CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: The Silhouette Man

The object/subject issue pervades discussions in Western Moral Philosophy; in simplified form, of the ethics of treating one’s fellow human being in a one-dimensional manner, as an object to be manipulated, deprived of, worked about, etc. Like a silhouette in front of a moonlit sky, objects in the world, both animate and inanimate, are encountered by the subject of “I”, and until a personal engagement involving conversations, exchanging of information, and other intersections of relational entanglements, the pathway of the subjective merely observes “others” as objects, with anthropomorphic projections of assumptions that moving creatures and other fellow beings also walk about with a similar consciousness as the “I” which occupies one’s particular body in a given space and time.

Supervisors and managers often treat employees in such a manner, despite years and even decades of an established employment relationship. “Go ask Ed, the IT guy”; “That’s Bob the Engineer’s department”; and similar such references which imply that, beyond the limited scope of what X is known to do within the narrow confines of work-related issues, nothing further is known about, or related to, in referring to a particular person.

For Federal and Postal employees who suffer from a medical condition, such that the medical condition begins to impact one’s ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job, that is precisely what begins to happen, isn’t it? “John — you know…” “Karen — she called in sick again.” “Kevin won’t do that — you know, his ‘condition'”. And with knowing looks and furtive smiles, the reference to the one-dimensional aspect of having pigeonholed the individual into a recess of definitional confinement: the medical condition defines the Federal and Postal employee, and is known exclusively and objectified in concretized form.

That is why Federal Disability Retirement benefits are often the only viable option left for the Federal or Postal Worker; for, in being treated as a one-dimensional object, the ability to relate to others in the workplace in a subject-to-subject manner is lost, and often forever. Federal Disability Retirement benefits are available for all Federal and Postal Worker who are either under FERS or CSRS, if the minimum service requirements are met (5 years for those under CSRS, which is a given; 18 months for those under FERS). It is filed through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and is an employment benefit accessible for all Federal and Postal Workers.

Such accessibility allows for a passage away from a seemingly one-dimensional universe beset with suspicion, whispers, retaliations and shunning, and allows for the complexities of every human being to escape being viewed as a mere silhouette, like a cardboard figure at an amusement park waiting for a pop-gun to shoot it down.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: The Friendly Supervisor

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the Supervisor — and therefore the Agency itself — will be informed of one’s application for Federal Disability Retirement, because of the requirement of the SF 3112B.

Standard Form 3112B is the “Supervisor’s Statement”; it is a form which needs to be completed by a Supervisor of the Federal or Postal employee who is applying for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  Because the form must be completed by a Supervisor of the applicant, it is therefore presumed that “others” at the agency will come to know that the Federal or Postal employee has filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Often, the question is asked as to “when” the Supervisor should be informed of the employee’s application.  It can be a touchy issue.  Because the Federal or Postal employee contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits often feels a certain sense of loyalty, especially if the Supervisor has been “good” to him or her, the instinctive sense is to inform the Supervisor sooner, rather than later.  But remember that loyalty in the Federal government is almost always a unilateral approach; it runs one way — from the individual to the agency; rarely is it bilateral, where it runs both ways.

Further, once a Federal or Postal employee contemplates filing for Federal Disability Retirement, the loyalty of the Supervisor is normally seen as connected to, and only to, the agency; and the very fact that an employee has mentioned the term “Federal Disability Retirement” is often the turning point of any connective loyalty.

Loyalty is what one is doing now and for the future, not what one has done in the past.  Such words may invoke a sad truth, but one which should be heeded.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Medical Disability Retirement and Agency Promises

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is often easy to confuse the varying roles of the individual and agency entities which are involved in the process.

First and foremost, the Agency for which the individual works, has certain administrative obligations which must be met — of completing certain forms, such as the Supervisor’s Statement (SF 3112B) and the Agency Efforts for Reassignment and Accommodation (SF 3112D).  The Office of Personnel Management, on the other hand, is the ultimate arbiter and deciding entity determining the viability of a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS, as to meeting the legal criteria for eligibility for the benefit.

The agency cannot make promises to the Federal employee, or the Postal employee (if the case happens to be the U.S. Postal Service), as to “getting” the individual Federal employee or Postal employee, a Federal Disability Retirement.

There can certainly be actions taken by the agency, or the representative of the agency, which may help to “enhance” the chances of an approval of a Federal Disability Retirement.  However, enhancing the chances of an approval is quite different from promising to “give” or to “get” a Federal or Postal employee a Federal Disability Retirement from the Office of Personnel Management.  Only the latter entity can accomplish that.

As for any promises by the agency that “he said X” or “he promised Y” — get it in writing.  It may only be worth the paper it is written on, but at least by asking, you can determine the truth or falsity of such a promise.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The Exaggerated Supervisor’s Statement

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the Federal and Postal employee should focus upon those aspects of the OPM Medical Retirement which are under his or her “control” — directly or indirectly — and not worry excessively about those things which are beyond one’s control or responsibility.  

Thus, obtaining the proper medical documentation; accurately, succinctly and coherently formulating the Applicant’s Statement of Disability on SF 3112A, etc., are within the purview of one’s control and responsibility.  Having the Supervisor complete the Supervisor’s Statement — SF 3112B — is part of the required final Federal Disability Retirement packet; what is contained within the parameters and confines of the form itself, however, is often beyond one’s control.  

While one assumes that a Supervisor’s Statement will be completed with a fair amount of accuracy, it will necessarily contain a certain perspective, intent, and often a sense of “protecting” the agency’s interest and goals.  Thus, the Supervisor will often overstate the extent of an attempted accommodation engaged in, real or imagined, in order to justify its actions concerning the Federal or Postal employee.  Further, it will often mis-state the concept of “light duty” and how it relates to accommodating the Federal or Postal employee.  In other sections of SF 3112B, it may over-state and exaggerate the employee’s conduct or impact of the medical conditions upon the Agency’s workload.  

An exaggerated Supervisor’s Statement will often be helpful to a Federal Disability Retirement case. Don’t be too hasty in attempting to correct inaccuracies and differing perspectives; sometimes, the exaggerated statements are merely differences of opinions and viewpoints, and may in fact be helpful in obtaining an approval from the Office of Personnel Management.  

In any event, a Supervisor’s Statement is beyond one’s control — and undue focus upon those issues beyond one’s control can detract from the greater mission at hand.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: The Limitation of Agency Actions

Often, in the process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the client will ask the question, “Well, doesn’t that prove that I can’t do the job?”  Such a question invariably points to some action by the Agency — a letter or a memorandum; a statement which the Supervisor made, etc.  While it may be true that the Agency believes that a Federal or Postal employee is unable to perform, or is not performing, all of the essential elements of the job, remember that actions of the Agency can never replace the affirmative burden of proof that one is unable, medically, to perform the essential elements of one’s job.  

One must keep in mind that the Office of Personnel Management is a separate Agency which is not necessarily in communication with the Agency which employs the Federal or Postal employee.  The “mindset” of the Agency is not being considered by the Office of Personnel Management.  Whatever the motivations of the Agency in doing what it is or will do, is to a great extent irrelevant to OPM.  What the Agency is doing may well indicate “proof” as to other issues — i.e., inability to accommodate; acknowledgment that certain essential elements of one’s job is not being performed, etc. — but it does not prove that an individual is unable, as a result of a medical condition, to perform all of the essential elements of the job.  Only a doctor can do that.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Agency Tendency

A Federal or Postal Worker who has worked for any number of years, already knows (intuitively) what the Agency’s response is going to be when he or she files for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS:  Self-protection, minimal cooperation, and a “know nothing” and “do nothing” approach.  This is merely the tendency of most agencies.  Every now and then, there is an exception to this general perception of how a Federal Agency will respond and react; normally, however, any such exception is merely a reflection upon an exceptional individual — a supervisor who is truly looking out both for the best interests of the agency, as well as for a Federal or Postal worker who deserves praise and cooperation as he or she enters into a difficult phase of life. 

Agencies tend to respond in a “self-protective” mode; of covering itself; of being uncooperative, thinking that an individual who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is (A) no longer of any use to the agency, (B) reflects badly upon the overall perception of the agency, or (C) is merely faking the disability.  The truth of the matter is that a Federal or Postal employee who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits has probably exhausted all possible alternatives, and has killed him/herself in trying to continue to work.  However, sympathy and empathy are two emotions which Agencies sorely lack in, both qualitatively and quantitatively; and as with all tendencies, it is good to be aware of them, if only to be on guard.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: SF 3112B

It is amazing how a Supervisor’s Statement is completed.  Normally, it is completed without much thought; sometimes, it is completed with too much thought (and self-protective, CYA language concerning how much effort the agency attempted in “accommodating” the employee, when in fact little or no effort was made); more often than not, there is a last, parting shot at the employee — some unnecessary “dig” which often contradicts other portions of the statement; and, finally, every now and then, the Supervisor’s Statement is completed in the proper manner, with forethought and truthfulness. 

Fortunately, the Office of Personnel Management rarely puts much weight on a Supervisor’s Statement in making a determination on a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS — unless there is some glaring statement of a deliberate attempt to undermine the Application.  This is rare, because it is a medical disability retirement, not a Supervisor’s disability retirement — meaning, that it is the medical opinion, not the opinion of a Supervisor, which is (and should be) most important.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Agency Supervisors & Their Responsibility

Agency Supervisors possess powers which can be easily misused. As such, the Supervisor who must fill out a Supervisor’s Statement — Standard Form 3112B — for the disability retirement applicant, must do so with care, integrity, and a sense of reasoned perspective and fairness. “But I’m only telling the truth of what I believe,” is often the justification of a Supervisor who deliberately inserts damaging, self-serving and derogatory remarks on the Supervisor’s Statement. But such “truth” goes beyond the proper role of a Supervisor. Indeed, it is often helpful to discuss the content of intended remarks and statements with the Federal or Postal employee first. Such consultation provides a true and balanced opportunity — a field of fairness and a reasoned perspective — to ensure that a Supervisor is indeed being fair, balanced, and neutral, and not allowing for any personal “feelings” of acrimony or animosity to dilute and pollute a fair appraisal of an employee’s performance, conduct, and impact upon the Agency’s purpose, mission, and goals intended and accomplished. For, ultimately, a Supervisor’s Statement is not about what a Supervisor’s “belief” is; it is not about whether the Supervisor likes or dislikes a Federal or Postal employee; rather, it is supposed to be a balanced, objective perspective delineating the impact of a Federal or Postal employee’s performance or conduct, relative to his or her medical condition and the ability of that employee to perform the essential elements of a job.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Agency Supervisors

Federal Agencies, and the Postal Service, can act as little fiefdoms, with minimal oversight in the use of power. There is no school which teaches the proper use of power; power is something which is too often misused, misapplied, and abused. And, those who possess power, often exponentially apply it when the focus of such power has become vulnerable. Federal and Postal workers who suffer from a medical condition, who are in the vulnerable position of necessarily filing for disability retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS because of the imposition of an unwanted medical condition which impacts and impedes his or her ability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, are especially in a sensitive position, precisely because they are at the complete mercy of the Supervisor. Supervisors need to understand and appreciate the great power which he or she possesses. The powerful need not misuse such power in order to show how powerful he or she is; indeed, it is in the very act of kindness, empathy, and the ability to show sensitivity and “human-ness” which is the true showing of the powerful. Supervisors should “bend over backwards” to show what it means to truly be a Supervisor — one who recognizes and appreciates the long years of loyal service the disabled employee has shown; empathy for the vulnerable situation the employee now finds him/herself in; kindness in the treatment of the employee. Such kind treatment will go a long way towards encouraging a sense of community and family within an agency, and will foster the other employees in the department, office, and greater agency to work that much harder, knowing that it is not “just a job” — but a career worthy of greater devotion.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal OPM Disability Retirement: Notifying the Agency

Fervent loyalty by the Federal and Postal Employee to want to work for as long as possible, and to do the best job possible, is often taken for granted; what is not as common, however, is a “bilateral loyalty” — meaning, loyalty shown by the Agency back to the Federal or Postal employee, especially when such loyalty is needed, during the long process of filing for, and obtaining, disability retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management.

In representing a client, I am often asked whether or not the Agency should be notified of our intentions immediately, and my response always is: It depends. If there is a strong and positive relationship between the employee and supervisor, where there are strong indicators that the Agency will be supportive during the lengthy process, then I will often advise informing them fairly quickly. More often, however, the Agency has had a long history of acting in a “less than sympathetic” manner — and that is in most cases. In such cases, I normally advise to wait until the disability retirement packet has been prepared and finalized, and it is ready to be submitted to the Personnel or District H.R. Office. Each case must be looked at independently, and there are never any easy answers. Agencies are comprised of individuals; individuals are complex beings, with the potential for compassion and empathy, but just as well with a potential for cold disregard for the plight of an individual. So long as Agencies are comprised of individuals, Agencies themselves act as individuals, and each case must be viewed in that light.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire