OPM Disability Retirement: Explicit versus Implicit

The former leaves no room for confusion or doubt; the latter, a bit of “wiggle room” where insinuations, hints and suggestive openings are characteristic invitations of open regards.  They are not mutually exclusive within a paragraph or even a sentence; they are, however, antonyms, and should be used with context-defined relevance.

For Federal employees and U.S. Postal workers who are filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether the Federal employee or the U.S. Postal worker is under FERS, CSRS or CSRS Offset, the choice of either can determine the future viability of one’s Federal Disability Retirement application.

Certainly, there are times in life when one chooses the latter methodology, for various reasons — perhaps being forthright and blunt is not the “right” approach; perhaps there is fear of offending, or mere laziness and sludge of confrontation prevents one from being straightforward.  In the legal arena, the former approach is preferable, if only to squeeze out the light of linguistic malleability and flexibility in supercilious argumentation.  But in the context of an OPM Disability Retirement packet, there will often contain multiple usages.

One’s Supervisor, in completing SF 3112B (Supervisor’s Statement), may present contradictory information by checking a box which is relatively unequivocal (is that an oxymoron — to use the terms “relatively” and “unequivocal” in the same breadth of a sentence?) but placing remarks implying the exact opposite in response to “explanatory” and more expansive questions.  Or, for the Federal Disability Retirement applicant, in completing SF 3112A, the “Applicant’s Statement of Disability”, there may be a strategy in mixing both explicit statements and providing for implicit openings for meanings and connections.

Certainly, the “law” of Federal Disability Retirement allows for it; but one must always take care in addressing the nature, extent and susceptibility of statutory interpretation in formulating one’s Federal Disability Retirement application.  Ultimately, as in most things in life, the former is preferable to the latter; though, wiggle room and the dictates social conventions may sometimes require one to be explicitly implicit in order to be inefficiently efficacious.


Robert R. McGill, Esquire


Federal Disability Retirement Attorney: Qualia & First Person Attribution of Mental States

Private, subjective mental states are unique by self-definition; they become public knowledge only when shared with deliberate intent, revealing the inner thoughts, private conceptual pondering, and narrative voices of the subjective “I”. Pain is similar in form, in that one can mask and keep private the experiential factor of pain, just as one can remain hidden in the private thoughts one engages.

Qualia, in philosophy, has to do with the subjective experience of one’s encounter with the greater world; and the first person attribution of a mental state encompasses the “I” in the midst of that universe of contained subjectivity. The problem always is how one can and should relate the private experience when a public narrative of that subjectivity is required.

For Federal and Postal employees who must file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the problem of conveying in persuasive form and argumentation, of transversing the chasm between the “qualia” of one’s subjective mental state into the foray of medicine, diagnostic testing, clinical encounters with medical professionals, and the entire compendium of what constitutes the “objective” world, is a necessary prerequisite where the incommensurable wall must be overcome.

An effective OPM Disability Retirement application under FERS, CSRS or CSRS Offset, is like watching a gymnast on a balance beam; overstating the subjective may result in loss of that balance.  Federal employees and Postal workers who suffer from those specific medical conditions which are considered “unverifiable” through normal channels of diagnostic methodologies — Fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, chronic and intractable pain, etc. — must find ways where the public description goes beyond the qualia of private mental attributes.

In many ways, we have progressed culturally; and such progressivism is found in the diminishment and near-extinguishment of that dualism between the cognitive and the physical, and this is established by the general acceptance of psychiatric conditions as being just as “valid” as physical maladies. But old haunts and biased perspectives still abound, and during such times of transition, one must still take care in how one approaches subjectivity in the wake of the yearning for objectively verifiable evidentiary components.

Like the public who watches the graceful movements of a gymnast on a balance beam, it is the roar of the crowd in appreciation one seeks, and not the gasp of disappointment when lack of balance results in a sudden and unexpected fall.


Robert R. McGill, Esquire


Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: A Reminder of Sorts

Pain is a reminder of sorts; but then, so are alarm clocks, speed bumps and the presence of law enforcement personnel.  All around us, through signs, advertisements, smart phone apps, and sticky notes which we write to ourselves, we are surrounded by reminders.

The plethora and abundance of such reminders have never been the issue; rather, it is the responsiveness, or lack thereof, which determines the future course and orientation of one’s life. And so it is with the signals which are transmitted through out biological system; of that nagging hip pain which won’t simply go away; of increasing panic and anxiety attacks which paralyze one with physical manifestations of chest pains, difficulty breathing, etc.

Doctors can treat the symptoms; sometimes, medicating the symptoms lessens the strength of signals; the weakened reminders try desperately to find an alternate route to raise the alerts in more poignant and insistent form; but we humans are adept at ignoring such signage and alarms.

For Federal and Postal employees who have come to a point where the reminders can no longer be ignored, Federal Disability Retirement is an option to pursue.  It is available for all Federal and Postal employees under FERS or CSRS, and where it can be established that the medical condition prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, there is the likelihood of a successful outcome.

Reminders?  The Federal and Postal Worker has already long been aware of them, through the personal experience of one’s medical condition.  It was never a question of whether there were reminders; it was always the “when” — when would we finally acknowledge and respond?  It is, and always was, just a matter of time.


Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Pain and the Fallacy of Objectivity

Pain by definition is “subjective”, if by it one means that the experiential verification of the condition is uniquely possessed by the “I”, or the subject of the experience.  By contrast, that which is deemed “objective” is presumably validated by more than the possessor of the experiential condition — i.e., by third parties; by testing for the validity and verification of an event through means other than the personal narrative of a singular subject.  Yet, if verification of an experience is accepted merely by sheer volume of a collective consensus, then most scientific revolutions in advanced discoveries would never have survived.

In Federal Disability Retirement law, it is often the argument of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management that the Federal or Postal applicant has failed to provide “objective” medical evidence in presenting his or her case.  The narrative of having a condition of “chronic pain”, or “severe pain” — being “subjective” by definition — is not deemed “objective“, and therefore cannot be the valid basis alone for a Federal Disability Retirement case (or so the argument by OPM is often presented).  Even the results of an MRI will not necessarily satisfy the scrutiny of OPM; for, ultimately, an MRI can only reveal an observable abnormality — not that a person experiences “pain”.

Fortunately, there are a number of cases in law which rebut OPM in their attempt to bifurcate between “objective” and “subjective”, and such legal tools should always be cited and applied in any Federal or Postal Disability Retirement application.

While pain may indeed be subjective by definition, the objectivity of a Federal Disability Retirement application should never be based upon what OPM deems as sufficient; rather, it is the law and the long history of legal guidance by the courts which should mandate how OPM acts.  Indeed, if we let OPM’s subjective determinations rule the day, we would all be left in an existential state of pain — one which would then result in a collective consensus which may be deemed objective in nature.


Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Writing about Medical Conditions

It is easy to give advice about pain when a person is feeling no pain; it is unwise to act upon it when one is in an extreme state of it.  For, the former will often be disbelieving of the extent and severity of it and will therefore view it as involving a lack of fortitude; the latter will be willing to sell his soul in order to rid himself of it.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the problem of pain is representative of the greater difficulties of writing about a medical condition — of the dichotomy and bifurcation of subject-object; of sympathy – empathy; of persuasion and what constitutes effective writing which compels a person to tears.

Of course, as to the latter — we need not expect an OPM Case Worker to be reading your narrative in the Applicant’s Statement of Disability to suddenly burst out in tears, get up, and scream as he or she is running down the corridors of OPM holding your case file declaring, “This one is approved!  This one is approved!” (although such a scene would indeed be welcome and rather amusing).

The problem nevertheless exists — of how one can write about one’s own medical conditions, with a level of objectivity, a compelling sense of persuasive effect, a standard of maintaining a perspective which declines to cross into maudlin overstatement, and a judicious use of adjectives in conveying a true picture of pain or symptomatologies of medical conditions, which paints the picture as opposed to merely narrating a list of diagnoses which may portray unfeeling information, as opposed to the entirety of information, feeling, sensation and struggle — the aggregate of the human condition as encompassed by one in pain.  The problem has no answer; rather, it is one which must always seek a solution, which is a process in and of itself.


Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: A Real-life Hypothetical

Assume the following hypothetical:  A Federal or Postal employee who is 48 years old, with 25 years of Federal Service, engages in a type of work which is repetitive, day in and day out (yes, even this sentence is repetitive and redundant), full time, over the course of those 25 years.  

One day, while moving a piece of furniture at the direction of his spouse, he feels a sudden and sharp pain in his back.  He has to sit down and rest for a while.  The “for a while” turns into a visit to the emergency room, then to his family doctor.  The MRI shows a disc bulge at L5-S1, with multi-level disc degeneration, spinal stenosis, and other degenerative changes.  Despite multiple modalities of treatments, including epidural steroidal shots, physical therapy, variances of medication regimens, etc. (and you can even add a surgical intervention), the pain continues to worsen and deteriorate his medical condition.  The chronic pain prevents him from performing his job.  Whether sedentary or physical, the high distractability of the pain results in his poor performance.  

Can he/she file an OWCP claim?  Such a claim is submitted and rejected, because the issue of causality cannot be established.  An appeal is filed, and it is again denied.  The treating Neurologist and Orthopaedic Specialist are unwilling to establish a direct causal link.  But one argues:  Do those 25 years of repetitive work account for nothing?  Can it all have occurred because of the singular occurrence?  Does my medical condition reflect that of a person twice my age merely because of a single incident?  

It is precisely because causality is the crux of OWCP, that Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS is an important benefit for all Federal and Postal employees. OWCP/FECA is a benefit which is great for the limited role it plays; Federal Disability Retirement is a benefit with wider applicability, and the chance for the Federal or Postal employee to enter into another phase of life.


Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Those Chronic Medical Conditions

Often, in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, there is the concern that because a particular medical condition has had a “chronic” nature to it (whatever the particular diagnosis is, to include Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Failed Back Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Pain, etc.), that somehow it will impact the chances of being approved for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  

The argument and concern goes somewhat as follows:  X Federal or Postal employee has been able to work for Y number of years for the Agency or the U.S. Postal Service; the medical condition has not prevented the Federal or Postal employee from performing the essential elements of the job all these years, because the Federal or Postal employee has simply endured the chronic nature of the pain; therefore, the medical condition (it is feared) cannot be cited as a basis for an approval from the Office of Personnel Management.  

However, the mere rationale that a particular medical condition is chronic, inherently or otherwise, is not a basis for being concerned about a denial.  The fact is that a particular Federal or Postal employee was able to perform the essential elements of his or particular job for many years; the chronicity of the medical condition is often the case; but at some point, the constant, chronic pain comes to a point where the Federal or Postal employee is no longer able to physically, emotionally or mentally tolerate the extent, duration and severity of the pain.  At such a critical point, it is time to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.


Robert R. McGill, Esquire