FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: External-Internal Linkage

Thoreau’s observation that the mass of men lead “lives of quiet desperation” holds a profound place in daily acquiescence to the stresses of modernity; the influence and linkage between the internal workings of biology, psychology and the interplay upon health and wellbeing, and the greater macro-impact from the inevitable encounters with the external, objective world of phenomena, cannot be ignored or otherwise avoided.

The rise of self-help methodologies, of yoga, meditation, exercising and diversionary activities, is merely a reflection of the exacerbation of the internal connection as directly impacted by the external world; the linkage is there; we simply fail to otherwise recognize or acknowledge it.  Stress in the workplace is an accepted part of one’s employment; it is when stresses rise to the level of a hostile workplace that the law allows for some form of alleviated responsiveness.

But filing lawsuits, confronting the obvious, and publicly decrying boorish behavior and actions constituting illegal harassment often compounds the internal turmoil fraught with stresses upon one’s psyche; and one wonders in the end, who wrote the laws governing the litigation of such employment disputes, as special interests from trial lawyers to employers, union conglomerates to corporate lobbyists all had a hand in writing up a statute to protect the singular employee of limited means.

“Quiet desperation” infers resignation and defeat; and for many, the image of the rugged individual who stands alone to fight until death or destruction is the standard to compare one’s own limited power and actions to be employed.  But as the internal linkage to the external world cannot be denied, so health and well-being can be destroyed by the interplay with a continuing hostile workplace.

For Federal and Postal employees who suffer from a medical condition, such that the medical condition prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal job, insistence upon continuing one’s chosen career is often a choice to the detriment of the internal affairs of man, with little impact upon the macro-efficiency of the agency.

Federal Disability Retirement is an option of choice for the Federal or Postal worker who is under FERS, CSRS or CSRS-Offset, and is often mandated by the deteriorating health of an individual (internal), necessitated by the inability to perform all of the essential elements of one’s positional duties (external), and by showing by a preponderance of the evidence that the former impacts the latter (linkage), one can qualify for the benefits and salvage the quiet desperation enveloping and engulfing the insular life of an individual seeking help in the dark meanderings of a lonely outpost, where the echoing howl of a single wolf reaching out to the eclipsed moon on a cold and windy morning represents not an animal in distress, but a recognition that the wider world out there is part of man’s destiny for things greater than showing up for work to follow the demands of a bureaucracy lacking of empathy or concern.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

OPM Disability Retirement: Accommodations and the Elegance of the Hedgehog

A French film (The Hedgehog) loosely following upon the novel (The Elegance of the Hedgehog), focuses upon the hidden life of an unnoticed individual, and through her providing a platform of unraveling the fears, aspirations, class differences and how we treat (or mistreat, as the case may be) each other based upon appearances and social constraints.  It is always the character of the child who uncovers the secret, as in the story of the emperor without clothes, and in this story, as youth has not yet been scarred by the juggernaut of societal preconceptions.

It is in the secret (and secretive) life of a janitor (for the French, the more refined title of a “concierge”), who hides her intelligence and love of literature for fear of appearing pretentious and thus facing the potential and threat of loss of her job attending to wealthy tenants — where the authenticity of a life’s worth reveals itself.  How the greater society reacts to an aberration of an entrenched social order disrupts the conventional manner in which people get along in a community.

The story presents lessons far-reaching beyond the obvious; and reaches into depths untraveled, including for Federal and Postal Workers who suffer from a medical condition and must contend with supervisors and agencies which view with suspicion workers who are “different” and do not follow the traditional routine of work and productivity. For it is precisely the Federal and Postal Worker, whether under FERS or CSRS, who must often walk with hesitancy and fear when they are suffering from a medical condition, such that the medical condition has begun to impact one’s ability to perform all of the essential elements of one’s job.

Like the main character in The Hedgehog, revelation of the “secret” of one’s true being — of the medical condition, whether physical or psychiatric — would mean the potential adverse reaction of the agency.  Instead of providing for an accommodation of such a revealed “secret”, Federal agencies and the U.S. Postal Service will instead counter the situation with predictable aplomb, and begin the systematic harassment and intimidation to further complicate matters.

Filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether the Federal or Postal employee is under FERS or CSRS, is quite often the best option for the Federal or Postal employee suffering from a medical condition.  Like the character in the Hedgehog, the fear of retaliation for revelation of a “secret” which others believe to be disruptive to the social order, forces one to conceal that which proves to be the essence of humanity — that vulnerability is the true test of who we are.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

OPM Disability Retirement: Staying within the Acceptable Construct

Perspectives are funny matters:  everyone has them; some are more valid than others; in certain circumstances, the wrong perspective, however, can result in negative unintended consequences.

Thus, in a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS, the Federal or Postal employee who insists upon filing collateral actions against the Agency, while concurrently filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, can have different and differing perspectives for each legal venue filed.  

In an EEOC action, the Federal or Postal employee can allege the multiple incidents of the workplace environment and the hostility, discriminatory actions perpetrated, etc., and the resulting damages incurred (including medical conditions suffered); in a grievance procedure, the Federal or Postal employee can assert the wrongful actions of the agency; and in a Federal Court case, claims of Agency and Supervisor misconduct and their deleterious impact upon one’s career — all of these can be filed, asserted and claimed for, while at the same time have a pending Federal Disability Retirement application with the Office of Personnel Management.  

Each can have its own unique perspective; each can assert a different quadrant of one’s mouth.  However, be aware of the danger that, if a Federal Disability Retirement application is denied at the initial stage of the process, and again at the Reconsideration Stage of the process, and is appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board, the Office of Personnel Management is entitled to “Discovery” of such collateral procedures.  

Such evidence of collateral procedures may well lead to a potential conclusion that one’s medical condition can be characterized as “situational” — and that is a perspective which may well defeat a Federal Disability Retirement application.

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