Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: VA Disability Issues

Many Veterans find themselves pursuing a career in the Federal work force, including the U.S. Postal Service (although, technically, the U.S. Postal Service is a quasi-Federal agency, but still part of the FERS & CSRS retirement systems, and as such, all Postal Workers are eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS).  

Such a career path often results in a medical condition which, while originating in the military or while serving in the military, becomes progressively deteriorating while working for the Federal government or the U.S. Postal Service.  

Often, such a scenario comprises a dual, or parallel occurrence, in that the Veteran’s medical conditions continue to worsen, and in its progressively worsening state, the Veteran is able to apply for a VA Disability rate increase while, concurrently, the impact upon the Veteran’s ability to continue to perform all of the essential elements of his or her job with the Federal Agency or Postal Service continues to grow.  

The parallel events, at some point on a graph, begin to curve inversely, and intersect where (A) the VA disability rating, both in numerical increase and in a factual, debilitating medical reality, deteriorates to a point where (B) the Federal or Postal employee is no longer able to perform the essential elements of one’s job.  

At that point of intersection, or sometime prior to the clash of the inverse curve, it may be time for the Veteran to consider preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  In such a fact-scenario, the medical evidence from the VA side of things can be used for purposes of evidentiary proof in filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Preexisting Conditions

The Office of Personnel Management will sometimes make the following fallacious argument:  “Because your medical condition appears to have preexisted the time of your Federal Service, and you have been able to perform your job, you are not entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits.”  

This argument may take on various forms, with embellishments on the language used, but the argument as quoted represents the essence of what OPM will often state.  While the argument itself makes one scratch one’s head, there are implicit sub-arguments which, if extracted, extrapolated and projected/assumed, may bring one to a better understanding of what OPM is trying to say, and thereby be able to rebut and address such an argument.  The expanded version of the argument goes as follows:  “You had a diagnosed medical condition X prior to beginning your career with the Federal Service (often evidenced by a VA disability rating, or an MRI showing such).  You were placed in job Y, which you were able to do all of these many years.  From the time of your Federal Service to the present, there has been no defining moment or event which reveals that your condition worsened; only that you now state that you cannot perform your job.”  

This expanded version is what OPM is often attempting to argue.  Inasmuch as “pre-existing conditions” are not supposed to be a factor in Federal Disability Retirement cases (as opposed to being one in FECA cases), how does one address it?  By pointing out to the progressively deteriorating nature of the medical condition; by having a discussion with the treating doctor that, over time, a chronic condition can progressively deteriorate the human body, through fatigue, longevity, and chronicity of pain (or a chronic nature of Major Depression, Anxiety, stress, etc.), and such progressive deterioration often arrives at a critical point where, once passed, there is a sudden decline in the ability of a Federal or Postal worker to continue to perform a certain type of work.  

The key to an argument is to reframe the argument, so that one may understand and address it.  Only upon understanding the argument, can one begin to address it.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: Psychiatric Disabilities — Origin versus Situational (Continued…)

The “origin” of a medical disability, from the perspective of a Claims Representative at the Office of Personnel Management, may be relevant for purposes of adjudicating a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  Note that physical disabilities rarely become an issue in the context of the origination of the medical disability, precisely because it is irrelevant whether or not a medical disability occurred on the job or not.

The origin of a psychiatric disability, however, is potentially relevant from OPM’s perspective, because it may give rise to the argument that it is a “situational” disability — one that is contained, limited, and ultimately circumscribed within the situation of the particular office of the specific agency in which the Federal or Postal Worker works.  

Thus, from this argument, the logical extrapolation is that while the Federal or Postal worker is unable to work in the specific office or location, he or she is nevertheless able to perform all of the essential elements of the particular job — but in another agency, another office, another location, etc.  Thus, the concept of “situational disability” arises, with the consequential argument that one is in fact NOT prevented from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job — but rather, it is the “situation” which is at fault. This is why the citation of correlative EEOC complaints, hostile work environment accusations, etc., are dangerous to make in the context of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Recognition

People who are considering filing for disability retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS often come to a recognition that there is life after the Federal Government, right around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the holiday period in between.  Why?  Because when family, friends and loved ones gather around, and there is some time to recuperate and rejuvenate from the daily grind which further exacerbates and worsens one’s medical conditions, the time of respite, the time of peace and quite, of reflection and time reserved away from work, allows for people to recognize that, Yes, there is life beyond the job, and second, that to continue the daily grind until retirement may result in the inability of one to enjoy one’s retirement in later years.  Good health is a gift; all too often, we misuse that gift.  Happy Thanksgiving to all, and please enjoy a safe holiday weekend.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire