the words which best describe the pain, the impact, and the symptoms which are experienced on a daily basis. 

That is why it is an absurdity for the Office of Personnel Management, for example, to continually and redundantly refer to Fibromyalgia cases as ones with symptoms which “wax and wane”.  Or, with severe Major Depression, Anxiety and panic attacks, the Office of Personnel Management will systematically deny many such claims by stating that there is no “objective medical evidence” to show that the individual is unable to continue to provide efficient service in a cognitive-intensive job.  It is the job of the attorney, in a Federal Disability Retirement case, to be the one who projects the experience of the disabled Federal or Postal employee.  The attorney does not have to personally experience the medical condition in order to properly and descriptively convey the impact of the symptoms and debilitating conditions; however, it is helpful if the attorney has had a wide range of experience — by having spoken to multiple individuals over the years who have personally experienced such conditions.  In this way, the attorney can obtain the experience to express the medical experience of the applicant.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Spouse

I find that when a person is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS, an important component which is often overlooked is the supportive spouse.  I often get calls concerning various aspects of the Disability Retirement process — not from the applicant, but from the spouse.  And, indeed, this is natural, because often the medical condition itself is serious enough that the applicant is unable to “handle” or “deal with” the complexities of the process itself.  It becomes further complicated when the medical condition which is suffered is a psychiatric condition — severe Major Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, suicidal ideations, etc.

However, whether it is psychiatric or physical, a supportive spouse — or “significant other” — is often very, very important to the success of the entire process.  Obviously, as an attorney who represents “the Client“, I must be careful that there is never a conflict between the Applicant (my client) and “the spouse”, but that is rare.  In almost all cases, I find that the spouse is looking after the best interest of my client, and I am happy to talk to and update the spouse on any and all issues surrounding a FERS Disability Retirement case, because I know that he/she is looking after the best interests of my client, just as I want to.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire
Federal Disability Retirement Attorney

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Trying it Without an Attorney

I get calls all the time by people who tell me that they thought their particular Federal Disability Retirement case was a “slam dunk”; that the medical documentation was there; that everything looked like it should be approved at the first level.  Then, there are people who tell me the same thing after the second, Reconsideration denial — that he or she thought it should definitely pass through.  But law, and especially administrative law before the Office of Personnel Management, has peculiarities beyond a surface, apparent reality.  There is a process and a methodology of obtaining disability retirement. Can a federal disability attorney guarantee the success of a disability retirement application?  No.  Does an individual applicant have a better chance with the assistance of an attorney who specializes in disability retirement law?  In most cases, yes.  Aren’t there applicants who file for disability retirement, without the assistance of an attorney, who are successful?  Yes.  Should everyone who files for disability retirement hire an attorney?  Not necessarily. 

When I speak to a client, I try and place him or her on a spectrum — and on one side of that spectrum is an individual who works at a very physical job, and who has such egregious physical medical disabilities; on the other side of the spectrum is an individual who suffers from Anxiety, who works in a sedentary administrative position (please don’t misunderstand — many people who suffer from anxiety fall into the “serious” side of the spectrum, and I am in no way attempting to minimize the psychiatric disability of Anxiety).  Most people, of course, fall somewhere in the middle.  Yes, I have told many people to go and file his or her disability retirement application without an attorney.  There are those cases which are so egregious, in terms of medical conditions, that I do not believe than an attorney is necessary.  However, such instances are rare.  Thus, to the question, Should everyone who files for Federal disability retirement under FERS & CSRS hire an attorney?  Not necessarily — but in most cases, yes.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Do Psychiatric Disabilities Still Carry a Stigma?

Do Psychiatric Conditions still carry a stigma?  Does the Office of Personnel Management, or the Merit Systems Protection Board, treat Psychiatric medical conditions any differently than, say, bulging discs, degenerative disc disease, or carpal tunnel syndrome, etc.?  Is there a greater need to explain the symptoms of psychiatric conditions, in preparing an Applicant’s Statement of Disability, than conditions which can be “verified” by diagnostic testing?  Obviously, the answer should be: There is no difference of review of the medical condition by OPM or the MSPB. 

Certainly, this should be the case in light of Vanieken-Ryals v. OPM.  Neither OPM nor an MSPB Judge should be able to impose a requirement in disability retirement cases involving psychiatric disabilities, that there needs to be “objective medical evidence,” precisely because there is no statute or regulation governing disability retirement which imposes such a requirement that “objective” medical evidence is required to prove disability.  As I stated in previous articles, as long as the treating doctor of the disability retirement applicant utilizes “established diagnostic criteria” and applies modalities of treatment which are “consistent with generally accepted professional standards,” the evidence presented concerning psychiatric disabilities should not be treated any differently than that of physical disabilities.  As the Court in Vanieken-Ryals stated, OPM’s adherence to a rule which systematically demands medical evidence of an “objective” nature and refuses to consider “subjective” medical evidence, is “arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law.”  Yet, when preparing the Applicant’s Statement of Disability, it is always wise to utilize greater descriptive terms.  For, when dealing with medical conditions such as Bipolar disorder, Major Depression, panic attacks, anxiety, etc., one must use appropriate adjectives and “triggering”, emotional terms — if only to help the OPM representative or the Administrative Judge understand the human side of the story.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire