USPS and Federal Disability Claims: Medical Conditions which Predate Federal or Postal Employment

Often, there is a concern about medical conditions which one suffers from, which “predate” employment in the Federal Sector, or with the U.S. Postal Service.  Such conditions are often identified as “preexisting medical conditions” — meaning, thereby, that they exist prior to an event.

In the context of OWCP (Federal Worker’s Compensation), under the aegis of the Department of Labor, such an issue normally involves the assertion and allegation (by the Department of Labor, Office of Worker’s Compensation Programs) that a Medical Condition-X already existed prior to Event-Y — the latter normally constituting the “on-the-job” accident or occurrence, or an occupational disease, etc.  Because causation — the “what caused the injury” issue — is important in OWCP/DOL cases, the concern of preexisting conditions is normally a point of contention between the Federal worker and the Federal Government/Department of Labor.

However, in OPM Disability Retirement cases, because causation is not an “issue” of concern (the “how” or “where” it happened is not a relevant legal criteria of proof), it rarely becomes a point of conflict between the Office of Personnel Management and the Federal or Postal employee.

It can become of interest, however, for the Office of Personnel Management, in a Federal Disability Retirement application, if a Federal or Postal worker has been hired and working in a particular job, with a specific medical condition for many years, successfully, but then files for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  The reason it may become of some interest, however, is not as to the “causation” issue (of the “how” or “where” it happened), but rather, to the question:  Why is it that the Federal or Postal employee who has had a Medical Condition-X all of these years can now claim not to be able to perform Essential Elements Y & Z now?

That is the point where a medical condition existing prior to one’s Federal or Postal employment may be of some interest to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  It is, however, easily addressed; it just needs to be discussed in the right way.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: Preexisting Conditions

In OWCP/Department of Labor cases, often the focal point of contention (among other issues) involves whether or not a medical condition “pre-existed” the on-the-job injury which is the basis of the claim for compensation.  

In a FERS or CSRS Federal Disability Retirement application, such an issue is usually irrelevant, precisely because the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement is unconcerned with the “where” of a medical condition, as in, “Where did the event take place, which resulted in the medical injury or condition — on the job or not?”  However, the term “preexisting condition” can involve a different conceptual paradigm, encapsulating not the situs of the occurrence, but whether the Federal or Postal employee was hired with the medical condition, and thus was able to accomplish and perform the essential elements of one’s job despite having the medical condition.  

The Office of Personnel Management will sometimes argue this point — that the Federal or Postal employee who has filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS has a “preexisting condition”; but such an argument actually goes to the issue NOT of whether or not such a preexisting condition is a basis for a denial (it is not), but rather, as to why a Federal or Postal employee would be eligible with such a preexisting condition since that Federal or Postal employee was able to successfully perform his or her job for many years even with the medical condition upon which the Federal Disability Retirement application is based upon.  

Thus, the question in such an instance is not really a preexisting medical condition issue; rather, it is an issue about exacerbation and whether such a preexisting medical condition has progressively worsened to impact one’s ability/inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  How one formulates the issue is very important; OPM does not necessarily understand the proper formulation of a legal issue; as such, it is often the job of the applicant for Federal Disability Retirement benefits to re-formulate the issue in its proper context.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The (non) Problem of Causality & Causation

In a Worker’s Comp (DOL/OWCP/FECA) case, causation and causality often loom as significant issues, and doctors often have to walk a difficult line in making unequivocal statements, or somewhat equivocating statements, as to the “cause” of a medical condition or injury.  Such statements can sometimes be the singular focus as to the success or failure of an OWCP case.  Why?  Because OWCP compensable injuries and medical conditions must be related to the job — either as something caused by an accident while on the job, or in some way occupationally related. 

In Federal Disability Retirement cases under FERS or CSRS, one can be on a skiing vacation and incur a medical condition or disability, and so long as that person is unable to, because of the medical condition, perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, one is thereby eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS. 

Sometimes, however, the issue of causation comes into the picture, but can work in a detrimental way, but need not.  Let me clarify:  In a chemical sensitivity case, or a psychiatric condition which finds its originating “causation” from the workplace, the doctor may want to relate the “cause” of the medical condition directly to the workplace.  This is fine, so far as it goes — and, ironically, most doctors (because they have no idea about FERS or CSRS disability retirement) think they are doing their patients a favor by relating it as “causally related” to the workplace.  More often than not, however, it can open up a “can of worms” — of being characterized by the Office of Personnel Management as a “situational disability”, which must be avoided like the plague.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire