Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: Social Isolation

Federal and Postal employees who contemplate filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, often feel a profound sense of isolation.

First, of course, the agency itself has a tendency to treat the medically disabled Federal or Postal employee as a pariah; that, somehow, suffering from a medical condition is within the control of the sufferer.

Then, if the agency is informed of the very intent to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, then certain consequential actions often follow:  a PIP may be imposed; leave restrictions may be enforced; an adverse action may be proposed, including a removal — often based not upon the medical condition, but all sorts of “other reasons” that have been tabulated, memorialized and recorded, by supervisors and fellow co-workers.  Yes, there is FMLA; yes, the Federal or Postal employee may file an EEO action or other potential lawsuit; but such counteractions fail to mitigate the sense of isolation and separation that the Federal or Postal employee feels, from an agency which he or she has expended one’s life and energies to advance for the cause of one’s career.

Third, when the Federal or Postal employee finally files with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, OPM’s non-responsive attitude further exacerbates the sense of isolation.  A sense of closure is what one desires; of being able to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits, then to move on with life into the next phase of a vocation, the next step beyond.

One should always remember:  It is the very act of filing which is the first step in overcoming the profound sense of isolation; for, the act itself and the decision to move beyond, is the affirmative indicator that there is light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: A Hostile Work Environment

Unfortunately, reality often outperforms and upstages any attempt at fictional characterization of the workplace.  Often, the meanness and temperamental behavior of a supervisor in the “real” workplace can never be properly represented by an actor’s attempt in a sitcom or a drama; the persistent, irrational, capricious and outright cruel behavior and acts of “the boss” or one of his/her underlings can never be accurately depicted in fiction.  Further, the reality of the consequences of such behavior can be devastating.  Workplace stress resulting from demeaning behavior, intentional acts to undermine, cruel and arbitrary acts against a specific employee, can all result in serious medical consequences.  

It is all well and good to talk about internal procedures — of filing an EEOC Complaint; filing a grievance; filing a complaint based upon discrimination, etc.  But beyond such agency procedures to protect one’s self, there is the problem of the eruption of a medical condition, be it Major Depression, Anxiety, panic attacks, physical symptoms of IBS, chronic pain, headaches —  some or all of which may result from such stresses in the workplace.  There is no diagnostic tool to establish the link between the medical condition and the workplace stress.  

For Federal and Postal employees thinking about filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, there is the context of harassment & stress in the workplace, and then the medical condition which prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job. Sometimes, it is difficult to bifurcate the two.  That which is difficult, however, must sometimes be accomplished in order to be successful.  The origin of the medical condition may have to be set aside, because it “complicates” the proving of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  If one is contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, the story — however real — of the workplace harassment, may have to be left behind.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: The Potential Drawback

One of the potential drawbacks in pursuing collateral employment issues concomitantly with a Federal Disability Retirement application is that, as such employment issues are active and clearly in the collective consciousness of the Agency, the Supervisor, and all involved, the issue itself often gets sneaked into a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS via the back door.  

This is not necessarily a negative thing, but can be a potential drawback if the Supervisor insists upon inserting the details of the collateral action in the Supervisor’s Statement.  Whether such insertion and accompaniment with a Federal Disability Retirement application is “proper” or not, is a separate matter.  From the perspective of the applicant who is awaiting a decision from the Office of Personnel Management, it matters not as to the proper actions of the Agency.  What such actions by the rogue supervisor does, is to deflect the focus away from the medical issue, and redirects the reviewing official/representative at OPM that the “reason” for one’s early retirement is not one based upon a medical issue, but rather, is because of stresses or other factors caused by a hostile work environment, harassment issues, etc.  This is normally a proposition which can be easily sidestepped, by arguing to OPM that whether or not such workplace issues have any basis or not, the treating doctor has nevertheless stated X, Y & Z.  However, it can still be problematic, and that is why collateral workplace issues should be avoided, if at all possible.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Those Workplace Issues

In preparing a Federal or Postal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, there are often multiple collateral issues which arise:  Harassment issues; Unequal Treatment; EEOC issues; Hostile Workplace issues; Discrimination issues; and multiple other issues which may or may not be viable complaints.  Such complaints have their proper place, in the proper forum, within the proper context.  As I have written multiple times previously on this issue — these employment issues should be avoided in the context of preparing for and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application.  

Many of these employment complaints may be viable ones to pursue; some may be pursued concurrently while seeking Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, and will not ultimately defeat or impact such an application (remember that in law, not only can an attorney speak out of three or four sides of his mouth; one is also allowed to make contradictory legal arguments at the same time).  

The point is that such collateral arguments and issues should not be a part of the application itself.  It may be fine to pursue such workplace issues in a separate and different forum — just not in the process of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  If the issue is brought up, the Office of Personnel Management may well use it against you, stating, “Your medical conditions seem to occur as a result of your allegation of the actions of your Supervisor. As such, you suffer merely from situational disability.”  Case denied.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: Peripheral Issues

The reason why it is important to keep the peripheral issues where they belong — outside of the primary focus of a Federal Disability Retirement application, and not inject such issues, complaints or narratives — is because they can have multiple unintended consequences.

If a Federal or Postal employee is engaged in collateral litigation, complaints, grievances or other outstanding administrative filings, including EEOC Complaints, lawsuits, formal grievances, MSPB appeals, etc., while for the most part such collateral filings will not directly or indirectly impact a Federal Disability Retirement application, they can if you directly inject such issues into the application for Federal Disability Retirement.

In other words, if in the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (SF 3112A) , you refer directly to an outstanding EEOC Complaint, then it may spring forth a red flag that your case is one of “situational disability“.  Just a thought.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Long, Longer & Longest View

I have often spoken of the need to take the “long-term” view in filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS — both in terms of having patience for the inherently long process in terms of time, as well as in terms of preparing a case for not just the First Stage of the process, but further, for the second Reconsideration Stage, as well as for an Appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board.  This “long-term” view is meant to prepare a potential applicant for what it means to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits; to not be overly concerned if you are denied at the first, or even the second stage of the process; and to be prepared financially to weather the “long haul”.  In short, it is meant to prepare the potential applicant for the long, and longer, view of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits. 

It is also necessary, however, to prepare one’s self for the “longest” view — that of maintaining and keeping safe the disability retirement benefits once it is approved — by preparing to be randomly selected every two years or so with a periodic “review” with a Medical Questionnaire.  The Medical Questionnaire is an innocuous looking form, asking for an “update”, and giving you 90 days to respond.  Be cautious.  Be aware.  Take it seriously.  Don’t wait for the 89th day to begin responding to it.  None of my clients who have gotten his or her Federal Disability Retirement benefits has ever lost it; people who have gotten Federal Disability Retirement benefits on their own and have later lost the benefit, have come to me to regain it; I have been successful in recovering the benefit, in every case.  However, it is not always easy — if only because the disability annuitant initially thought that it was an “easy-looking” form.  Preparation for the “longest view” begins not upon receipt of the Medical Questionnaire; it begins at the very, very beginning — when one first decides to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire