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

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: A Hostile Work Environment

Unfortunately, reality often outperforms and upstages any attempt at fictional characterization of the workplace.  Often, the meanness and temperamental behavior of a supervisor in the “real” workplace can never be properly represented by an actor’s attempt in a sitcom or a drama; the persistent, irrational, capricious and outright cruel behavior and acts of “the boss” or one of his/her underlings can never be accurately depicted in fiction.  Further, the reality of the consequences of such behavior can be devastating.  Workplace stress resulting from demeaning behavior, intentional acts to undermine, cruel and arbitrary acts against a specific employee, can all result in serious medical consequences.  

It is all well and good to talk about internal procedures — of filing an EEOC Complaint; filing a grievance; filing a complaint based upon discrimination, etc.  But beyond such agency procedures to protect one’s self, there is the problem of the eruption of a medical condition, be it Major Depression, Anxiety, panic attacks, physical symptoms of IBS, chronic pain, headaches —  some or all of which may result from such stresses in the workplace.  There is no diagnostic tool to establish the link between the medical condition and the workplace stress.  

For Federal and Postal employees thinking about filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, there is the context of harassment & stress in the workplace, and then the medical condition which prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job. Sometimes, it is difficult to bifurcate the two.  That which is difficult, however, must sometimes be accomplished in order to be successful.  The origin of the medical condition may have to be set aside, because it “complicates” the proving of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  If one is contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, the story — however real — of the workplace harassment, may have to be left behind.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Sometimes, It is the Wrong Question

If the question is asked, “Is it difficult to get Federal Disability Retirement benefits based upon a Stress Claim?” — within the context of the poorly-worded question, you may get a wrong answer.  This is because it is the wrong question to begin with.  

The concept and term “stress claim” is more appropriately formulated in the context of an OWCP claim.  It implies that one is claiming for compensation based upon a situation — a hostile work environment, a harassing supervisor, etc. — because the origin and inception of the medical condition generically characterized as “stress” implies that it is the workplace which is the originating responsibility for the very medical condition claimed.  

Such a question would thus imply a multitude of irrelevant considerations for purposes of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, such as the causality of the claim, whether the cause is merely situational (is it the supervisor causing the stress?  If so, if a Federal or Postal worker moved to another office or agency, could he or she work in the same job?), or contained within the context of the workplace. The problem with using the term “stress” in a question is that, whether as a noun or a verb, it implies too much while revealing too little.  If expanded upon (e.g., while stress may be the origin, is the medical condition Major Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, etc.), then the entire question takes on a new form.  Sometimes, the problem begins with the question asked which is poorly worded; and to a poorly worded question, a wrong answer might be given.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: The Potential Drawback

One of the potential drawbacks in pursuing collateral employment issues concomitantly with a Federal Disability Retirement application is that, as such employment issues are active and clearly in the collective consciousness of the Agency, the Supervisor, and all involved, the issue itself often gets sneaked into a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS via the back door.  

This is not necessarily a negative thing, but can be a potential drawback if the Supervisor insists upon inserting the details of the collateral action in the Supervisor’s Statement.  Whether such insertion and accompaniment with a Federal Disability Retirement application is “proper” or not, is a separate matter.  From the perspective of the applicant who is awaiting a decision from the Office of Personnel Management, it matters not as to the proper actions of the Agency.  What such actions by the rogue supervisor does, is to deflect the focus away from the medical issue, and redirects the reviewing official/representative at OPM that the “reason” for one’s early retirement is not one based upon a medical issue, but rather, is because of stresses or other factors caused by a hostile work environment, harassment issues, etc.  This is normally a proposition which can be easily sidestepped, by arguing to OPM that whether or not such workplace issues have any basis or not, the treating doctor has nevertheless stated X, Y & Z.  However, it can still be problematic, and that is why collateral workplace issues should be avoided, if at all possible.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Those Workplace Issues

In preparing a Federal or Postal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, there are often multiple collateral issues which arise:  Harassment issues; Unequal Treatment; EEOC issues; Hostile Workplace issues; Discrimination issues; and multiple other issues which may or may not be viable complaints.  Such complaints have their proper place, in the proper forum, within the proper context.  As I have written multiple times previously on this issue — these employment issues should be avoided in the context of preparing for and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application.  

Many of these employment complaints may be viable ones to pursue; some may be pursued concurrently while seeking Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, and will not ultimately defeat or impact such an application (remember that in law, not only can an attorney speak out of three or four sides of his mouth; one is also allowed to make contradictory legal arguments at the same time).  

The point is that such collateral arguments and issues should not be a part of the application itself.  It may be fine to pursue such workplace issues in a separate and different forum — just not in the process of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  If the issue is brought up, the Office of Personnel Management may well use it against you, stating, “Your medical conditions seem to occur as a result of your allegation of the actions of your Supervisor. As such, you suffer merely from situational disability.”  Case denied.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire