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 The SF 3107 series (reissued in May, 2014, where previous editions are now outdated) is merely informational in nature.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

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

FERS & CSRS Federal Disability Retirement: Reviewing the Position Description

There may be a wide chasm between what one’s position description states, and what one actually does in the position of the Federal or Postal job slot which one occupies.

Further, the fact that there may be a radical modification to one’s official duties in practical and real terms, does not obviate the fact that one may be required, at any time, to fulfill those duties and responsibilities as described in the official configuration of the position.

Finally, since the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, in making a determination on a Federal Disability Retirement application, will never personally assess or observe what a Federal or Postal employee is actually doing in one’s office, out in the field, at the work station, etc., you must therefore always envision the process as one of bureaucratic administration — i.e., of looking at the paper presentation of the position description, and being restricted and constrained by what is contained therein.

That being said, in a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is often a good idea to review the official position description when beginning to formulate one’s Applicant’s Statement of Disability (SF 3112A).  Some position descriptions are so generic in nature that it may required more “filling in the blanks” for purposes of describing the pragmatic essential elements which one must work; other descriptions may enlighten the Federal or Postal Worker and make the entire administrative process easier because of the onerous requirements as delineated in the official position description.

In either event, one must always remember that it is from the Federal or Postal position which one is medically retiring from and not what one may actually be doing.  Thus, recognition of the wide chasm which exists between what one ought to be doing, and what one actually does, may be one of the keys to a successful formulation of a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS, from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Early Medical Retirement for Disabled Federal Workers: Accuracy & Creativity

Accuracy and creativity are not mutually exclusive approaches; one often thinks that the former relates to more ‘technical’, non-fiction genres, while the latter encompasses the areas of fiction and similar writings.  But being scrupulously accurate while describing an event in ‘creative’ terms can go hand-in-hand.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Employee Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, one should not feel constrained in properly and fully expressing one’s medical condition and its impact upon one’s ability/inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s position within the agency, based upon either the questions posed by the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (SF 3112A both for FERS and CSRS employees), or by the admonition that technical accuracy is paramount.  Of course, truth should always be the guide; but where subjectivity must necessarily be an element present throughout one’s descriptive attempt at conveying the nexus between the medical condition, the position description, and the impact one has upon the other, the reluctance to use descriptive adjectives should not be a constraining element.

In formulating one’s case, one should be creative and forceful in describing the profound impact of one’s medical condition upon one’s life.  On the other hand, brevity and succinctness are characteristics which are often most effective; but that is another story altogether.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: The Position Description

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, it is important to have a good idea of what the position description states — the one which the Federal or Postal applicant occupies, and the one which is reflected in the SF 50 or the PS Form 50, the personnel action form which designates and identifies the official position assigned to the Federal or Postal employee.  For, what the Federal or Postal employee does in a job, in real time and in the actual state of the job, may be significantly different from what is described in the position description itself.

One must understand that the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) — the agency which makes all determinations on Federal Disability Retirement applications — does not have an agent sitting in one’s office, taking notes on the duties which one performs.  Thus, the case worker at OPM who receives and reviews the Federal Disability Retirement application, will come to be informed of the essential duties of a Federal or Postal employee, based upon a “paper presentation” that is set before him or her.

The comparison to be made between the medical condition proven and the essential elements of one’s job, will arise from OPM’s review of what is presented — the position description itself; the statement of one’s job in the Applicant’s Statement of Disability; and other documentation.

In making the comparison, it is ultimately from the position description itself from which one is retired, and if the applicant’s statement includes superfluous assertions otherwise not contained in the position description itself, the discrepancy may well go against the Federal or Postal employee who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  Fortunately, most position descriptions are fairly generic in nature, and one can imply a variety of duties which are not otherwise specified in an official position description.  That is where creative writing and effective presentation comes into play.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: Position Descriptions

The Agency Position Description ultimately determines the parameters of the crucial question in a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS, and therefore should not be underestimated or overlooked in its relevance, import and substantive weight.  What a person actually does in a Federal or Postal job can be distinguished from the official duties ascribed in a Position Description; similarly, what a person is not assigned to do can be easily differentiated from essential elements as described in a position description.

Some position descriptions are elaborated in more generic terms and conceptual generalizations; others provide a detailed insight into the physical requirements of the job, as well as the complexity of the cognitive qualifications necessary to satisfy the position.  What a person actually does in one’s Federal or Postal job may well be quite different from how the position description delineates the duties; but somewhere between what one does and what one is described to do contains a happy medium of extrapolating the essence of a Federal or Postal position.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the problem with focusing exclusively upon what one does, as opposed to the position description, is that OPM has no idea what you do, whether you do it, and how you do it, apart from what the position description states.

One is retiring from the position description, not from the real world.  It is the virtual reality which forms the basis of a Federal Disability Retirement application; the real world is beside the point.  Fiction, not reality; the narrative form, not the actual life experience; the excellently formulated disability retirement packet, and not the real-world pain of the medical condition; these comprise the basis of a successful Federal Disability Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: The Essential Points

Becoming embroiled in the minutiae and complexities in the preparation, formulation and filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application is important and necessary; however, in doing so, it is important to make sure that the foundation — the “essentials” — are not overlooked in the process.

Thus, while preparing and formulating the Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, for submission to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, always go back to the three (3) essential elements of a Federal Disability Retirement case:  First, the medical condition itself.  Preparation by the treating doctor of a sufficient medical narrative report is essential to the successful outcome of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  Guidance as to the elements which must and should be contained in the medical narrative report is crucial to the endeavor.  

Second, the position description.  Always remember that it is not only what one is actually doing in a Federal or Postal position (although that is also a part of it), but also what the official position description states that one should be doing, or may be asked to do at any moment (this can become an important part of the argument later against OPM if OPM decides to bring up any issues concerning Agency Accommodations).

Third, the Bridge or Nexus between the Medical Condition and the Position.  This is the important “third rail” of the entire process, which should be delineated first in the medical narrative report prepared by the doctor, as well as described effectively in the Applicant’s Statement of Disability.  Of course, throughout the process, it is important to attend to the details; but never let the complexities of the details sidetrack you from the important essentials in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits whether under FERS or CSRS, from the Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire