Identifying the Right Bridge to Reach Your Destination: Federal Employee Disability Retirement

When considering filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether one is under FERS or CSRS, the natural inclination is to ask the seemingly primary question of: Does medical condition-X qualify as a disability? But such a question is in actuality secondary; it is the reverse-order and counterintuitive process which is often confusing for the Federal and Postal Worker who is contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

The primary question, making the previously-stated questions secondary, is to ask: Does medical condition-X prevent one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job?  By inverting the primary-secondary sequence, one can then attain a better level of understanding as to the administrative process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  Further, such a switch in sequence of questions-to-answers allows for an important paradigm shift.  For, in the very asking of the proper question, one can reach a level of understanding to such a stage of comprehension that the question almost answers itself.

Medical conditions in and of themselves do not necessarily qualify the Federal or Postal Worker who is otherwise age or service-eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits; it is the nexus which must be established between one’s position and the medical conditions one suffers from.  It is the crossing of that bridge which will reveal the extent of success or failure in attempting to go down this path; but first, the Federal or Postal Worker must correctly identify which bridge to cross, before even starting the long and arduous trek of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Non-nexus

Meeting an adequacy test may constitute sufficiency for some purposes, but not for others.  Thus, it may be enough in completing an FMLA form to have a diagnosis, along with answers to other questions on WH-380-E.  But mere identification of a medical condition via a diagnosis, along with a description of symptomatologies will not be enough to meet the sufficiency test in a Federal Disability Retirement application.

People often assume that having a medical condition in and of itself sufficiently explains the severity of one’s condition, and any implied “blank spaces” can be filled in by the mere existence of such a medical condition.  But Federal Disability Retirement, whether under FERS or CSRS, filed through, reviewed by, and approved or disapproved by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence that the medical condition itself prevents the Federal or Postal employee from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s positional duties.

As such, the identification and description of a medical condition fails to comply with the adequacy standards in proving eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  One must establish, through the conduit of a medical professional, the “nexus” or “connection” between one’s identified medical condition and the inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.

The weight of the proof is upon the Federal or Postal applicant.

The foundation of such evidence begins with the identified medical condition, but in and of itself, it is a non-nexus — until it is squarely placed in the context of one’s official position and the duties required by one’s duties.  Thus, the non-nexus become the nexus-point when combined with the identification and description of one’s positional duties.

It is this realization of the step-by-step sequence of proof which constitutes adequacy and sufficiency of evidence, and one of which the Federal or Postal applicant for OPM Disability Retirement benefits must be aware.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The Problem of Conformity as a Thoughtless Process

The bureaucratization of society becomes a problem when conformity to a standardized process results in thoughtless action.  We have all seen scenes from movies, or read stories or books, of the proverbial drone-like monologue, shown in cinematographic hues in monotony, of emotionless workers who robotically stamp papers and call out, “Next!”.

To some extent, preparing and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, requires such conformity.  The standard forms themselves (SF 2801 series for CSRS employees; SF 3107 series for FERS employees; and for both CSRS and FERS employees, SF 3112 series) require a foundation of such conformity.  And while continuation sheets and attachments are not prohibited (yes, the double-negative in grammar means that it is a positive, and you may do what is proposed), it is nevertheless constraining when one is putting together a Federal Disability Retirement application.

On the other hand, standardization provides for uniformity and ease of information.  If everyone just submitted his or her own version of selective information and sent it in to OPM, there would be greater chaos than there already is at the singular agency which processes all Federal Disability Retirement applications.

Thus, conformity to standardized procedures can be a good thing.  The problem, however, is when such conformity leads to thoughtlessness — and, in a Federal Disability Retirement process, one should expect to encounter such bureaucratic mindlessness.  This, too, must be dealt with; and sometimes the need to use legal authorities as a sword, and not merely as a shield, is the only way of effectuating a required response.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: And the Question is …

The responsive statement often given is:  Federal Disability Retirement is not a matter of merely filling out forms; if that were the case, anyone should be able to do it without an attorney.  So, as in many gameshow forums, what is the question?  Filing for regular retirement, or even early retirement, is a matter of filling out the proper and standard forms.

Filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, while submitted to the identical agency (OPM) for “processing”, is a matter of proving one’s case.  In order to prove one’s case, one must gather the substantive evidentiary documents; compile the relevant materials; make the proper “connections” and create the “nexus”; make the compelling and relevant legal arguments; and, yes, “fill out forms”. However, this latter act of filling out standard forms, as a prerequisite, while a necessary component of the entire administrative process, is not a sufficient act which constitutes a demand for an approval.

Thus, for a regular or early retirement, one may well argue that once the forms are filled out, one has satisfied both the necessary and sufficient components of what constitutes fulfillment of all obligations required for admission into the fraternity of Federal Disability Retirement annuitants.

For Federal Disability Retirement benefits, however, the additional requirement of proof by a preponderance of the evidence must first be satisfied.  And for that, one must play the gameshow format of answering the critical, million-dollar question:  What satisfies the standard of proof in order to qualify for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from OPM, whether under FERS or CSRS?  The answer:  It has already been given, only in a form of negation:  Federal Disability Retirement is not a matter of merely filling out forms.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Disability Retirement & Standard Forms

Standard Forms are intended to restrain, contain and standardize; it is meant to make you believe that if you violate the “fence” around the physical form itself, or fail to answer specifically the questions “as asked”, that there will be a penalty to pay — i.e., in the case of a Federal Disability Retirement application before the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, a denial of one’s Federal Disability Retirement application.  

For the Federal or Postal Worker who is intending on filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the question of what to say, how much to say, and in what tone or tenor (does one presume that OPM is an “adversary”, and therefore should any submission be crafted in such a manner?  Or, should the tone be more “neutral”?  Hint:  Whatever the proper balance of tone to embrace, OPM is not one’s close relative, and should not be approached as such); and, ultimately, whether and to what extent “continuation pages” should be attached to the forms themselves.  

For FERS employees, or course, one must complete SF 3107, along with Schedules A, B & C, as well as have the Certified Summary of Federal Service completed, and if applicable, SF 3107-2, the Spousal Waiver.  For CSRS, one must complete SF 2801, and again, the Schedules A, B & C and the Certified Summary of Federal Service.  For both FERS and CSRS employees, the second set of forms — SF 3112A, SF 3112B, SF 3112C, SF 3112D & SF 3112E — must also be completed.  

For the Federal or Postal employee, it is the SF 3112A which is the most daunting, the most important, and the one which must be thoughtfully completed.  It is the first form which OPM will search for, review, analyze, compare, attack, and scrutinize, in making a decision upon one’s Federal Disability Retirement application.  It is indeed a form which is “standard” in every sense of the word — in appearance; in requirement; in formatted appearance; and in the end, the level of effort and input one makes of it.  

What should one’s own “standard” be in preparing, formulating and filing the Standard Form 3112A?  Care, caution and a concern for coordinated completion.  Yes, and by the way, the undersigned writer enjoys engaging in alliteration, assonance and consonance.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee’s Disability Retirement: The Non-standard Approach to Standard Forms

Standard Forms are created, produced and promulgated precisely for their stated and intended purpose:  to streamline and conventionalize (yes, that is really a proper word, and spellcheck did not put a red line beneath it) the formatted receipt of information by an agency of the Federal Government.  Without Standard Forms, there would be no confining methodology of what to say, how to say it, and how much to say it.

The theory behind standard government forms is simple:  By providing the space, the questions and the apparent limitations, ease of processing will be expedited.

Of course, in pragmatic terms, the reality behind the theory is that Standard Forms create an intended limitation on space, as well as the content of what a person states or desires to state.  Yet, by self-confining the answers and information provided, the applicant for Federal Disability Retirement is essentially depending upon government lawyers to properly interpret what the statute for eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement requires.

While staying somewhat within the confines of what the Standard Forms request is a “good” thing (for Federal Disability Retirement purposes, SF 3107 series for FERS applicants; SF 2801 series for CSRS applicants; SF 3112A, SF 3112B, SF 3112C, SF 3112D, and SF 3112E for both FERS and CSRS applicants), it should not limit or otherwise prevent the submission of relevant information.  “Relevancy”, of course, is a relative term, and should be noted and applied by those who understand the statutory underpinnings of the legal requirements for a successful Federal Disability Retirement application.

Ultimately, one should approach the standardization of the administrative process called “Federal Disability Retirement” as merely a piece of the larger puzzle, and not be precluded from submitting non-standardized information in an effort to prevail in the preparation, formulation and filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS, from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: The Purpose of Standard Forms

Standard Forms represent the Federal Government’s attempt to streamline and create efficiency.  For FERS & CSRS employees who are seeking to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, a compilation of Standard Government Forms will have to be completed.  

Obviously, this will not be a surprise to the Federal or Postal employee, inasmuch as such an encounter with the requirement of completing Standard Forms is a necessary evil during the course of any Federal or Postal career.  However, the difference in the case of filling out the Standard Forms for purposes of applying for Federal Disability Retirement may be encapsulated in a cautionary remark:  it is not just “information” which the Office of Personnel Management is seeking; it is also a particular kind of “proof” which, if not met, will result in a denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  

Thus, while SF 3107, and Schedules A, B & C (for FERS employees), and SF 2801 and Schedules A, B & C (for CSRS employees) may be the vehicles for providing basic personal information (e.g., name, address, agency for whom one works, etc.); it is the second series of SF Forms — 3112A, 3112B, 3112C & 3112D which seek to obtain information directly relevant to “proving”, by a preponderance of the evidence, one’s Federal Disability Retirement application.  

Remember the old cop-shows, where the officer says, “You have the right to remain silent, but anything you say may and will be used against you“?  The SF 3112 series should take that precautionary statement to heart.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire