FERS & CSRS Disability Standard Forms and the Proverbial Blank Slate

The paradigm of a tabula rasa is a frightening one.  It implies a complete negation of historical context, of evolutionary influence, and therefore denies instinct, nature, and pre-conditional implications.  But clearly there are confines and parameters of behaviors, and different species of animals will act in specific ways peculiar to the individuality of the entity, while taking on certain imprinting models if surrounded by members of other species.

To assume, however, that no context exists, either in prefix or suffix form, is to deny a fundamental truth at one’s hazard in doing so.  For Federal employees and Postal workers who begin to complete the required forms for a Federal Disability Retirement application — whether the informational requirements queried in SF 3107 (or SF 2801 for CSRS individuals); or the series of SF 3112 forms which inquire into the foundational questions of one’s medical conditions, their impact upon the essential elements of the job, etc. — it is important to approach any and all such standard forms with a view towards denying the existence of a tabula rasa, or the concept of a blank slate.

Such pristine states of being do not exist, neither in nature, nor in the complex world of administrative bureaucracies.  The history of the forms, of SF 3107, SF 2801, or SF 3112A, SF 3112B, SF 3112C, SF 3112D or SF 3112E, all have a history preceding and superseding the date of the formulation and printing of such forms.  Statutory underpinnings, U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board rulings, Federal Circuit Court of Appeals opinions, and expansive legal opinions, all provide a context for each question queried, and each piece of information requested.

Thus, to approach any such OPM Disability Retirement standard form as if it is merely a blank slate, is to proceed down a dark and curving road with ignorance and fail to realize that it is not a quiet, rural road with nary a car, but the Autobahn busy with high-powered vehicles testing the limits of speed.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

SF 3112A

OPM Standard Form 3112A: Applicant’s Statement of Disability:

The constraint of a standardized form, by its very appearance, is itself a self-evident anomaly of conformity; forms, by the very nature of their format, constrains and delimits the ability to respond.  Space is limited, and it is intended to be that way.

By mandating the completion of specific forms in an uniform, consistent, and universally standardized approach, the applicant who must complete the form must by necessity conform to the regulated approach. Further, the appearance itself often lulls the individual into a certain mindset, such that the response is constrained, limited, and by necessity of conservation of space and in attempting to answer the specific question queried, of brevity and devoid of critical details.

Bureaucracies create forms, and the regulations promulgated in the preparation and response to such forms. For the Federal and Postal employee who must by necessity file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether the Federal employee or the Postal worker is under FERS or CSRS, the forms needed to be completed in order to qualify for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, are numerous, complex, and cumbersome.

Of the multiple forms which must be completed, the Federal and Postal employee must at some point encounter and face the most critical one of all: SF 3112A. The content of the form itself appears simple enough; the complexities inherent in the form is constituted almost by an endless array of a history of court decisions, opinions issued by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, as well as by OPM issuances of denials in thousands of cases.

Just by way of example, after the very first question asked upon requesting the applicant’s name, date of birth and SSN, it makes a simple but profoundly limiting statement: “We consider only the diseases and/or injuries you discuss in this application.”  That statement seems fair enough, and perhaps even reasonable.  The single word which is operatively significant, one would assume, is in the word “consider”.

But beware; for, it is the next-to-last word in the statement which is the onerous thousand-pound boulder which can fall upon the head of a Federal or Post Office Disability Retirement applicant, unless one is very, very careful. It is the word, “this”, and the consequences of such a word must be given great weight, and consideration beyond what the legal ramifications will later reveal.

Just a word of caution to the wise, for those who intend on jumping into the proverbial waters of bureaucratic complexities without first dipping a cautious toe into the lake of fire.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire