Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Is the Doctor in, Please?

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the support of one’s treating doctor is essential in putting together an effective presentation to the Office of Personnel Management.  Sometimes, even doctors have to be reminded of his or her “obligation” to a patient.  When, how, and in what manner of approaching the doctor, is a discretionary element of the process best left up to the patient.  

The reason why the “treating doctor”, as delineated by cases and opinions rendered by Administrative Judges at the Merit Systems Protection Board and by Judges at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, is the best one to provide a clinical assessment and evaluation of one’s ability or inability, and the extent thereof, of performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, is that the long-term relationship that has been (or should have been) established over these many years of treatment, is a foundational basis of being able to ascertain the abilities, capabilities, and limitations of the patient’s physical, emotional and mental condition. 

If a treating doctor hides behind the excuse of saying that he or she is not “equipped” to make a disability determination, or that there are doctors “out there” who specialize in disability determinations, and he/she is not one of them, an explanatory discussion should be engaged in with the doctor, which should include at least the following three (3) elements:  (1)  A reminder of the history of the doctor-patient relationship, (2) that your particular doctor is the one who knows the intimate details of your medical conditions and the history of treatment engaged in, and (3) that such administrative headaches resulting in obtaining Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management is a vital part of the long and recuperative process that the doctor has been trying to attain.  

Ultimately, it is the treating doctor who is the best one to render an opinion as to whether a Federal or Postal employee whom the doctor is treating, can continue to perform all of the essential elements of one’s particular job.  The question then is, Is the doctor in?  Meaning:  Is the doctor still going to “be there” when it really counts?

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Speaking with the Doctor

Communication is the key to a successful outcome:  such a trite truism is certainly applicable in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS & CSRS.  The primary focus when a Federal or Postal employee has a medical condition which is impacting his or her ability to perform all of the essential elements of his or her job, is to take care of the medical condition — i.e., to have the necessary treatments, to undergo the proper prescriptive treatment modalities, including surgery, medication regimens, pain management treatments, psychotherapeutic intervention, etc.

Beyond such treatment modalities, however, there may come a point in the life of a Federal or Postal employee when it is becoming apparent that the medical condition is simply “incompatible” with the useful and efficient retention in the Federal or Postal Service.  Such a determination is best made by the Federal or Postal employee, if possible, as opposed to having the Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service suddenly and unceremoniously make such a determination — in the form of a proposed removal based upon one’s failure to maintain a regular work schedule; or because of taking “excessive leave“; or putting a Federal or Postal employee upon a Performance Improvement Plan.  Such a determination may best be made by the Federal or Postal employee by communicating one’s concerns to the treating doctor, and asking some incisive questions.  Another trite truism:  The only stupid question is the one not asked.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Tendencies

There are certain tendencies which seem to exhibit themselves on a spectrum of behaviors, and the pattern is fairly common.  As such, it is important to be aware of the natural tendencies of all parties involved when filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  For instance, it is a common tendency for the doctorFamily Doctor, Orthopaedic Surgeon, Neurologist, Psychiatrist, etc. — to avoid having to write a medical narrative report for a Federal Disability Retirement application.

What to do about it?  To try and place the doctor at ease by explaining the process in as direct, simple and concise manner as possible; then to tie the importance of the request for a Medical Narrative Report to the overall treatment plan for the patient — you.  To have an attorney involved can further ease the natural anxiety of a doctor — but it helps to have the client/patient forewarn the doctor as to the role and involvement of the attorney.

Attorneys and doctors are “natural enemies” (i.e., attorneys sue doctors; doctors hate to be sued; ergo, doctors have a natural tendency to dislike lawyers).  If the patient/client, however, approaches the doctor and explains that the lawyer who is representing him or her is there to explain the process, to guide the doctor in the preparation of the entire packet, including giving guidance to the doctor in formulating a medical narrative report, then the tendency towards anxiety and reluctance to assist in a Federal Disability Retirement application can be lessened and overcome.  Tendencies are there to be recognized, then to be adjusted in order to achieve a positive outcome.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Arming the Doctor after Disarming

It is one thing to provide an explanation of the process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS to the treating doctor; that is simply not enough.  Providing an explanation “disarms” the health professional.  While such explanation and helping the doctor to understand the process is certainly helpful, ultimately the treating doctor needs more than information; he or she needs guidance in order to “arm” one’s self with the tools necessary to help the patient. 

Fortunately, most doctors are professional, compassionate, and eager to help.  Writing medical reports are an administrative aspect of the practice of medicine which is not only a headache, but takes the doctor away from the valuable and limited time for actually treating the patient.  It is therefore important for the Federal or Postal employee who is applying for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS to “arm” the doctor with the necessary tools needed in order to successfully prepare, formulate and construct a sufficient and effective narrative report in order to “pass muster” with the Office of Personnel Management.  The first and primary rule in helping to prepare the doctor is to always protect and maintain the integrity of the doctor.  Truth in every endeavor, and especially in filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, should be the ultimate guiding light.  How that truth is stated, however, is where the guidance, tooling and “arming” comes into play.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal & Postal Service Disability Retirement: Differing Legal Criteria

Similar benefits, at the State, Local, Private levels, and at the Federal level, each contain differing legal criteria for eligibility. Thus, for instance, Social Security Disability benefits require one set of standards of eligibility; private disability insurance policies require a different set of standards; and state disability benefits often differ from state to state.  This is of course true of Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS and CSRS — where the legal standard of eligibility is different from Social Security, Worker’s Comp, and State or private disability criteria.

Often, a question is asked whether a medical narrative report which is prepared for submission to the Office of Personnel Management can be used for submission for other “similar” benefits.  The short answer is, “It all depends”, but the long answer is that, in most cases, one must be very cautious.  When I represent a Federal or Postal employee under FERS or CSRS, one of the first steps in preparing a viable case is to request of the treating doctors a detailed medical narrative report.  One must understand that the treating doctor has, generally speaking, next to no idea as to the legal criteria that must be met under FERS or CSRS.  Furthermore, the treating doctor has no legal knowledge as to the differences between private disability insurance policies, State, Social Security, OWCP or FERS & CSRS.  It is the job of the Attorney to make sure and guide the treating doctors as to the criteria which must be met as to the particular and specialized field for which the medical narrative is being prepared.  This must be done with care, and with detailed guidance.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Thank the Medical Professionals

If not for the doctors, disability retirement would obviously not be a possibility.  Of course, one may make the self-evident statement that being supportive of a Federal Disability Retirement application is simply part of a doctor’s job; and, to some extent, that would be true.  Doctors should indeed be willing to write up supportive medical narrative reports for their patients. 

Nevertheless, it is because of the doctor, the effort expended, the willingness to testify at a Merit Systems Protection Board Hearing, that the Office of Personnel Management even listens, or reverses a prior denial, and grants a disability retirement application.  Especially when a case gets denied twice by the Office of Personnel Management, it becomes crucial to have the cooperation of the treating doctor to testify in an MSPB Hearing.  This is normally done by telephone, thereby making it a minimal imposition upon the doctor’s time.  Indeed, I often only take a total of 30 minutes of the doctor’s time, including preparation and actual testimony, for an MSPB Hearing.  But the very fact that the doctor is willing to testify — to speak to the Administrative Judge directly to give his or her medical opinion — is often enough to convince OPM to change course, and grant the disability retirement benefits. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill