Federal Disability Retirement: Timing and the Necessity of Sharing Information

The problem with sharing sensitive information with others is that the question of trust always enters into the picture.  As noted in a previous blog, a Federal or Postal employee filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, must be willing to submit sensitive medical information to one’s agency, at some point in the process.

Such submission — and therefore, presumptive “sharing” of such sensitive medical information — can hardly be avoided, because there are legitimate reasons why the Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service must view and analyze the information.  Such mistrust of a Federal Agency is certainly not unfounded (yes, a double-negative is difficult to discern, but necessary nonetheless), and the concern rises exponentially based upon the nature of the medical submission, the prior historical encounter with the Agency in the arena of other litigation, adverse actions, legal forums, etc.  Then, the question of timing must be considered — for, if other litigation is pending, there is a question whether the submission of a Federal Disability Retirement application will impact any other pending issues.

Ultimately, in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, one assumes that the goal of the applicant is to obtain a Federal Disability Retirement, and be separated from Federal Service as an obvious but necessary consequence; and, in doing so, to suffer the cost of revealing some sensitive medical information in order to achieve that goal.

In attempting to reach that goal, one must get beyond the intermediate “wall” — one’s own agency — in order to arrive at the destination — the Office of Personnel Management.  That wall must be allowed to display some personal information.  How; to what extent; to whose viewing; and when and for what purposes, must be contained and restricted based upon a standard of ensuring, to the extent possible, that such viewing is limited to those who have a “must see” position in order to complete the Federal Disability Retirement application.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Revealing Sensitive Medical Information

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, there is often the expressed concern about submission of sensitive medical information — of who will view it, what it will be used for, how widely it will be disseminated, and for what purpose, etc.

If a Federal or Postal employee has not been separated from the Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service, or has been separated but not for more than thirty one (31) days, then the entire Federal Disability Retirement application must be submitted to the Human Resources Department of the particular agency for which the employee works.  Once there, control and containment of the sensitive medical information which is included in the Federal Disability Retirement packet is based upon the good faith of the agency.

Obviously, there are purposes for which certain individuals may need to view the medical information — e.g., for purposes of completing Standard Form 3112D, Agency Certification of Reassignment and Accommodation Efforts, in order for the Federal Agency to determine whether or not accommodation or reassignment is possible or feasible based upon the extent, type and severity of the medical conditions suffered by the Federal or Postal employee.  Beyond, that, however, the medical information should not be viewed by anyone, especially in light of the fact that it is the Office of Personnel Management, and not the individual Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service, which makes the determination of approval or denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application.

A “need to know” standard should be applied, of course, but such a standard is rather subjective and can be easily justified.  Whether the agency complies with any standard at all, of course, is questionable, and ultimately, no one will know but the eyes of those who see.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Concerns of Confidentiality

There is often an expressed concern regarding how confidential the medical records submitted through one’s Agency are kept.  It is a valid concern, but one which must be weighed and considered in light of the ultimate goal:  to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits under either FERS or CSRS.

There are multiple instances of confidentiality breaches — both at the agency level and at OPM.  OPM has sent out letters in the past to the wrong individual, and in the letters they discuss details of medical conditions, contents of medical reports, etc.  Such mistakes, while (fortunately) rare, do occur at times.

At the Agency level, of course, the concern is of greater import.  If a Federal or Postal employee is still on the rolls of the Agency and has not been separated from Federal Service for more than thirty one (31) days, then a Federal Disability Retirement packet, with all of the attached medical reports, must be submitted through that Agency.  Disclosure of such medical reports and records are to be kept to an “as needed” basis — for the limited purpose of seeing whether the Agency can accommodate a medical condition, for instance.

Federal and Postal employees who are filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits often express the concern that unauthorized individuals may be able to view the confidential medical reports, and sometimes use them for alternative, unauthorized purposes.  One such concern, of course, is if there is a pending collateral case ongoing — such as an EEOC case or some similar filing, where the evidence gleaned from the medical records can be used against the Federal or Postal employee in another forum.

Ultimately, the Federal or Postal employee must weigh the pros and cons, and do the best to ensure confidentiality, and view any concerns of confidential breaches as merely an intermediate step of necessity to attain the ultimate and more important goal, of obtaining an approval from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in a Federal Disability Retirement case.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire