Physical and Mental Conditions in Federal OPM Disability Retirement Claims: Ahead of the Proverbial Curve

Trends are often characterized by the actions of a few.  Whether in cultural expectancies via movie moguls, fashion designers, technology innovators and convention-busters, the known so-called leaders who stay ahead of the proverbial “curve” which maintains the continuum of linear stability in a given society, often dictate the direction of an otherwise directionless future.

The ivory tower of academia is another such bastion of proclivities where, if observed carefully, can infer a discernment for future waves to come. The views of sociologists, psychologists, philosophers and economists (to name just a few “ists” within the self-vaunted world of esoteric penumbras; note, however, how the “philosopher” is not termed the “philosophist” — why is that? Perhaps because there was a desired disassociation with sophistry?) preview a trend of forthcoming conundrums impacting a society.

In the pragmatic world in which most of the rest of society inhabits, however, the dualism pronounced (and in many sectors of philosophy, denounced) concerning the bifurcated universe of the cognitive as opposed to the physical, continues to be debated. Dennett, consciousness, Nagel, Scruton, and the continuing debate over whether human consciousness can be reduced through the scientific language-game of mere biological processes, rages on in the ivory towers of conceptual constructs.

In the real world, this debate is reducible to the pragmatic question of whether psychiatric conditions are “as acceptable” as physical manifestations of traumatic conditions. For the Federal employee and the U.S. Postal worker who is contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the question of whether it is “more difficult” to win a Federal Medical Retirement claim from OPM is one which overwhelmingly can be answered in a positive, pro-worker manner: today, fortunately, there is little distinction to be made between psychiatric health problems and physical health problems.

Major Depression, Anxiety, panic attacks, Bipolar Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorders, suicidal ideations, nervous breakdowns, etc. — all are viable bases upon which to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, on a par with physical conditions of chronic pain, cervical and lumbar dysfunctions, shoulder impingement syndrome, Crohn’s Disease, etc.  Descartes’ dualism cannot be found in the world of OPM and in the filing for a Federal Medical claim of disability.

The proverbial curve of societal trends is often determined by those at “the top”; but in the case of acceptance of psychiatric conditions in comparative analysis to physical conditions in the filing for Federal Disability benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the trend of acceptance on a par for both was established long ago, probably as a result of the reality of either and both conditions, and the realization by the bureaucracy that however you term the condition, the importance of a Medical Disability Retirement claim finds its essence on the impact of one’s ability or inability to perform all of the essential elements of one’s positional duties.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Stress, Anxiety, Depression…

Stress is often the noun which triggers.  As the originating causation, it is often considered the evil cousin who brings about other ailments. It is a state of mental or emotional strain which is encountered under extraordinary circumstances, often hostile in nature, and involving a lack of calm or quietude.

Workplace stress is a reality of the modern technological age; hostile work environments have been identified as causative agents of stress; and demands for overburdened, repetitive work habits contribute exponentially.

Attempts to reduce workplace stress are always welcomed but often ineffective

Attempts to reduce workplace stress are always welcomed but often ineffective

While the goal for a “stress-free environment” is generally unattainable and a mythological state existing only in one’s imagination, it is thought from a medical perspective that engaging in stress-reducing activities, whether incrementally throughout the day, or during one’s leisure time, remains an important facet of healthy living.

The noun which triggers — stress — is that which, if left unchecked, can result in the debilitating effects of an explosion of psychiatric (and physical) medical conditions, including (but not limited to) anxiety, depression, suicidal ideations, homicidal thoughts, intrusive nightmares, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, gastric and abdominal dysfunctions, chronic and profound fatigue, general malaise, chronic pain, debilitating migraine headaches, and a host of other medical conditions.

At some point, when the seriousness of a medical condition brought about by stress cannot be relieved or reduced through pragmatic means of altering key components which cause the stress, then complete removal from the stressful environment must be considered.

Generalized anxiety disorders appear in physical and psychological ways. Headaches are a possible physical symptom. So are muscle aches, sweating, and hot flashes.

Federal Disability Retirement, available for all Federal and Postal employees who have the minimum number of years of service, whether one is under FERS or CSRS, and filed through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, must always be considered when one’s medical condition — whether triggered by stress or some other causative agent — begins to impact and prevent the Federal or Postal employee from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal position.

Sometimes, when the visiting cousin who carelessly and thoughtlessly spreads germs and destructive diseases comes for a short visit, subtle hints as to the unwelcome nature of the visit may simply fail to move.  In such cases, it is time to move out, leaving behind the unwanted cousin to drown in the misery of his own making.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Secondary Depression and Other Contingent Medical Conditions

Often, in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, one must selectively choose, based upon the medical reports received from one’s requested doctors, the medical conditions upon which one’s Federal Disability Retirement application will be based.  

Sometimes, there is confusion as to which medical conditions should be listed, how it should be “prioritized” (how can one prioritize multiple medical conditions when any or all of them may have debilitating symptomatologies?) and whether some should be relegated to mere peripheral, ancillary discussion, as opposed to retaining a centrality of focus and prominence.  

For example, “Secondary Depression” is a term which often will accompany chronic and debilitating pain.  It may, over time, become a primary source of debilitating disability, but the reason why it is initially, and for some time thereafter, characterized as “secondary” is precisely because it is contingent upon the existence of the primary medical condition — that which results in the chronic and debilitating pain.  As such, if the secondary depression is listed as the primary basis for a Federal Disability Retirement application, but sometime later the originating medical condition which is the foundational cause of the depression gets better, then there is the potential ramifications that the secondary medical condition (“secondary depression”) will resolve itself.  

Such considerations can be important in determining which medical conditions to list, inasmuch as in a future time, if one is found to be disabled by the Office of Personnel Management for a secondary medical condition and is asked in a future Medical Questionnaire to have one’s doctor determine the disability status at a later time, it may become an important issue.

Linking potential future problems to thoughtful preparation in the present time is important in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

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

Postal and Federal Employees Disability Retirement: Major Depression

Federal and Postal workers who are inquiring about filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS often lack any context as to his or her own particular situation, in relation to the greater Federal and Postal workforce.  Let me elaborate:  a Federal or Postal employee who suffers from chronic and intractable Major Depression, despite being placed on various psychotropic medications, and having undergone psychotherapeutic intervention, and (in more serious cases) hospitalization for intensive treatment — often believe that his or her “situation” is unique, isolated, and rare.  It is not.  

When an individual suffers from Major Depression, it is common to feel isolated, as if the particular psychiatric disorder is unlike other medical conditions (e.g., physical medical conditions which can be ascertained by an MRI or other diagnostic tools).  This is part of the very medical condition itself — of feeling isolated and trapped, and unable to escape from one’s own plight.  

Indeed, Federal and Postal employees who suffer from Major Depression often ask me the “how many” question — how many people do you represent who suffer from Major Depression, as if numbers correlate to security.  While I am very protective of client confidentiality and information related to my clients, it can safely be said that a “great many” Federal and Postal employees suffer from Major Depression, that it is not uncommon, that your co-worker sitting beside you may suffer from it, and that such sufferers work hard to hide it.  

Further, the success in filing for, and obtaining, Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS is no less than any other medical condition.  Thus, for those who suffer from Major Depression and are contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS:  you are definitely not alone.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal & Postal Service Disability Retirement: Experience & the Medical Condition

Often, when a client receives the finalized disability retirement packet, I receive a response that goes something like:  “I didn’t realize I was so bad off, until I read through the prepared packet.”  While I have not personally experienced the medical conditions of my many clients over the years, I have the experience of having spoken to them, and have learned about the symptoms, the words which best describe the pain, the impact, and the symptoms which are experienced on a daily basis. 

That is why it is an absurdity for the Office of Personnel Management, for example, to continually and redundantly refer to Fibromyalgia cases as ones with symptoms which “wax and wane”.  Or, with severe Major Depression, Anxiety and panic attacks, the Office of Personnel Management will systematically deny many such claims by stating that there is no “objective medical evidence” to show that the individual is unable to continue to provide efficient service in a cognitive-intensive job.  It is the job of the attorney, in a Federal Disability Retirement case, to be the one who projects the experience of the disabled Federal or Postal employee.  The attorney does not have to personally experience the medical condition in order to properly and descriptively convey the impact of the symptoms and debilitating conditions; however, it is helpful if the attorney has had a wide range of experience — by having spoken to multiple individuals over the years who have personally experienced such conditions.  In this way, the attorney can obtain the experience to express the medical experience of the applicant.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Spouse

I find that when a person is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS, an important component which is often overlooked is the supportive spouse.  I often get calls concerning various aspects of the Disability Retirement process — not from the applicant, but from the spouse.  And, indeed, this is natural, because often the medical condition itself is serious enough that the applicant is unable to “handle” or “deal with” the complexities of the process itself.  It becomes further complicated when the medical condition which is suffered is a psychiatric condition — severe Major Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, suicidal ideations, etc.

However, whether it is psychiatric or physical, a supportive spouse — or “significant other” — is often very, very important to the success of the entire process.  Obviously, as an attorney who represents “the Client“, I must be careful that there is never a conflict between the Applicant (my client) and “the spouse”, but that is rare.  In almost all cases, I find that the spouse is looking after the best interest of my client, and I am happy to talk to and update the spouse on any and all issues surrounding a FERS Disability Retirement case, because I know that he/she is looking after the best interests of my client, just as I want to.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire
Federal Disability Retirement Attorney