Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The Danger of Malleable Concepts

Concepts which retain the ability to alter in chameleon-like fashion, switching from subject to object, from noun to adjective, is one which must be used with care and loathing.  For, as the old adage goes, that which can be used as a shield, may also be applied as a sword, and such malleability and changeability can both protect, as well as be used against one.  So it is with stress.

The word itself can be applied in various language games and conceptual constructs, as in:  “I am under a lot of stress”; “The stress is killing me”; “The place where I work is very stressful“; “I suffer from stress”; “The stress I am under is literally killing me”; and many other linguistically transformational usages.  But when it comes to applying the term and concept in a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS, one must take care in usage, applicability, and appropriate insertion both as a medical term as well as in everyday common verbiage.  For, stress itself is rarely a valid basis, standing alone, for a Federal Disability Retirement application; and if used wrongly, can be deemed as implying a situational medical condition unique to the individual’s workplace — something which OPM will pounce upon in order to deny such a claim.

Malleability can be a positive force; but that which stands with you, it can also switch sides and suddenly turn against you.  Better to have a steadfast friend than one who seeks greener pastures in a wink of the eye.


Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Getting the Right Nomenclature

Throughout the history of philosophy, there was a pervasive presumption that substantive questions concerning Being, Truth and Falsity, reality versus appearances — and a wide spectrum of similar conundrums wrapped within the mystery of life within a coil of the unrevealed physical universe and further complicated by the bifurcation of consciousness and the physical realm and the problem of dualism which it represented —  required a systematic approach of questioning, evaluating, analyzing and (hopefully one day) resolving.  In such a process, it was always important to apply the technical nomenclature in a systematic approach.

Then came the English analytical philosophers — culminating in Wittgenstein (although he was Austrian) — and it is only natural that it would be the English (who have always believed that Americans don’t know how to speak the English language properly, anyway) who dismissed all such philosophical problems as mere language difficulties.

Again, the problem of nomenclature.  Whether one accepts the demise of philosophy as merely a problem of language and language games, it is always important to recognize that in any endeavor, subject, issue, etc., utilizing the proper words, phrases and terminology is vital to precision in thinking.

Thus, when an individual is preparing to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, it is important to understand that conceptual constructs belonging to one area of law are not interchangeable with other areas.  Usage of terms such as “Maximum Medical Improvement”, “Unemployability Rating”, “Inability to engage in daily living activities”, “On the job injury”, etc., and other related terms, may have little-to-no significance in a Federal Disability Retirement application.

On the other hand, usage and application of some evidence from one area of law may be successfully argued in another area; but that occurs only when, and if, the proper distinctions and truncated differentiations are applied.  In the end, perhaps the English analytical philosophers were right — analysis and correction of linguistic confusions constitute much of our problems.  But to admit to such folly would be to acknowledge that the sun continues to cast an ever-pervasive shadow from the colonialism of the old English Empire.


Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Compartmental Clarity

Compartmentalizing issues, concepts, various technical terms, etc., leads to greater clarity, and therefore cuts down upon misunderstandings.  Ultimately, the ability to utilize and comprehend the proper technical terms in any area of law, or in a general sense of becoming “competent” with an issue, requires the proper adoption of a language game (as Wittgenstein would apply the term).

Becoming proficient in a language game is important because, to fail to do so can lead to real-life consequences.

Thus, in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, it is important to distinguish between Social Security Disability (which a FERS employee must also file for as part of the administrative, bureaucratic process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits) and FERS & CSRS disability retirement benefits.  The latter must be filed through one’s agency, and ultimately must be decided by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Then, of course, one must distinguish between Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement from OPM (the acronym for U.S. Office of Personnel Management), and OWCP (standing for “Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs), administered through the Department of Labor (DOL), under the Federal Employee’s Compensation Act (FECA).

These are just some of the language-game terms of the three main areas of compensatory benefit programs — there are others, of course, including benefits from the Veteran’s Administration (VA).

It is best to begin by getting the terms right; to get the terms right, one needs to compartmentalize the terms into their proper usage and associated agencies, thereby leading to greater clarity.  By attaining a level of compartmentalized clarity, one can ensure that a discussion with an OPM Disability Retirement Legal Expert will lead to a fruitful consultation.


Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Knowing the Terms

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application with the Office of Personnel Management, it is important to have some clarity on conceptualizations of physical and psychiatric medical conditions or, to put it quite simply, to “know your terms”.  

While one must obviously obtain the necessary medical documentation in order to meet the eligibility requirements for OPM Disability Retirement benefits, and such medical documentation — a narrative report providing for the “bridge” between one’s medical condition and the particular type of duties and positional requirements one is engaged in with the Federal government or the Postal Service, as well as office notes, treatment notes, etc. — reliance upon the medical documentation to expand upon, delineate, explain, illustrate and elucidate upon the narrative story of how the medical condition impacts upon one’s inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, may be expecting too much from the doctor and medical documentation itself.  

On the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (Standard Form 3112A), there is an opportunity for the Applicant to provide information concerning the impact of one’s medical condition upon the essential elements of one’s job, as well as upon one’s personal life.

Knowing the “medical jargon” and being able to extrapolate, apply, expand upon, and describe in terms which are cohesive, understandable, illustrative, and with sufficient emotive impact, yet maintaining a sense of rational perspective and sequential, logical application, is an important part of providing useful information to the Office of Personnel Management.

Keeping it simple is important, but at the same time being able to use the medical terms comfortably in describing the impact upon one’s positional duties, in a technical but comprehensible manner, is the key to effective communication.  For, after all, “communication” is what this is all about — of presenting a case which is persuasive to the Office of Personnel Management.


Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement for Federal and Postal Employees: Defining Terms

In proceeding through the administrative and bureaucratic maze of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS, one of the most frustrating encounters is the lack of an ability to concretely “define terms”, such that any disagreement with the Office of Personnel Management can be narrowly curtailed in order to allow for a proper response.  It is often contended that 99% of arguments and disagreements are non-substantive.  That is, because neither side defines the terms utilized in the argument, each side will argue at cross-purposes, never agreeing because there has been no prefatory attempt at defining the terms which are being used in the first place.  If you can, take the opportunity to sit and listen to two people arguing:  Are each using terms interchangeably and loosely?  Is person A using the terms in the same way and meaning as person B?  It is unfortunate that there is never an opportunity to have a “conversation“, in effect, with the Office of Personnel Management, before an Initial Decision is made. 

When one looks at an OPM denial, denying an initial Federal or Postal Disability Retirement application, the terms used, the criteria declared, the arguments made (if any), there is never a static point of reference in the terms defined.  Ultimately, of course, the point of needing to “define the terms” comes about at the Third Stage of the Process — at the Merit Systems Protection Board, where an Administrative Judge will be an arbiter and (hopefully) finally force a more stable use and definition of terms.


Robert R. McGill, Esquire