Federal Employee Medical Retirement: A Bridge Too Far

It is an indelible comment in history, marking a failure of calculations resulting in catastrophic consequences in the unwise attempt to quickly end the war.  As a tactical consideration, the attempt to outflank German defenses by securing key bridges in order to isolate the enemy, constituted a brilliant idea; in practical application, the unconfirmed attribution of the comment that the Allied Forces may be going “a bridge too far” proved to be the very downfall of such a bold military strategy.

M-2 Treadway Pontoon Bridge under construction across the Po River near Ostiglia (National Archives)

M-2 Treadway Pontoon Bridge under construction across the Po River near Ostiglia (National Archives)

Bridges represent vital and necessary supply lines between two entities, organizations, populations, and even ideas.  They allow for the free flow of supplies and communication; they constitute the “lifeline” between two otherwise disparate groups.  It is such a bridge, or “nexus”, which is similarly of great importance in all formulations of Federal Disability Retirement applications. For the Federal or Postal Worker who is preparing to submit a Federal Disability Retirement application through one’s agency (if still employed by the Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service, or otherwise separated but not more than 31 days since the effective date of separation), and ultimately to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, making sure that the “bridge” between one’s medical condition and the impact upon the positional duties of one’s job is a vital and necessary part of the process.

Like physical bridges which connect various populations, the nexus which brings together the Federal Disability Retirement application in a FERS or CSRS submission, will determine the very persuasiveness of one’s presentation to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  A bridge which is inadequate will fail to establish that the medical condition impacts one’s capacity to perform the essential elements of one’s Federal position; and one which overextends itself may raise red flags of overreaching and exaggeration, undermined by a Supervisor’s Statement or the Agency’s contention that they have attempted to accommodate an individual to a legally viable degree.

While a 1-to-1 ratio of a medical condition-to-an-essential element is unnecessary in establishing eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits (see my multiple articles on the Henderson case), nevertheless, a linguistic construction of an adequate bridge between the two must be firmly established.

In the end, as with the Allied attempt to swiftly conclude the war resulted in the unnecessary cost of human lives, so one must take care in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, such that one does not go “a bridge too far” in making one’s case in a Federal Disability Retirement claim.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: The Theory of Correspondence

20th Century Philosophy has witnessed the steady progression of deconstruction; of centuries of attempting to answer age-old questions which challenged the mind, only to be declared that it was, all throughout, the question which was the problem, and the imprecise manner of communication through language difficulties and conceptual confusions that created the unfathomable difficulties, and that therefore there are no substantive problems in philosophy to solve.

Bertrand Russell, the entire tradition of English Empiricism, and long comes Wittgenstein; and any theory of correspondence between language and the “objective” world was cast aside as being impractical, unendurable, and in the end, untrue — though, as truth itself became an empty concept, it remained a puzzle as to how such a declarative end could be proposed.

But it was ultimately the devaluing of correspondence which became most troubling; for, now, as there was and is no connection between language and reality, so an individual can do and say one thing, and be and remain another. Perhaps that is why Facebook, Twitter and electronic media are so popular; we have become who we merely declare we are.

That is often the insidious nature of a medical condition; when once it becomes known, we want to ignore it, conceal it, and think it away; but somehow the physical reality of one’s life cannot be erased so easily as words on paper, or through the use of a ‘delete’ button.

Medical conditions really do impact us; and if the Federal or Postal employee finds him/herself beset with a medical condition such that it prevents one from performing the essential elements of one’s job, then the reality of a career’s end and a change of vocation is one which is beyond mere words. But words and completing forms are what must be performed in formulating, preparing and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether one is under FERS or CSRS.

So, in the end, the integrity of correspondence occurs, despite what modern philosophy says — there is still, and will always be, a connection between language and reality, and that is clear and unavoidable for the Federal and Postal employee who must attempt to maneuver one’s way through the bureaucracy and administrative procedures of a Federal Disability Retirement case.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Application of a Neutral Legal Criteria

The application of law upon determination of a Federal Disability Retirement application is based upon a set of criteria which focuses upon the impact of a medical condition on the Federal or Postal employee’s ability or inability to perform all of the essential elements of his or her job.  Thus, it is different from other government programs or compensation benefits, in that it ignores such issues as causality or prima facie accepted medical diagnoses.

Indeed, one can have a serious medical condition and still be denied one’s Federal Disability Retirement application if one fails to show the nexus, or the impacting connection, between the serious medical condition and one’s ability/inability to perform all of the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal job.  In that sense, the applicable legal criteria is neutral in its very essence:  first, the Office of Personnel Management should (obviously) apply the law in a “neutral” manner, without regard to the person who applies, or be influenced in any way by the agency; but, moreover, and more importantly, the law itself is neutral to the extent that it makes no judgment upon the medical condition itself — only upon the medical condition in conjunction with the impact to one’s ability/inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job.

As such, in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the primary focus in attempting to prove this point — both from a medical perspective as well as from the applicant’s approach — should be to emphasize the connection between the diagnosed medical condition and the essential elements of one’s job, and not merely upon the seriousness of the former.  Only in this way can the neutrality of the legal criteria properly assess the viability and force of one’s Federal Disability Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Technical Difficulties & the Problems of Life

Sometimes, regularity of activity is interrupted by what is generally deemed as “technical difficulties” and the common problems of life; and, indeed, for those who have noticed that the undersigned writer did not post a blog in the past couple of days, that is precisely what occurred — “technical glitches” which prevented the posting.

But that problems of life, including medical conditions which impact one’s ability or inability to perform all of the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal job, should be as minor as everyday difficulties of life made interesting by mere technical glitches — that would be acceptable and tolerable.  But for the Federal or Postal employee who is suffering from medical conditions which are so serious that they begin to impede and interfere with the very ability to perform the essential elements of one’s career, job, and positional duties — that is when Federal Disability Retirement benefits should be considered.

Ultimately, preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, is not a matter of choice, but one of necessity.  Unlike a technological glitch which presents a problem within a short, specified period of time; or a “life problem” which presents a difficulty where an individual must make some choices and decisions which, hopefully, would resolve such problems or at least lessen the reverberating impact of the difficulties — in contrast, a medical condition which prevents a Federal or Postal employee from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, is a life-changing event, with immediate impact, future consequences, and an all-encompassing tidal wave of meaningful impingement upon one’s very being.

It is a life-changing decision; not just a technical glitch, but a road which must be taken.  In doing so, it is important to do it “right”.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The Corresponding Bridge

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the Federal or Postal employee must always keep in mind the overriding connection throughout the entire administrative process — the correspondence between the medical condition and one’s positional duties.

Thus, redundancy and reiteration of the impact and connection between the two elements should be seen at every turn — in the medical reports; in the applicant’s statement of disability; in the Supervisor’s Statement (if possible); in the SF 3112D, Agency Efforts for Reassignment and Accommodation, etc.  

As Social Security bases its decision in determining the disability of an applicant upon factors which involve the medical condition itself and its impact upon daily living abilities, so Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS takes a different focus and approach:  it emphasizes and evaluates the necessary connection between the medical condition one suffers from, and the impact upon one’s positional duties in the official slot held by the Federal or Postal employee.  

As the law focuses upon that “necessary connection,” so the evidence which is presented to the Office of Personnel Management, in meeting the legal criteria by a preponderance of the evidence, must emphasize and repetitively, where possible, delineate such a connection.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Conceptual Clarifications of Duties

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is helpful to make an initial conceptual distinction between the type of positional duties which one performs for the Federal Service — whether sedentary and administrative; whether it involves the necessity of on-demand travel or deployment; whether the particular medical condition requires special medical care or technology and apparatus which is not available upon travel or deployment; how physical; weight lifting requirements; how repetitive; whether driving is required; whether and to what extent it is cognitive-intensive; and multiple other considerations.

Such bifurcation and conceptual distinctions are important for purposes of informally categorizing a descriptive analysis for correspondence of duties-to-medical-conditions.  Thus, when the time comes to formulate the narrative portion of one’s application for Federal Disability Retirement, it becomes easier to effectively delineate the impact of one’s medical conditions upon one’s positional duties.

It is one thing to experience a medical condition; it is quite another to effectively describe the medical condition, utilizing the proper and accurate adjectives and descriptive word-pictures to a third party; and it is even further another matter to describe one’s medical condition and its impact upon one’s ability/inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  To perform the intellectual exercise of mentally delineating a list of one’s positional duties in one column; a list of symptomatologies in a separate column; a correspondence of impact between the columns (but remember, it should never be simply a one-to-one correspondence,and cross-overs and multiple overlays reflect the “real world” of medical conditions and their impact upon one’s positional duties), is a helpful exercise in the presentation of the “final product” to the Office of Personnel Management.

In preparing and formulating a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is important to “think through” the administrative process, in order to exponentially increase the chances of success at each stage of the process.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Early Retirement for Disabled Federal Workers: OPM & History of Medical Conditions

There is a distinction to be made between one’s medical history and an extensive discussion of workplace issues which may have contributed to a causal impetus for a medical condition.  

The Office of Personnel Management is rarely interested in receiving information concerning the history or causation of a medical condition — especially from the Applicant in a Federal Disability Retirement application.  While the treating doctor may briefly refer to the historical genesis of a medical condition in a narrative report, it is the focus of the present-to-recent-past impact of one’s medical conditions upon the essential elements of one’s job which the Office of Personnel Management is interested in reviewing.

Again, remember that a Federal Disability Retirement application is a “paper presentation” to an onerous, overbearing and overworked Federal bureaucracy, where one’s private affairs (the most private of all — one’s medical conditions and their impact upon one’s personal and professional conduct of affairs) are to be presented, received, and ultimately reviewed.  

History of the inception, origin and impact of a medical condition may be peripherally relevant to the treating doctor, and it would be appropriate to include such historical background in a medical report; but for the Applicant, to delve too deeply and extensively upon such historical context may place the peripheral into a central focus where it should not be.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire