OPM Disability Retirement: Unexpected Course of Events

Expectations are a peculiar phenomena in the human mind:  it occurs through a history of past experiences; tempered by present circumstances; projected through rational evaluation and analysis of past perspectives and present conditions.  One’s record of fulfilled expectations, as against failed or unforeseen ones, portend the validity of future such thoughts.

While medical conditions themselves may not meet the criteria of an expected event, once it becomes a part of one’s existential condition, it is important to evaluate resulting and consequential events, circumstances and causal relationships in order to make plans for one’s future.  One must not ruminate about the unfortunate course of events for too long; there is further work to be done.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, medical determinations must be made as to future expectations which will impact present circumstances:  Will the condition last for a minimum of 12 months?  What are the chances of recovery from the condition such that sufficiency of rehabilitation will result in returning to work and being able to perform all of the essential elements of one’s job?  How will the agency act/react (not too much in terms of expectations should be considered on this issue)?  What can one expect in terms of a Federal Disability Retirement annuity?  And many other questions which will need to be addressed in order to bring to fore the past, project it into the future, such that decisions impacting the present can be made.

Expectations:  It is where the past, present and future coalesce in the fertile human mind for purposes of decision-making, thereby confirming Aristotle’s dictum that we are not merely animals, but rational animals with a teleological bent.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Early Medical Retirement for Disabled Federal Workers: The Bad Question

As children, we were encouraged to “ask questions“, and often with such niceties as, “Now, remember, there is no such thing as a ‘dumb question'” (despite all of us, even in tender years, knowing the untruth of such an assertion as we witnessed the facial expressions of horrified teachers, parents and neighbors — and of course, the smug, sidelong glances of those older siblings).

But the problem with taking such childhood experiences long into adulthood, is that it ignores the obvious:  the character and essence of a question determines the outcome of the answer.  Sometimes, a bad question leads to a bad answer.  In such an event, one must consider reformulating the question, or ignoring it altogether.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the Federal and Postal employee encounters multiple ‘bad questions’ — first in the form of the Standard government forms (SF 3107, with Schedules A, B & C for the FERS employee; SF 2801, with Schedules A, B & C for the CSRS employee; and SF 3112 series for both FERS and CSRS employees) and the questions posed in such forms — especially on SF 3112A (Applicant’s Statement of Disability); then, in a denial at the Reconsideration Stage of the process (for, in such a denial are contained inherent questions of what allegedly one ‘must’ do in order to meet the standards of OPM); then, finally, the questions which must be answered in order to satisfy an Administrative Judge at the MSPB.

But questions are funny vehicles of communication; often, it reflects more upon the questioner rather than upon the one who answers, and in the case of an OPM Case Worker, and of certain particular persons, this is all the more so.  Lest we forget another adage we learned in grade school (more on the playground among bullies, tough guys and the ‘cool’ set):  Don’t ask a question you don’t already know the answer to.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Early Retirement for Disabled Federal Workers: Where to Begin

One is often asked the question, “Where do I begin”?  It is the question of pervasive immediacy, combining both exasperation at a process too complicated to comprehend and requiring a sense of urgency because of the importance attached to the successful outcome, precisely because it may well determine one’s future financial security, and the present ability to continue to attend to one’s medical conditions.  Such a question, however, often needs to be reordered in order to prepare a case properly, in retrospective fashion.

Thus, to reorganize the priority of questions:  Where do I want to end up? (With an approval from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management)  Who approves a Federal Disability Retirement application?  (Not one’s agency, but the Office of Personnel Management and, as such, be careful of promises made and statements asserted by one’s own agency)  How does one obtain an approval from OPM (By satisfying the legal criteria as applied by OPM)  What does one need to do to obtain such an approval?  (Two-part answer:  File the proper forms; complete the forms effectively)  When should I begin the process?  (Since filing for, and obtaining, Federal Disability Retirement benefits can be a long, arduous process, it is wise to file as soon as one has the support of one’s doctor)  Where does the application need to be filed?  (If one is still with one’s agency, then it must be filed through one’s agency; if one has been separated from the Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service for more than 31 days, then it must be filed directly with the Office of Personnel Management).

The question of “why”, of course, need not be asked or answered, because it is a self-evident one.  It is the “who”, “what”, “when”, “where”, and “how” which require one’s attention.  For, in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the Federal and Postal employee already knows the “why” of filing.  The medical condition itself provides that answer.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: How Long Before…

When a Federal or Postal employee begins to contemplate — or initiate — the process of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the questions which begin to accompany the process are multiple, complex, non-sequential, and often wedded to legitimate concerns surrounding the actions and reactions of one’s Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service.

The facts and circumstances of each Federal Disability Retirement case are unique and person-specific.  However, Federal Agencies and the U.S. Postal Service are entities which are fairly predictable, if only because they are comprised by an aggregate of human beings whose natures are fairly set in their ways.

How long before an Agency begins its process of separating me?  How long will they let me stay on LWOP?  How long before they send me home?  How long before…

Often, the length of time in which an Agency responds or fails to respond, depends upon who has been apprised of the issue.  It is interesting how an Agency will be silent on a matter, and allow things to continue for an extended period of time — then, one day, the “right” person takes notice of the fact that a Federal employee has been on LWOP for 5 months, and that there is a pending Federal Disability Retirement application with the Office of Personnel Management.  Suddenly, it is an emergency — an urgency which cannot wait any longer, and a Letter of Proposed Removal is issued that same day.

It is the same with being on Worker’s Comp — How long will they let me stay on OWCP before they try to move me off?  It often depends upon “who” has your OWCP file, as opposed to the legitimacy of one’s chronic medical condition.

In both instances (the issue of the Federal Agency and the one concerning OWCP), it is best to prepare, formulate and file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management sooner, rather than later, if only to have a “back-up system” in place in the event that either the Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service begins to react, or that OWCP decides that you have been on their compensation payroll for too long.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Further Clarifications

In order to prepare, formulate, file and qualify for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under either FERS or CSRS, one must have a medical condition such that the medical condition prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  There are, of course, additional minimum eligibility requirements — such as the fact that one must have been a Federal employee for at least 18 months under FERS (and 5 years under CSRS — which is a moot point, obviously, because anyone who finds him/herself under CSRS already has the minimum 5 years), and further, that the medical condition must last for at least 12 months. 

The 12-month/1 year requirement often poses a puzzlement to Federal and Postal employees contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  Often the question is asked whether a Federal or Postal employee must have been “out of work” for at least 1 year; or, just as often, the question of the 12 month length or duration of the medical condition will often be confused with the requirement that a Federal or Postal employee must file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits within 1 year of being “separated” from Federal Service.  Thus, the confusion often becomes coagulated to be interpreted as:  I must be separated from service and suffer from my medical condition for a year.  WRONG. 

Normally, a doctor can provide a “prognosis” when it comes to a medical condition — where the doctor “predicts”, within reasonable medical certainty, that a medical condition will last for a minimum of 12 months, 2-3 years, permanently, etc.  That is all that is required in order to meet the 12-month requirement.  One does not have to suffer for a year, or even for many months, in order to begin the process of preparing, formulating, and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS.

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 & Postal Service Disability Retirement: Right Questions (Part 2)

Beyond asking questions of one’s self (financial; employment; future; whether one will last until regular retirement, etc.), it is also important to take a two-step process in preparing for a disability retirement application:  First, to do your own, independent research (in this day and age, internet research is the obvious first step), and Second, to contact an attorney.  By the time you contact an attorney concerning disability retirement issues, you should already have an idea as to what your intentions are. 

Hopefully, the attorney you contact will be experienced and knowledgeable concerning all aspects of Federal Disability Retirement laws under FERS & CSRS.  There are many attorneys “out there”; some attorneys do work in Social Security, Federal Worker’s Comp, etc.  Other attorneys perform work in various Federal labor matters; and still others perform work in State and private disability insurance issues.  Remember, Federal Disability Retirement is a specific, specialized field of law; it is best to retain an attorney who specializes and focuses upon your specific area of concern.  Finally, in speaking with an attorney, you should come to a point of becoming “comfortable” with that attorney:  and “comfort” comes only as a result of competent and confident advice — advice that is consistent with the facts you have gather from your prior research on the matter.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire