Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Illness v. Disability

Everyone has experienced an illness which results in a temporary period of disability; there is, however, a vast difference between such an illness, and a medical condition which is of such severity, chronicity, and intractability, such that it prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.

In this day and age of cynicism and suspicion, where economic forces have pitted the private sector against Federal and Postal employees, it is important to approach a Federal Disability Retirement case in a methodological, systematic way, such that there is no question as to the viability of one’s case.  The U.S. Office of Personnel Management scrutinizes each Federal Disability Retirement application with a set of legal criteria, and if any one point of the Federal or Postal Worker’s application fails to meet the legal criteria, the Office of Personnel Management will deny the case.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is important to ensure that one’s narrative description, the compilation of medical reports and evidence, and the entirety of the Federal Disability Retirement application, is not characterized merely as a “temporary illness”, but is unequivocally shown to be a medical condition such that it prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.

There is a difference between an illness of a temporary nature and a chronic and progressively debilitating medical condition; but more than that, there is a vast chasm between a fact and the effective description of the fact.  It is the latter which must be conveyed to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Clarifying Accommodations

There is a conceptual and legal distinction to be made between an Agency’s “accommodations”, as used in a loose, non-technical manner, and being “accommodated” in accordance with the laws, regulations and statutes governing Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS, and as intended in usage on Standard Form 3112D, Agency Certification of Reassignment and Accommodation Efforts for the Office of Personnel Management.  

Often, when a Federal or Postal employee becomes injured (whether on the job or while on vacation is an irrelevancy for purposes of Federal Disability Retirement eligibility), the Agency will attempt to lessen the workload, allow the Federal or Postal employee to work in a modified manner, allow for “light duty” assignments, or even temporarily suspend certain essential elements of one’s job (travel, heavy lifting, required overtime, e.g., etc.), and such efforts on the part of the Agency are commendable, allowable, and perfectly within the acceptable structures of law.  

Such efforts by the Agency are often referred to loosely as an attempt to “accommodate” the Federal or Postal employee’s medical conditions, and indeed, it is a correct (but non-legal and non-technical) use of the term.  It is not, in terms of legal sufficiency, an “accommodation” to the extent that the narrow definition of what it means to be “accommodated” under the law is that an agency will provide an accommodation such that the Federal or Postal employee, with the accommodation, will be able to perform all of the essential elements of what the position requires.  

Lessening the duties temporarily, or suspending certain essential elements of the job for a prescribed period of time, does not allow for the Federal or Postal employee to perform those essential elements of the job, and therefore is not technically an “accommodation”.  That is why most accommodations are not accommodations at all, and as such, those accommodating actions by the agency do not preclude a Federal or Postal employee to file for, and be eligible for, Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Each Step is a New Review

There are only one of several ways in which a Federal disability retirement application under FERS or CSRS can be lost: Either a Judge at the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals renders a final opinion denying a Federal or Postal Employee his or her disability retirement, or the Federal or Postal employee simply gives up.  As to the former:  Even then, if the Federal or Postal employee has not been separated from service for more than one (1) year, he or she may file a new application for disability retirement. 

Thus, we are left with the latter:  a disability retirement applicant simply gives up.  By “giving up” is meant:  the next step is not taken; the time-frame within which to file a Request for Reconsideration or an appeal is allowed to “lapse”; or, if an appeal is taken, it is done with resignation and surrender.  Nothing good can come out of such an approach.  Each step of the process in a Federal disability retirement case must be attacked aggressively.  Each step must be looked at as a potential place for a new review. Think about it in reverse:  If you don’t take the next step, then nothing good will certainly happen, so what is there to lose?  Indeed, there are times when a client hires me to file a Request for Reconsideration or an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, and the mere filing of my appearance into the case persuades and convinces the OPM representative to reverse course and grant the disability retirement application.  The point of making such a statement is not to “brag”, but to make the larger point:  good things can happen only if you affirmatively act.  Otherwise, you are left with what King Lear said to his daughter Cordelia, that “nothing can come from nothing”. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire