OPM Disability Retirement: Pre-Conditional Preparatory Steps

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether a Federal or Postal employee is under FERS or CSRS, there are steps to be taken — not only at each “stage” of the administrative process, but moreover, in the weeks and months prior to the actual formulation, compilation and submission of the Standard Forms, documentary support, writing of the Applicant’s Statement, etc.

As a “process”, one may bifurcate the necessary steps into the following:  the pre-conditional stage; the preparatory stage; the time of formulation & actualization; finally, the submission of the disability retirement packet.

In the “pre-conditional” time period, one should focus upon the single most important aspect of a Federal Disability Retirement case — that of garnering, concretizing and establishing the necessary physician-patient relationship, such that there is a clear understanding of what is required of the physician; what the physician expects of the patient; and, wherever and whenever possible, a continuing mutual respect and understanding between the doctor and the patient-applicant.

This is why the Merit Systems Protection Board has explicitly, through case after case, opined upon the preference for “treating” doctors of longstanding tenure.  For, in such a relationship of long-term doctor-patient relationships, a greater ability to assess and evaluate the capabilities and limitations of the patient’s physical, emotional and psychological capacities can best be achieved.

In every “rule”, of course, there are exceptions, and sometimes more “distant” methods of evaluations can be obtained — through OWCP doctors, referee opinions, independent examinations (indeed, one can make the argument that because it is “independent”, therefore it carries greater weight), functional capacity evaluations, etc.

For the most part, however, the cultivation of an excellent physician-patient relationship will be the key to a successful Federal Disability Retirement claim, and as such, the pre-conditional stage to the entire process should be focused upon establishing that solid foundation.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: The Limitation of Agency Actions

Often, in the process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the client will ask the question, “Well, doesn’t that prove that I can’t do the job?”  Such a question invariably points to some action by the Agency — a letter or a memorandum; a statement which the Supervisor made, etc.  While it may be true that the Agency believes that a Federal or Postal employee is unable to perform, or is not performing, all of the essential elements of the job, remember that actions of the Agency can never replace the affirmative burden of proof that one is unable, medically, to perform the essential elements of one’s job.  

One must keep in mind that the Office of Personnel Management is a separate Agency which is not necessarily in communication with the Agency which employs the Federal or Postal employee.  The “mindset” of the Agency is not being considered by the Office of Personnel Management.  Whatever the motivations of the Agency in doing what it is or will do, is to a great extent irrelevant to OPM.  What the Agency is doing may well indicate “proof” as to other issues — i.e., inability to accommodate; acknowledgment that certain essential elements of one’s job is not being performed, etc. — but it does not prove that an individual is unable, as a result of a medical condition, to perform all of the essential elements of the job.  Only a doctor can do that.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire