Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: The Depressed Ground

Depressed ground in Guatemala City: This sinkhole was estimated to be 60 feet wide and 300 feet deep

A huge sinkhole in Guatemala City: This one was estimated to be 60 feet wide and 300 feet deep

The term itself immediately implies the clinical concept of a psychiatric condition; but, of course, it can also mean that there is a geological sinkhole, of a stretch of land, small or large, sunken in comparison to the surrounding area.  A rabbit’s nest can create a depression; excessive rain can loosen the soil and depress the land; and depression can overtake the healthiest among us, sending us down a course which envelopes the emotions, mind and soul with loss of energy, overwhelming sadness, and lethargy of life so overpowering that physical manifestations, profound and intractable fatigue, and an unwavering sense of hopelessness and helplessness pervades.

Sometimes, the two distinct but complementary concepts can intersect: the depressed grounds only adds to one’s depression. The former usage, of course, only metaphorically speaks to the physical characteristic of description; the depression of the ground is not literally a physical sinking of the land, but implies a dilapidation of the neighborhood; while the latter refers to the mental state of an individual exacerbated by the solitary degradation of the environment.

It is when the two distinct conceptual constructs intersect and are combined, that the impact upon the Federal or Postal worker may be felt.  For it is precisely the vicious cycle of “feeding upon itself” that the Federal or Postal Worker experiences — of the depression in a clinical sense, combined with the depressed grounds of one’s workplace — when change of scenery may become necessary in order to travel towards the path of restorative health.

Woman listening to her psychologist

Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race, religion or income: Here a young woman listens to her psychologist

Federal Disability Retirement benefits, filed through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is available for all Federal and Postal employees who are under FERS or CSRS, when the intersection of a medical condition and one’s inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, comes to the fore. It is there to be eligible for all Federal and Postal employees, when the depression (in the clinical sense) impacts the depressed grounds (in the sense of the work environment).

Thus, when the joy of life is depleted, and the hallowed grounds of sunlit mornings and the cool breeze of dusk transforms into a universe of regret and remorse, Federal Disability Retirement benefits for the Federal and Postal employee should be a serious consideration; as it may become necessary to leave the depressed grounds of yore.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

OPM Disability Retirement: The World in Which We Live

Various social commentators have observed the contradiction that, while we live in an increasingly global economy, individuals feel a greater sense of isolation; thus, the conundrum that the world is no longer an expansive, unreachable universe, but in private lives, the uniqueness of the individual is lost and forgotten.

Whether because of the stresses of isolation, or because of the fast-paced, technologically-driven world in which we live, or some organic-based reasons, one may never know; nevertheless, the exponential explosion of psychiatric illnesses erupting in our society cannot be denied.

There was a time, perhaps a decade or so ago, when a stigma was attached to medical conditions and disabilities which were deemed “stress-related“, and which encompassed depression, anxiety, uncontrollable panic attacks, agoraphobia, etc.  One cannot mark a clear demarcation of when the approach and societal attitude, let alone the medical community’s acceptance, of the wide array of psychiatric conditions, changed.

For Federal Disability Retirement purposes, however, the level of approvals versus denials between cases involving psychiatric conditions, as opposed to purely physical medical conditions, has become indistinguishable.  The U.S. Office of Personnel Management does not review or analyze cases based upon psychiatric conditions — so long as one can tell, purely from an “outsider’s” perspective — any differently from “physical” medical conditions.

This is obviously a “good” thing, because psychiatric medical conditions are just as valid, serious, “real”, and devastating, as the most serious of “physical” medical conditions.  The world in which we live has certainly changed; OPM has evolved with the new world, and we are all the better off for it.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Anxiety

Anxiety is a special form of a psychiatric disability — one which must be approached with thoughtful care in preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  While often accompanied by Major Depression, and sometimes panic attacks, Generalized Anxiety Disorder will often have corollary discussions in medical treatment and office notes of references to employment issues involving workplace harassment, discrimination, hostile work environments, etc.  Such references to workplace issues can lead to the Office of Personnel Management denying a Federal Disability Retirement application based upon “Situational Disability” — a medical disability which is self-contained within a particular workplace situation, but which may not necessarily extend to a different office environment with the same job requirements.  

To make moot a claim of situational disability, one would have to show that the medical condition — Anxiety — pervades all aspects of one’s life, and is not just circumscribed by the particular harassing environment of a specific workplace, or a Supervisor, or a hostile workplace, etc.  The more one focuses upon the workplace as the instigating causal force behind one’s anxiety, the more it will compound the problem of being deemed a “situational disability” in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  Ultimately, it is irrelevant what “causes” the anxiety; the important thing is that a person suffers from a medical disability, and the primary focus should be upon treatment of that condition.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Those “Second-Class” Medical Conditions

We all know what the “Second-Class” medical conditions are:  Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Diffuse Pain, Chemical Sensitivity issues, etc.  To some extent, such medical conditions have always been a paradigm of a society — at one time, one could argue that all psychiatric conditions were treated in a similar manner:  accepted at some level as a medical condition, but stigmatized as somehow being less than legitimate.

In a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is patently obvious that the Office of Personnel Management treats certain medical conditions as “second-class” conditions.  They often deny such cases at the initial stage of the process, and unless you point out a compendium of established case-law authorities, OPM will often get away with their groundless assertions.

Words matter, and which words and arguments are chosen to rebut the Office of Personnel Management matters much in a Federal Disability Retirement case.  Such medical conditions are not second-class medical conditions, and OPM should not be allowed to treat them as such.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Law

I will be writing an article of greater length on this issue, but suffice it for now that when “the law” works, it works well. A major second case has been decided in favor of the Federal employee — first, it was Vanieken-Ryals v. OPM, 508 F.3d 1034 (Fed. Cir. 2007), and now, Sylvia M. Reilly v. OPM, decided July 15, 2009. Vanieken-Ryals toppled the irrational imposition of a baseless standard by OPM — that there is a distinction to be made between “objective” as opposed to “subjective” evidence concerning medical evidence (example of the absurdity: How do you prove the existence of pain? While an MRI may show a physical condition, you cannot prove that such a physical condition equates to debilitating pain, leaving aside any quantification of pain. Similarly, how do you prove the existence of Major Depression? Anxiety? Panic attacks?).

Now, Reilly v. OPM has toppled another idol of a false standard imposed by OPM: that medical documentation which post-dates separation from Federal Service is near-irrelevant. This has never made sense, for at least 2 reasons: first, since a person is allowed to file for Federal Disability Retirement within 1 year of being separated from service, why would medical documentation dated after the separation be considered irrelevant? Second, medical conditions rarely appear suddenly. Most conditions are progressive and degenerative in nature, and indeed, that is what the Court in Reilly argues. Grant another win for the Federal employee, the law, and the process of law. It makes being a lawyer worthwhile when “the law” works.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Client

Waiting for the approval/disapproval, the determination, the decision,etc., when the Federal Disability Retirement packet is sitting on OPM’s desk, is a passive modality of existence. Up to that point, however, it is often a good idea to be actively involved in the process. Whether having an attorney or not, it is good to “flag” interim dates, to keep on top of how long it has been since the initial letters have been sent out to the doctors, to call the doctors and (diplomatically) ask for a reasonable time-frame within which to have the medical narrative reports written; to ask whether or not a fee is required to prepare the narrative report, and if so, how much, and if prepayment will expedite the report. Then, once it arrives at the Agency H.R. people (or, in the case of the Postal Worker, the H.R. Shared Services Center in Greensboro, North Carolina), it is a good idea to periodically call (about every two weeks) to see what stage in the process your application is at. Thereafter, once it is forwarded to the finance office, then on to Boyers, PA, it is a matter of waiting for the CSA number to be assigned, and then the long, arduous wait.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire