Beginning the Federal Disability Retirement Process

The Chinese proverb, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”, is meant to remind us that looking at a process in its entirety can result in self-defeat even before starting, and every daunting journey must begin with the small, almost insignificant, effort of initiation.

Facing a bureaucracy and an administrative process can feel like that metaphorical journey of a thousand miles.  The multiple and complex standard forms to complete; the legal criteria to meet; the need to gather, compile and consolidate the medical documentation into a linear, coherent whole; and all of this, in the face of voluntarily reducing one’s income by applying for an annuity and having to deal with the debilitating medical condition from which one suffers.

But the successful way to approach the entire administrative process known as Federal Disability Retirement, is to bifurcate it into workable portions. The SF 3107 series (reissued in May, 2014, where previous editions are now outdated) is merely informational in nature.  It is is the SF 3112 series of forms which one must take care in preparing and formulating, and especially SF 3112A, which requests for detailed information concerning one’s medical conditions, the impact of the medical conditions upon one’s ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job; and other pertinent information needed to convey compliance with a legal criteria established through many years via legal opinions issued by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, as well as by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Yes, it is a difficult process, and one which can be eased by legal advice and expertise. But as with all journeys, to look upon the landscape and obstacles as mere hindrances to overcome, will serve one better, than to stand at the foothills and refuse to begin the journey at all.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Identifying the Right Bridge to Reach Your Destination: Federal Employee Disability Retirement

When considering filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether one is under FERS or CSRS, the natural inclination is to ask the seemingly primary question of: Does medical condition-X qualify as a disability? But such a question is in actuality secondary; it is the reverse-order and counterintuitive process which is often confusing for the Federal and Postal Worker who is contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

The primary question, making the previously-stated questions secondary, is to ask: Does medical condition-X prevent one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job?  By inverting the primary-secondary sequence, one can then attain a better level of understanding as to the administrative process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  Further, such a switch in sequence of questions-to-answers allows for an important paradigm shift.  For, in the very asking of the proper question, one can reach a level of understanding to such a stage of comprehension that the question almost answers itself.

Medical conditions in and of themselves do not necessarily qualify the Federal or Postal Worker who is otherwise age or service-eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits; it is the nexus which must be established between one’s position and the medical conditions one suffers from.  It is the crossing of that bridge which will reveal the extent of success or failure in attempting to go down this path; but first, the Federal or Postal Worker must correctly identify which bridge to cross, before even starting the long and arduous trek of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

The Basic Question Of “What?” during the Federal Disability Retirement Application and Process

“Why” evinces a quality of curiosity, and perhaps of disbelief; “who” indicates a need to establish an identity and source; “how” demonstrates a pragmatic approach in determining a future course of action; and “what” reveals the yearning to unravel the foundations of basic principles, as in Aristotle’s methodology in his Metaphysics.

Before the first storyteller or shaman put on a mask to enhance the mysteries of healing and divination; long before the wide-eyed children gathered with the adults around the village center where the bonfire roared with flickering shadows of unknown powers beyond the periphery of the fireflies beaming in the distant darkness of dangers beyond; and well preceding the written account of human history, where anthropology and narrative fantasy melded to provide reminiscences of prehistoric days created in the imaginations of youth, the question of “what” was uttered in innocence.

What is the meaning of X? What happened? What makes a thing become itself? What is the essence of being?  Thus for any entrance into a fresh endeavor, the human need for satisfying the “what” of a matter is the prefatory step towards progress.

For the Federal and 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 initial question might be: What constitutes a “disability”?  In that question is the key which often opens wide the conventional confinement which so many people are locked into.

For, in the traditional sense, the focus of the answer to such a question is contained in the definition and diagnosis of a medical condition.  For FERS and CSRS Federal Disability Retirement, however, the expansion of the answer goes well beyond the strictures of a diagnosis.  It is the nexus, or the connection, between the medical condition and symptoms, on the one hand, and the positional requirements (whether physical, mental or emotional) of one’s Federal or Postal work, which establishes the answer.

Once the Federal and Postal employee gains an understanding of this differentiating concept, then the doors open wide beyond the confinement of OWCP benefits or Social Security Disability benefits.  Thus does one approach Federal Disability Retirement with trepidation in asking, What qualifies as a disability?  For, contained within the question is the implicit and unspoken answer: such a query already implies a problem, and the problem likely is an impact already being felt upon one’s inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s positional duties of one’s Federal or Postal employment.

As with the first causative rumblings deep in the consciousness of one’s soul, as a child first begins to question the complexity of the universe surrounding the inner self of the “I”, the question uttered alters the relationship between the being of “I” and the objectivity of “others” in a perplexing world of unanswered questions; but in the end, the “what” is a first step, and so it is also for the Federal and Postal employee who is considering filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether you are under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

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 Workers: Insular Worlds

The private domain of individual, insular worlds always remain unknowable and profoundly unreachable. We can extract common linguistic signposts to have some superficial encounters, with at least a semblance of comprehension; but in the end, can one ever “know” the sensation of pain which another experiences? Or the extreme emotional turmoil that a person who suffers from schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder; the diffuse pain of a person suffering from Fibromyalgia; or the cognitive dissonance of one beset by Major Depression, uncontrollable anxiety or panic attacks?

Yet, it is a necessary step in preparing, formulating and submitting a Federal Disability Retirement application to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, to have the ability to convey, delineate and describe the nexus between one’s experiential phenomena of the insular world of a medical condition, and one’s external encounter with the Federal position in the work-world.

The private chaos of one’s medical condition must be linked to the public display of one’s physical or mental capacity and capability in the employment with the Federal Sector or the U.S. Postal Service; how one makes that connection, the manner of the description, and the characterization of the impact of the former upon the latter, will make all the difference in the world whether or not that unique universe of insularity can be protected from the progressive harm of one’s job.

For, in the end, it matters not whether one can adequately relate to another’s medical condition; it is enough to know that the private domain of one’s life is that which makes human consciousness the unique mystery peculiar to the human animal.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Horns & Whistles

Acoustic signaling devices and technological innovations in repackaging information can convey a sense of “newness” and a refreshing sort of alternate sensory perception; however, ultimately, the substantive information which must be presented will require tackling the hard elements of a case.

In presenting a Federal Disability Retirement case to the Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is important to distinguish between the foundation of the case, as opposed to the “extras” which one may add.  It is like the analogy of the great and master chef who thinks so highly of his or her own skills, that the preparation of the main meal of a course is done without the primary ingredient.  Even the most unrefined and coarse connoisseur can recognize when the steak is missing from a steak dinner.

Thus, in a FERS or CSRS Disability Retirement case, while one’s statement of disability may be persuasive; while “other evidence” by the agency, coworkers, etc. may establish a perspective of medical disability, the foundation of the nexus between one’s medical condition and the positional duties required must be established by the substantive essence of the case — the medical evidence itself.

Don’t mistake the periphery for the center; don’t be fooled by horns and whistles; much noise does not make up for the central requirement in any endeavor.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: The Magnifying Event

The notable characteristic of a medical condition is that they rarely go away via wishful thinking and, moreover, while rest may provide a restorative period of relief, the return to performing activities which further exacerbate one’s condition further magnifies not only the chronicity and severity of the condition, but the need for additional restorative periods of relief.

That is why, in a Federal Disability Retirement case, the focus is upon the nexus between one’s medical condition and the essential elements of one’s job.  For the former, the nexus pinpoints the type of medical condition by focusing upon the primary aspects of the work; for the latter, that very connection between the former and latter magnifies the impact of the medical condition and why it is that Federal Disability Retirement benefits are needed and justified.

Whether a person is on furlough during this temporary period of insanity, or whether one has previously taken an extraordinary amount of Sick Leave, Annual Leave, or Leave without Pay, is an irrelevant issue in the end; for, the very need to take such excessive time off, as well as the inverse issue of growing work performance questions, both are magnifying events of the same revelation:  the medical condition is further exacerbated by the continuation of certain activities, and the activities are progressively prevented by the medical conditions.

Preparing the steps to formulating an effective Federal Disability Retirement application with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, begins with the recognition that the ultimate answer lies not in the temporary and palliative nature of a week’s time off, but in the realization that one is no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, for the long term.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire