OPM Disability Retirement: The Complication of Accommodations

The problem with most people is that they come at a conversation with a selective focus — and listen for that which they want to hear, and filter all other information which fails to fit the paradigm of their predetermined perspective.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the question of accommodations via Standard Form 3112D comes to the fore — often because of the selective focus of issues on the part of OPM.

The fact that an agency may have engaged in work-place modifications, or allowed for temporary alleviation of certain elements of one’s job description; or even provided a state-of-the-art ergonomic chair with 3-speed controls with horizontal landing mechanisms — does not mean that the agency was able to, or did, accommodate the Federal or Postal employee under the legal meaning of that which constitutes a viable “accommodation” .

For, that which the agency does must allow for the Federal employee to perform the essential elements of his or her job, and any such attempted “accommodation” which does not meet that standard, is technically not an accommodation at all.  It is merely an artifice and a cosmetic make-over in an effort by the agency which allows for the agency to declare that they have “accommodated” the individual Federal or Postal employee.

Rarely does the question on SF 3112D get accurately responded to; for, the concept of “attempted” accommodations is precisely the point — if it was attempted, and did not work, then the agency has an obligation to concede and describe that point; but from the Agency’s myopic perspective, any “attempt” constitutes an accommodation, and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management will embrace such an assertion with open arms.

What to do about it?  Always focus upon the central point of a Federal Disability Retirement application — it is a medical retirement.  Thus, the doctor’s opinion is sacrosanct, and should be repetitively emphasized.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: The Unique Story

This is a world which requires conformity and uniformity; eccentricity is a leisure which few can afford, and as the world operates on a factory-like assembly line, where productivity is the measure of one’s worth, so the uniqueness of a story gets lost in the fading echoes of a scream one hears in a solitary cave, where the sound of one’s cry reverberates deep into the chasm of darkness and the silent quiescence of water dripping upon a moss-covered granite surface.  That is why the poignancy of Chekhov’s story about an old man’s grief and his need to tell his story of the death of his son, resonates with us.

For the Federal or Postal employee who is considering filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is important to strike the proper and delicate balance between recognizing the “uniqueness” of one’s case, and the pragmatic acknowledgement of the bureaucratic need of the Federal Agency (both one’s own as well as the U.S. Office of Personnel Management) to have a conformity of one’s story.

Yes, some history and background can be told in the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (although one must be careful in avoiding the pitfalls of ‘situational disability‘ and other issues); yes, one can provide some additional details of one’s ‘story’; but, ultimately, the issue which must be addressed is the legal one:  the essence of the case remains the same throughout.  Throughout, always prepare the Federal Disability Retirement case to conform to the law.

One’s story is unique; the uniqueness must be conformed to a standard of legal proof in order to meet the requirements of Federal Disability Retirement law; once told and conformed, you can still go out and relate your story to those who have a willing ear.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Central v. Peripheral Issues

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), it has been variously pointed out by the undersigned author at different times, that it is a self-defeating proposition to focus upon workplace issues which may be the originating and/or continuing impetus, cause or exacerbating trigger of a medical condition which has resulted in the necessity of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Just as the problem of an ad hominem attack detracts from the centrality of a point to be made, and instead focuses one’s attention upon an issue which may or may not have any relevance at all upon the original proposition; similarly, to unduly focus upon workplace issues such as harassment, hostile work environment, unfair treatment, mean supervisors, personalities of coworkers, policies which are applied in a discriminatory manner, etc. — all of these issues, while of interest perhaps in another context, forum or jurisdiction, deflects the central and substantive focus of what is necessary in order to obtain an approval for a Federal Disability Retirement application from the Office of Personnel Management.

Moreover, such focus upon peripheral issues may actually defeat a FERS or CSRS Disability Retirement application, by pointing out the “red flag” of what is termed a “situational disability” (those disabilities which can be reasonably said to confine themselves within the context of a specific work environment).  Treat the preparation, formulation and filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application before the Office of Personnel Management as one’s opportunity for 15 minutes of fame — within that short time span, make the best of it, and don’t meander into areas of irrelevancies.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Workplace Issues

The reason why workplace issues, whether having any relevance in a Federal Disability Retirement application or not, continue to be insidious in their persistent appearance and stubborn insistence upon dominating an Applicant’s Statement of Disability, is because they are often perceived to be the originating cause (or so it is often thought to be by the Applicant who is preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS) of a medical condition.

Whether the age-old question of the “egg before the chicken or the chicken before the egg” is answered, and in what way, is often the wrong approach to take.  More often than not, when a medical condition begins to progressively deteriorate a Federal or Postal employee’s health, and the impact upon one’s ability/inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job begins to manifest itself to supervisors, coworkers, managers, etc.; at about the same critical juncture, harassment — or the perception of harassment — begins to occur. Such workplace issues then begin to exponentially quantify and exacerbate, feeding onto each other:  the workplace issues begin to exacerbate the medical condition; the stress-levels rise; soon thereafter, agency efforts to protect itself begin to get triggered — counseling letters on leave usage, sick-leave restriction, placement of a Federal or Postal employee on AWOL, 14-day suspensions, placement on a PIP, all begin to erupt.

The key in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, however, is to have the self-discipline to identify which workplace issues are relevant to bring into the arena of an OPM disability retirement application. Discipline in such matters is a difficult measure to undertake; however, it is a critical step to recognize and initiate, bifurcate and separate, and where irrelevant, to excise and discard, when preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Perspective from the Office of Personnel Management

In effective argumentation, persuasion, written memoranda, oral presentation, and the entire spectrum of attempting to convince the “other side” of the validity, force, appropriateness, and viability of any administrative or legal filing of any nature, it is often a useful tool to attempt to view an issue from that “other” perspective.

Remember that, in filing a Federal disability retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is good to consider the fact that the OPM representative who will be reviewing your particular application, merely sees your application as one among hundreds of files assigned to him or her. With that in mind, the essential question becomes: How can my particular application, as one among many, be reviewed in such a way that it “stands apart” so that it will be quickly approved? If you ask that question, or any variation of such a question, then you may be taking a wrong approach.

Remember that filing for disability retirement under FERS or CSRS is not like applying for a job; you are not filing a resume that needs to stand out; rather, it is often best if your particular application is nothing more than a “run of the mill” application — with strong, unequivocal and irrefutable medical evidence, along with strong legal arguments to support your case. Yes, of course your Applicant’s Statement of Disability should explicitly describe the human condition of medical disablement; yes, the “nexus” between your medical condition and your job should be carefully constructed; but no, your application should not necessarily “stand out” as uniquely different — for such an application will often be viewed as “suspicious” and “over-stated”, and may well lead to not just a first viewing, but a re-viewing, and a possible denial

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability: The Filing

Never be deceptive in your filing. Always be truthful. To be deceptive or untruthful will harm your credibility, your case, and ultimately, may defeat your ability to obtain disability retirement benefits. Now, there is a conceptual distinction between being “truthful” and emphasizing certain issues of your case, while leaving certain other issues as secondary and less prominent in the documents & supportive papers filed. Thus, to take a rather crude example, while everyone in the world spends a great deal of his or her life in the restroom, we rarely — if ever — talk about such events. Is it because we are not being “truthful”? No — instead, while it is an issue which is not emphasized, it is not something which we are also being deceptive about.

Thus, with respect to disability retirement issues, one should never deliberately attempt to mislead, hide, or otherwise “expunge” certain aspects of the disability retirement application. At the same time, however, those aspects which are not very helpful, or which may harm your case, should not be placed in bold-type or underlined in red. Wherever possible, those aspects which will weaken your case, should simply be de-emphasized — but never deliberately hidden.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire