Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The “Mixed Case”

The “Grab-bag” approach of annotating every medical condition on an Application for Federal Disability Retirement should be distinguished and differentiated from a “Mixed-Case” approach.  The former contains some unintended consequences (i.e., of being approved for a minor medical condition), while the latter is a formulation of multiple medical conditions, any one of which may be a basis for a Federal Disability Retirement application, but the combination of which will strengthen the case as a whole. 

By “Mixed-Case” does not necessarily include a mixture of psychiatric and physical conditions (although it might); rather, the conceptual term which is used here is meant to be a compendium of the primary medical conditions from which a Federal or Postal worker suffers, along with a descriptive narrative of the symptoms which are manifested. 

By preparing, formulating and completing an Applicant’s Statement of Disability (SF 3112A) in this manner, it satisfies the concerns which lead to the “Grab-bag” approach, but prevents the danger of having a Federal Disability Retirement application approved based upon a “minor” medical condition, by conceptually differentiating between diagnosed medical conditions v. symptoms, while at the same time including all of the medical conditions relevant to one’s Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Beyond the Diagnosis

The diagnosis of the medical condition in a Federal Disability Retirement case, either under FERS or CSRS, is merely the beginning point in preparing a case. As the Office of Personnel Management in Washington, D.C., is fond of repetitively pointing out, “The mere existence of a medical condition is not a basis for approval under Federal Disability Retirement laws.” While there may be some exceptions for certain severe medical conditions, the statement itself contains a truism which needs to be kept in mind throughout the process.  

Ultimately, in preparing a Federal Disability Retirement case, one must approach the entire process (a process, by the way, which is taking longer and longer to complete, as the backlog at the Office of Personnel Management is increasingly extending the wait-time) with a view towards bridging the two critical elements in any successful filing:  (A) the medical condition and (B) its impact upon one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  It is that “connective tissue” between the two which must be the focus, and that is why the symptoms which manifest themselves from the origin (the diagnosis) is what must be discussed.  For, ultimately, while the diagnosis of a medical condition provides the basis for which a medical specialist may begin treatment on a patient, it is the symptoms/symptomatologies which provide the answer to the question in all Federal Disability Retirement applications under FERS or CSRS:  In what way does one’s medical condition prevent a Federal or Postal Employee from performing the essential elements of one’s job?  That is the critical question which must be answered, in order to have a chance at having one’s Federal Disability Retirement application approved by the Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Symptoms & Diagnoses

In filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, it is not that a formal diagnosis is unimportant; rather, it is that the diagnosis itself is merely a starting point and does not reveal the story which must be told in order to be eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  

From a medical viewpoint, for treatment purposes and from the perspective of the treating doctor, identifying the source of the pain, entertaining the various treatment options, considering which treatment modalities will be most effective, etc., all play into identifying the proper source of the symptoms.  Thus, from a treatment perspective, identifying the medical condition by ascribing the proper diagnosis is of paramount importance.  A doctor often cannot begin the proper course of treatment unless and until formal identification is established. To that extent, it is also the beginning point for the treating doctor, in that once a source of pain or origin of symptoms is diagnosed, then various treatment modalities can be considered.  

For purposes of becoming eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, it is also merely a starting point.  As the Office of Personnel Management often likes to point out, “The mere existence of a medical condition does not mean that a person is disabled from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.”  While quoting OPM as the source of legal authority is normally unwise, nevertheless one must grant that this particular statement is true within its limited context, and must be kept in mind when preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Keeping it Simple

In almost all instances, stating the obvious when filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS is the rule to follow.  Another simple rule to follow:  Keep it Simple.  Except in special circumstances (e.g., where there is a nebulous diagnosis and one must interweave multiple symptmatologies in order to bypass the possibility that you may be later precluded from “adding” a “new” medical condition, etc.), it is best to stick to a paradigm of a 1-to-1 ratio or correspondence of medical conditions, symptoms, impact upon work, etc.  

Such a template can be dangerous to follow, however, because any Applicant’s Statement of one’s disability should never appear mechanical or stilted in its tone and tenor.  Emotionalism should not be stripped from an applicant’s statement of one’s disability in a Federal Disability Retirement application and, indeed, sterility should not be a goal to be sought.  

That goal should be from the treating doctor, where technical medical terms present a sense of diagnostic objectivity and scientific validity.  But such simple rules as presenting the correspondence between specific physical conditions with the physical requirements of one’s job, and similarly, between specific psychiatric symptoms with the cognitive requirements of one’s job, is an important “rule” to follow.  Remember, however, that filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is not a “perfect science”; in fact, it is not a science at all, but a mix between law, personal input, and medical facts, with the creative force of persuasion.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Diagnosis v. Symptoms

Is an official diagnosis important?  It certainly makes for a “clean” Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS & CSRS, and indeed, sometimes the Office of Personnel Management will question the validity of a Federal Disability Retirement application if a treating doctor equivocates on ascribing a clean, clear-cut diagnosis.  But, as they say in philosophy, and specifically in symbolic logic, while a medical diagnosis may be necessary, it is not sufficient.  That is, while a medical diagnosis is often necessary in order to easily identify the medical condition, it is not sufficient to get a Federal or Postal worker an approved Federal Disability Retirement claim.  This is because, beyond an official diagnosis of a medical condition, it is important to describe the manifestation of symptoms, and how those symptoms impact one’s ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job.  To that extent, it is analogous to the story of a primitive tribesman who feared having his picture taken, because to have one’s image captured was to circumscribe the essence of an individual.  Similarly, while a medical diagnosis identifies the “what” of a condition, it fails to show the endless “hows” of that condition — as in, how does it impact one’s job, one’s personal life, one’s sense of well-being, self-image, etc.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal & Postal Service Disability Retirement: How Many Should Be Listed (Part 2)?

The listing of the medical conditions in a Federal Disability Retirement application, as it is descriptively written on the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (SF 3112A) for FERS & CSRS disability retirement, to be submitted to the Office of Personnel Management, is a separate issue from the creative description of the symptoms which the applicant experiences as a result of the identified listing of the medical conditions.  Thus, a distinction should be made between the “official” diagnosed medical conditions (which should be limited in number, for reasons previously delineated) and the multiple and varied “symptoms” which result from the listed medical conditions.  Thus, while one may suffer from the medical condition termed as “Fibromyalgia”, the symptoms can be multiple:  chronic and diffuse pain; impact upon cognitive abilities, inability to focus and concentrate, symptoms which are often termed as “fibro-fog”, etc. 

When the Office of Personnel Management approves a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS & CSRS and identifies the specific medical condition by which it is approved, it will identify the medical condition, and not the symptoms.  This distinction is important because, when an applicant prepares the narrative to show the Office of Personnel Management what he or she suffers from, the differentiation between conditions and symptoms is important to recognize when creatively and descriptively writing the narrative of one’s medical conditions.

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