Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Workplace Stress

Stress symptoms are not always visible

Stress symptoms are not always visible

Stress is that pernicious aura, neither visible nor definable, with a spectrum of tolerance particularized by individuals, and which pervades silently and invisibly but for the manifestations through physical reactions. It can lead to both physical ailments as well as psychiatric turmoil, requiring medical management ranging from prescription medications to hospitalization.

Who among us knows where the “breaking point” is, for a coworker, Supervisor, etc.? Are there signs of stress where one could have predicted the actions or reactions of another? As a silent killer of incremental gnawing, stress impacts different people in variegated ways, and can often be the primary foundation for multiple medical conditions, but rarely diagnosed as such.

OPM may deny your stress claim as being situational

OPM may dismiss your stress claim as being situational: “But it only happens at work” (they may argue)

Stress in the workplace, of course, carries over into personal lives, and conversely, people who experience exponential quantification of stress in one’s personal life, will carry it into the professional arena despite monumental efforts to contain it.  Stress can be the exacerbating force in compounding and complicating already-existing medical conditions.

While stress itself, standing alone, becomes a problematic issue in which to base a Federal Disability Retirement application upon, because it points to the potential of being “situational” and therefore contained within a particular work environment; nevertheless, stress can be, and often is, a part of any Federal or Postal Disability Retirement submission.

Federal and Postal employees can become eligible for OPM Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, if it can be shown that one’s medical condition prevents you from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.

Stress may even affect the way we present our cases

Stress may even affect the way we present our legal cases

What role stress plays in such an application; how it is characterized; the manner in which it is presented; where in the compendium of medical conditions it should be stated — all are important in the complex narrative presentation of a Federal Disability Retirement application, for any Federal or Postal employee who is considering filing for the benefit of Federal Disability Retirement.

In the end, however stress is described, one thing is certain: it plays a large role in everyday lives, and pervades as oxygen and toxins alike permeate the atmosphere of the air we live in and of which we breathe.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Claims of Stress

“Stress”is a phrase which is used to describe a myriad of conditions, circumstances and origins of countless medical conditions.  The word itself is malleable and elastic, and can be used in multiple forms — as an adjective, noun, verb, etc.  As a term of common usage to describe the workplace, it is accepted as an inherent part of any job encapsulating a set of responsibilities, because of the accompaniment of positional duties, time management, goal-orientation, and working cooperatively with others in unison and common coordination of efforts.

In the context of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the term itself will appear repeatedly throughout — in medical reports, in an Applicant’s Statement of Disability, and even in a Supervisor’s Statement.

In most circumstances, the term “stress” is used in a grammatically loose sense, and as a secondary identifier of a medical condition, as opposed to a primary diagnosis of a medical condition.  To assert that one “suffers from stress” is a generalization which normally requires greater particulars, and rather describes one in a series of multiple symptoms rather than a conceptually clear diagnosis which is accepted in the medical community.

Moreover, such a statement implies that the “sufferer” of the “stress” receives such a condition and is responding to a particular source of such suffering — i.e., a specific workplace.  This is where “situational disability” is then alleged, and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management will deny a Federal Disability Retirement application based upon such an assumption and implication.

There are ways to counter such assertions, implications and inferences, but such inoculation against such a charge must be addressed at the outset, not in the middle (although, in most cases, such mistakes can indeed be corrected), of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Staying within the Acceptable Construct

Perspectives are funny matters:  everyone has them; some are more valid than others; in certain circumstances, the wrong perspective, however, can result in negative unintended consequences.

Thus, in a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS, the Federal or Postal employee who insists upon filing collateral actions against the Agency, while concurrently filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, can have different and differing perspectives for each legal venue filed.  

In an EEOC action, the Federal or Postal employee can allege the multiple incidents of the workplace environment and the hostility, discriminatory actions perpetrated, etc., and the resulting damages incurred (including medical conditions suffered); in a grievance procedure, the Federal or Postal employee can assert the wrongful actions of the agency; and in a Federal Court case, claims of Agency and Supervisor misconduct and their deleterious impact upon one’s career — all of these can be filed, asserted and claimed for, while at the same time have a pending Federal Disability Retirement application with the Office of Personnel Management.  

Each can have its own unique perspective; each can assert a different quadrant of one’s mouth.  However, be aware of the danger that, if a Federal Disability Retirement application is denied at the initial stage of the process, and again at the Reconsideration Stage of the process, and is appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board, the Office of Personnel Management is entitled to “Discovery” of such collateral procedures.  

Such evidence of collateral procedures may well lead to a potential conclusion that one’s medical condition can be characterized as “situational” — and that is a perspective which may well defeat a Federal Disability Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: A Bridge Too Far

The step-by-step process which the Federal or Postal employee must engage in for purposes of formulating an effective Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, is defined by the bridge, or “nexus”, which one must formulate, connecting the two separate entities:  on the one side are the medical issues; on the other, one’s positional duties which one has been engaging in and successfully performing all these many years for one’s agency or the U.S. Postal Service.  

The job of the potential Federal Disability Retirement applicant is to bring the two separate and distinct entities together, by preparing and formulating a connecting “bridge” or “nexus” between the two.  This is because one of the most important evidentiary showings that one must prove, by meeting the legal standard of “preponderance of the evidence“, is that the Federal or Postal employee is no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s official positional duties.  

The problem with any such bridge which must be constructed and carefully formulated, however, is that many Federal Disability Retirement applicants put forth too much information, to the extent that some information may in fact defeat or otherwise damage the connection, by providing information which may be irrelevant (less damaging, but creates peripheral problems and confusion), of ancillary legal issues (may be more damaging, depending upon whether the Federal Disability Retirement applicant has brought in work-related issues which may point to a description of “situational disability”); or, provide information on certain medical conditions which contradict other information provided (again, often more damaging to a case).  

It is always important to provide enough information to the Office of Personnel Management to meet the burden of proof, of a preponderance of the evidence, in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application; too much information will sometimes be damaging; too much of the wrong kind of information may be very damaging.  As the title of the well-known book implies, one must be careful not to construct a “bridge too far”.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Issues

The issues upon which the Office of Personnel Management denies a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS are normally rather limited.  There are recurrent themes, and some of the more prevalent ones are:  insufficient medical documentation; issues concerning accommodations and attempted accommodations by the Agency; situational disability and issues which focus upon work issues which never should have been included in the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (SF 3112A).  

These are generic designations of the types of issues which an OPM Claims Representative may argue as the primary basis of his or her denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application, and there may be multiple corollary issues which are described — but, ultimately, when all is said and done, there are limited reasons as to why an Initial Stage application for Federal Disability Retirement is denied.  

That fact, however — of the limited basis and reasons — does not mean that the issues are simple; rather, that in responding to a denial from OPM, no matter how lengthy the denial letter may appear (or how short, for that matter), the issues can be neatly “broken down” and placed into manageable categories in order to respond.  Responding to a denial properly (in addition to filing the Request for Reconsideration in a timely manner) is important; how to respond, is all the more important.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Stress

“Stress” is always the “problem child” in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  If a Federal or Postal employee is no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job because of an intolerance to a certain level of stress, then certainly it should be considered as a basis for preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application, either under FERS or CSRS.  However, treatment modalities must be engaged — normally, via a psychiatrist or psychotherapy.

Further, there are always issues which will come about in basing the primary medical condition as “stress” — aside from the fact that it is a generic designation which will often have corollary designations, such as Major Depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, etc.  For example, can one define “tolerance to stress” as an essential element of one’s job?  It is certainly an inherent element, implicit in many multi-tasking jobs and ones which require a high level of responsibilities or is subject to timeliness in quotas and work production.  But when issues concerning stresses which arise as a result of “personnel issues” (i.e., interaction with supervisors, coworkers, etc.), then it becomes a “problem-child” which is best avoided, for numerous reasons, including the possibility and danger of having one’s Federal Disability Retirement application denied based upon a “situational disability“.  Concepts and thoughts to ponder, when preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Early Retirement for Disabled Federal Workers: Generalized Anxiety Disorder

It may seem antithetical to talk about the psychiatric condition of Generalized Anxiety Disorder in filing for Federal Disability Retirements benefit under FERS or CSRS, especially during the Holidays — but, in fact, the analogy with the high stress which many Federal and Postal workers feel because of Christmas, New Years & other holidays is especially relevant.  

Let me elaborate.  Such a time period as “The Holidays” in fact often brings greater stresses in a person’s life — for it is precisely a time when one is “supposed” to feel joyous, when in fact an individual’s internal, personal turmoil may contradict the outward appearance which one manifests.  Such a combination — of the high level of stress one is experiencing, at a particular time (the Holidays), may be considered a “situational” psychiatric condition, because (hopefully) it will subside once the time-period passes.

This is a good way to understand what distinguishes between a “situational disability” (which is disallowed in Federal Disability Retirement applications under either FERS or CSRS) and “non-situational disabilities” (which are viable medical conditions pervading all aspects of one’s life, regardless of time or situation).  

The Office of Personnel Management will often attempt to characterize the psychiatric condition of Generalize Anxiety Disorder as one of merely “situational occurrence” — i.e., of being particularized and categorized as occurring only within the confines of a particular department, a particular workplace situation, or a period of time when a specific supervisor or coworker is present (sort of like occurring during the Holidays).  But Generalized Anxiety Disorder, properly diagnosed by a treating physician, is rarely, if ever, situational, and in fact is a serious psychiatric condition which qualifies for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  

Do not let the Office of Personnel Management fool you; Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a viable psychiatric medical condition, especially if it pervades all aspects of your life, and it prevents you from performing one or more of the essential elements of your job as a Federal or Postal employee under either FERS or CSRS.

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

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