OPM Disability Application Forms: SF 3112A and the Pathway through the Bureaucracy

Bureaucracy and creativity are conceptual opposites, rarely spoken in the same sentence, and never compatible, representing always a contrast in self-contradictory terms. For, it is the former which implies the negation of the latter, or the stamping out of any hint of the former’s influence upon the latter.  Bureaucracy refers to the mundane, of repetitive standardization and compliance with mediocrity; whereas the latter embraces the unconventional and the need to push the boundaries of acceptable norms.

When the two meet, it generally means a clash of sorts, and the encounter can rarely accommodate one another.  Further, one assumes that factual implantations implicate negation of creative allowances; and so one responds accordingly when voluntarily engaging in a bureaucratic process.

Standard Forms tend to prove the point.  The limited space presented; the manner of the questions posed; the real-world questions requested to be answered; all tend towards negation of any creative inclination. But creativity can imply something beyond mere fictional attestation. Rather, it can be the compiling of a response, but with words and choice of adjectives which enhance and enliven. Coherency and cogency are in themselves creative repositories, and placed within the confines of strictures of a bureaucracy, can awaken the souls of clerks and administrative specialists who pride themselves on the efficiency of mechanical laborings.

The Applicant’s Statement of Disability OPM SF 3112A, where the Federal or Postal employee who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, asks specific questions concerning one’s disability or medical condition, and its impact upon one’s ability or inability to perform the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal position, as well as the impact upon one’s personal life and capacity for daily living. SF 3112A is, in many ways, the key and pathway through the passageway of the greater bureaucracy.

Whether the Federal employee or the Postal worker conforms to the Standard Form 3112 itself, is the question of how one approaches success or failure.  While the questions posed may seem straightforward, the creativity behind the questions reveal a silence muted by the complexity of the statutory history, the background of multiple case-law opinions and Merit Systems Protection Board findings, which have over the years expanded upon and creatively interpreted the limits of each query posed.

SF 3112A, for the Federal employee or Postal worker who is making a Federal Disability Retirement claim, is the pathway of creativity through the bureaucracy of the benefit known as Federal Disability Retirement. It is where the meeting, or the clash, between bureaucracy and creativity occurs.

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