Federal Disability Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: Psychiatric v. Physical Disabilities

People continually inquire as to the difference between Psychiatric v. Physical disabilities, as to whether one is more amenable to an approval over the other.  Psychiatric conditions can include a wide range of variables — from Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Major Depression, Anxiety, panic attacks, Agoraphobia, ADD/ADHD, and multiple other diagnoses.  Physical medical conditions, also, include a wide spectrum of disorders — Cervical, Thoracic or Lumbar conditions; various cardiac conditions; Carpal Tunnel Syndrome; Fibromyalgia; Chronic Fatigue Syndrome; Shoulder Impingement Syndrome; Plantar Fasciitis; Migraine headaches; Lupus; Chemical Sensitivity issues; allergies; COPD; and multiple other conditions.  Is there a difference between these (and the listed conditions are by no means meant to be exhaustive, but merely illustrative of the wide range of medical conditions)?  The answer is, ultimately, No. 

The foundational essence of a Federal Disability Retirement case, whether involving Psychiatric disabilities or Physical disabilities, is the impact upon one’s ability to continue to perform all of the essential elements of one’s job.  Further, recent case law holds that OPM cannot make a distinction between “objective” medical evidence as opposed to “subjective” medical evidence, and so the old distinction between “psychological” medical conditions as distinguished from “physical” medical conditions can no longer be seriously upheld.  Ultimately, and fortunately, there is no difference between psychiatric disabilities and physical disabilities when trying to get approved for a Federal Disability Retirement case under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Time to Make the Decision (Part 2)

The medical condition known as “Fibromyalgia” is analogous to the manner in which Federal and Postal employees approach the decision-making process in filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS.  Let me explain:  Fibromyalgia, as the Office of Personnel Management often likes to characterize, often manifests itself with chronic and diffuse pain which “waxes and wanes” — meaning, in simple terms, that there are good days and bad days; days when the pain is unbearable, excruciating and debilitating; and days when one can “manage” the extent of the pain and mental dysfunction and confusion. With that context, the Office of Personnel Management often tries to argue that it is not “so bad” as to qualify for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS. 

By analogy, people with all sorts of medical conditions — from physically debilitating neck and back pain; from Orthopaedic injuries, arthritis, chronic pain, visual impairment, etc.; to psychiatric disabilities of Major Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, PTSD — some days, one can seem to manage the disability; on other days, one cannot get through the day, let alone perform the essential elements of one’s job.  But deep down, one knows that one cannot continue forever on the same course.  To continue is to slowly wither away by a thousand cuts, one cut at a time, one cut per day.  And so, just as the Office of Personnel Management is plainly wrong (for Fibromyalgia is a chronic and debilitating medical condition which clearly qualifies for disability retirement), so the person who procrastinates in making the decision to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS is simply waiting for the inevitable.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal & Postal Service Disability Retirement: How Many Should Be Listed (Part 2)?

The listing of the medical conditions in a Federal Disability Retirement application, as it is descriptively written on the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (SF 3112A) for FERS & CSRS disability retirement, to be submitted to the Office of Personnel Management, is a separate issue from the creative description of the symptoms which the applicant experiences as a result of the identified listing of the medical conditions.  Thus, a distinction should be made between the “official” diagnosed medical conditions (which should be limited in number, for reasons previously delineated) and the multiple and varied “symptoms” which result from the listed medical conditions.  Thus, while one may suffer from the medical condition termed as “Fibromyalgia”, the symptoms can be multiple:  chronic and diffuse pain; impact upon cognitive abilities, inability to focus and concentrate, symptoms which are often termed as “fibro-fog”, etc. 

When the Office of Personnel Management approves a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS & CSRS and identifies the specific medical condition by which it is approved, it will identify the medical condition, and not the symptoms.  This distinction is important because, when an applicant prepares the narrative to show the Office of Personnel Management what he or she suffers from, the differentiation between conditions and symptoms is important to recognize when creatively and descriptively writing the narrative of one’s medical conditions.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal & Postal Service Disability Retirement: Experience & the Medical Condition

Often, when a client receives the finalized disability retirement packet, I receive a response that goes something like:  “I didn’t realize I was so bad off, until I read through the prepared packet.”  While I have not personally experienced the medical conditions of my many clients over the years, I have the experience of having spoken to them, and have learned about the symptoms, the words which best describe the pain, the impact, and the symptoms which are experienced on a daily basis. 

That is why it is an absurdity for the Office of Personnel Management, for example, to continually and redundantly refer to Fibromyalgia cases as ones with symptoms which “wax and wane”.  Or, with severe Major Depression, Anxiety and panic attacks, the Office of Personnel Management will systematically deny many such claims by stating that there is no “objective medical evidence” to show that the individual is unable to continue to provide efficient service in a cognitive-intensive job.  It is the job of the attorney, in a Federal Disability Retirement case, to be the one who projects the experience of the disabled Federal or Postal employee.  The attorney does not have to personally experience the medical condition in order to properly and descriptively convey the impact of the symptoms and debilitating conditions; however, it is helpful if the attorney has had a wide range of experience — by having spoken to multiple individuals over the years who have personally experienced such conditions.  In this way, the attorney can obtain the experience to express the medical experience of the applicant.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal & Postal Disability Retirement: OPM's Words

It is a frightening thought that there may be a percentage of Federal or Postal Federal Disability Retirement applicants who read an initial denial from the Office of Personnel Management, and take their words at face value.  From statements such as, “Your doctor has failed to show that your condition is amenable to further treatments” (by the way, when did the Office of Personnel Management obtain a medical degree or complete a residency requirement?) to “you have not shown that you are totally disabled from performing efficient work” (hint:  this is not Social Security, and the standard is not “total disability”), to a full spectrum of error-filled statements in between, one may suspect that there may be a knowing strategy in rendering a denial, knowing that a small percentage of the corpus of disability retirement applicants will simply walk away and not file a Request for Reconsideration. 

Further, I suspect that this occurs more often with certain more “vulnerable” medical conditions — Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Major Depression, PTSD, anxiety, panic attacks; Chemical Sensitivity cases, etc.  Why do I suspect these?  Mostly because such cases are attacked for “lacking objective medical evidence” (see my articles on Vanieken-Ryals v. OPM, and similar writings) and failing to provide “diagnostic test results”, etc.  There was a time, long ago, when it used to mean something when someone said, “The Government says…”  In this day and age, I would advise that you take it to an attorney to review whether or not the words of the Office of Personnel Management are true or not.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Denials

Denials received from the Office of Personnel Management are particularly difficult news to digest. It is not so much that the denial itself obviously represents “bad news” (that is difficult enough), but for the disability retirement applicant, it casts a long and foreboding shadow upon one’s financial and economic future. For, obviously, the income from the disability annuity is being relied upon; the applicant filed for Federal disability retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS based upon the assumption that it would be approved, and the future calculation of economic and financial stability was based upon the obvious assumption of an approval. Long-term plans are made based upon the assumption of approval. Further, it doesn’t help that the basis for the denial, as propounded by the Office of Personnel Management, is often confusing, self-contradictory, and without a rational basis. It is often as if the OPM representative just threw in a few names, referred to some doctor’s reports, and essentially denied it with a selective, almost pre-determined view towards denying the claim. This is unfortunate, because the Office of Personnel Management is under a mandate to make its decision based upon a careful and thorough review of the applicant’s supporting documention. However, when the denial is received, one must fight against the initial feelings of defeat and dismay; work is yet to be done, and a view towards the future must always be kept at the forefront. A time to give up is not now; it is time to fight onward, and to move forward.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: the Bruner Presumption – Agency Actions II

One must never misunderstand the law and its application.  This is true in any legal arena of every area of law; when it comes to Federal Disability Retirement law, the misunderstanding of an application of law can have direct and irreparable consequences:  the failure to secure disability retirement benefits and, therefore, the financial security for one’s future.  The “Bruner Presumption” is one such application of law which is often misunderstood.  Without revealing all of its proper applications, it can (and is) often misunderstood to be equivalent to a “presumption of innocence” — but that would be wrong.  The Bruner Presumption comes about as a result of an Agency Action — of removal based upon the employee’s medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of the job.  With or without the Bruner Presumption in Federal Disability Retirement law, the “Burden of Production” — i.e., of the medical documentation, the factual establishment that the Agency is unable to accommodate the individual — still rests and remains with the applicant.  One must never think that the applicability of the Bruner Presumption makes a case a “slam dunk” of any sort.  This is especially so where we are talking about those medical conditions which are often viewed as “suspect” by the Office of Personnel Management — such as Fibroymyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity cases, etc (by “suspect”, however, I do not mean to imply that such medical conditions make it harder for an applicant to get it approved; rather, it merely requires that the one who is preparing such an application, do it properly, thoroughly, and with legal force).  Remember that the initial, and continuing, burden of production always remains with the applicant; what the Bruner Presumption merely does is to “shift” some of the weight of the burden of proof over to OPM, and in the event of an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, of placing a Federal Disability Retirement case into a more favorable light with the Administrative Judge.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire