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

 

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 Disability Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: Psychiatric v. Physical Disabilities

People continually inquire as to the difference between Psychiatric v. Physical disabilities, as to whether one is more amenable to an approval over the other.  Psychiatric conditions can include a wide range of variables — from Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Major Depression, Anxiety, panic attacks, Agoraphobia, ADD/ADHD, and multiple other diagnoses.  Physical medical conditions, also, include a wide spectrum of disorders — Cervical, Thoracic or Lumbar conditions; various cardiac conditions; Carpal Tunnel Syndrome; Fibromyalgia; Chronic Fatigue Syndrome; Shoulder Impingement Syndrome; Plantar Fasciitis; Migraine headaches; Lupus; Chemical Sensitivity issues; allergies; COPD; and multiple other conditions.  Is there a difference between these (and the listed conditions are by no means meant to be exhaustive, but merely illustrative of the wide range of medical conditions)?  The answer is, ultimately, No. 

The foundational essence of a Federal Disability Retirement case, whether involving Psychiatric disabilities or Physical disabilities, is the impact upon one’s ability to continue to perform all of the essential elements of one’s job.  Further, recent case law holds that OPM cannot make a distinction between “objective” medical evidence as opposed to “subjective” medical evidence, and so the old distinction between “psychological” medical conditions as distinguished from “physical” medical conditions can no longer be seriously upheld.  Ultimately, and fortunately, there is no difference between psychiatric disabilities and physical disabilities when trying to get approved for a Federal Disability Retirement case under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Thoughts on Specific Disabilities

There is a view that is often proposed that, for certain medical conditions or disabilities, that a different “approach” needs to be undertaken.  Thus, by way of example, certain medical conditions such as (to name just a few, and of course, the list is by no means intended to be exhaustive) Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), various forms of Multiple Chemical/Environmental Sensitivity cases, and even psychiatric conditions such as Bi-polar Disorder, Generalized Anxiety, etc. — are often thought to be somehow in a “different” category from (again, by way of example) more “traditional” medical conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus, Shoulder Impingement Syndrome, Osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, herniated discs (cervical or lumbar), Torn ACL, Failed Back Syndrome, etc.

Thus, the question sometimes posed is:  should the former types of medical conditions somehow be treated “differently” than the latter, more traditional types of medical conditions?  My answer is, generally, “No”.  First, each individual case must be treated based upon the uniqueness of the particular case.  Second, to file a disability retirement application “differently” because you fear that OPM may not accept your particular kind of medical condition approaches the entire process in a defensive, almost defeatist manner.  Third, because Federal Disability Retirement is based upon the symptoms which are manifested, as opposed to a “category” of a medical condition, and further, how those symptoms and manifested symptomatologies impact the essential elements of one’s job, it is the emphasis upon the nexus between the symptoms and the core elements of the job which should always be emphasized, and not what your medical condition is “called” or “named” as.  Thus, as a general point of legal approach, I prepare all of my clients’ disability retirement applications in a similar vein:  that, regardless of what condition you have been diagnosed with, the symptoms exhibited and clinically identified by your treating doctor impact your ability to perform the essential elements of your job.  This is the best approach to take in all cases.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire