Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Stress & the Workplace

Taking off from work for a few days because of “stress” may be entirely appropriate; basing a Federal Disability Retirement application through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, upon a “stress claim” may not be the most effective way of formulating one’s case.

Stress is a pervasive factor in all employment atmospheres; whether resulting from overly demanding supervisors, or the self-imposition of time and due-dates, stress is a daily occurrence and reality of the modern technological world.  If we ever thought or believed that technology would reduce the burden of stress, we have been sorely mistaken; for, in this world where instantaneous responses are expected, where emails are sent and received within the blink of a button being pushed; where smartphones hound you with texts and emails; where phone calls and faxes are merely afterthoughts in the business world; stress is an inherent aspect and element in all workplaces.

How one deals with stress; the varying tolerance levels particularized to individual personalities; the level of trigger-points which result in tertiary and consequential medical conditions — it is the latter which must be focused upon when preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. For, while stress itself may not be an acceptable basis for a Federal Disability Retirement application, the resulting medical conditions which manifest themselves as a result of stress likely are.

In the end, attempting to create a stress-free environment is in itself a stressful venture; and one which is not likely to succeed.  Similarly, while stress itself may not be a valid basis for a Federal Disability Retirement case, the medical consequences of stress are likely the foundational basis of an effective application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, submitted to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The Gatekeeper of Stress

The gatekeeper’s duties encompass the power to determine who enters and exits, and to monitor guests, invitees and generally to control the inflow and outflow of traffic to and from the designated property.

Stress originates from one’s external environment.  It can be physical — as in manual labor which, often because of repetitive use and impact, can result in injuries or occupational hazards; as well as mental and emotional, resulting in secondary or tertiary medical conditions as a natural and direct result thereof.  One often thinks of the gatekeeper as merely he who guards the physical security of a piece of property.  But stress also requires a gatekeeper — especially for the psychological impact which it portends.

In contemplating the preparation, formulation and filing of a Federal and Postal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS, with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, it is important to understand the inherently problematic nature of attempting to feature “stress” as a medical condition itself.  While it may spawn other conditions, because stress is a part of almost every workplace environment, it rarely serves to be a successful “condition” standing alone.  In conjunction with medical conditions often associated with it, however, it can be effectively and persuasively be identified and delineated.

All of us are ultimately gatekeepers for the things which impact our lives.  Each of us have innate spectrums for tolerating varying levels of environmental factors, including workplace stress.  When the gatekeeper allows too many security violations to occur, it may well be a basis for “removal” from the environment.  And while stress itself may not be the single best basis for exiting the environment, there will surely be other medical conditions which result from the stresses, which will justify preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Claims of Stress

“Stress”is a phrase which is used to describe a myriad of conditions, circumstances and origins of countless medical conditions.  The word itself is malleable and elastic, and can be used in multiple forms — as an adjective, noun, verb, etc.  As a term of common usage to describe the workplace, it is accepted as an inherent part of any job encapsulating a set of responsibilities, because of the accompaniment of positional duties, time management, goal-orientation, and working cooperatively with others in unison and common coordination of efforts.

In the context of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the term itself will appear repeatedly throughout — in medical reports, in an Applicant’s Statement of Disability, and even in a Supervisor’s Statement.

In most circumstances, the term “stress” is used in a grammatically loose sense, and as a secondary identifier of a medical condition, as opposed to a primary diagnosis of a medical condition.  To assert that one “suffers from stress” is a generalization which normally requires greater particulars, and rather describes one in a series of multiple symptoms rather than a conceptually clear diagnosis which is accepted in the medical community.

Moreover, such a statement implies that the “sufferer” of the “stress” receives such a condition and is responding to a particular source of such suffering — i.e., a specific workplace.  This is where “situational disability” is then alleged, and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management will deny a Federal Disability Retirement application based upon such an assumption and implication.

There are ways to counter such assertions, implications and inferences, but such inoculation against such a charge must be addressed at the outset, not in the middle (although, in most cases, such mistakes can indeed be corrected), of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Work as the Causal Inception

In a claim filed with the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP), causality and whether it is work-related, occupationally related, etc., are issues which will inevitably arise, precisely because the statutory mandates which govern OWCP rules and regulations require proof of a causal connection.

Under Federal Disability Retirement for FERS & CSRS employees, however, such work-related causality is not an issue, because it is not a requirement that a medical condition was “caused” while performing one’s Federal or Postal job, or that there be some connection to an occupational hazard or inherent workplace relationship.  That does not mean, however, that there cannot be a workplace connection; merely that, whether or not there is any such relationship between the medical condition and the work environment, it is not an issue which possesses any significant relevance to the filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  

These “fine distinctions” can be confusing for non-lawyers (and, indeed, even for lawyers who are supposedly trained in being able to analytically dissect multiple compounding concepts within statutory language).  

“Causality” to the workplace can, however, be discussed and even referred to in a medical report, or in the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (Standard Form 3112A), as a provision for historical and background context, but it is not an essential element to prove in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  Too much emphasis on the historical context, however, can lead to the unforeseen and dangerous consequence of having one’s case characterized as a “situational disability“, and one must always be cognizant of such a danger.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Stress

“Stress” is always the “problem child” in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  If a Federal or Postal employee is no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job because of an intolerance to a certain level of stress, then certainly it should be considered as a basis for preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application, either under FERS or CSRS.  However, treatment modalities must be engaged — normally, via a psychiatrist or psychotherapy.

Further, there are always issues which will come about in basing the primary medical condition as “stress” — aside from the fact that it is a generic designation which will often have corollary designations, such as Major Depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, etc.  For example, can one define “tolerance to stress” as an essential element of one’s job?  It is certainly an inherent element, implicit in many multi-tasking jobs and ones which require a high level of responsibilities or is subject to timeliness in quotas and work production.  But when issues concerning stresses which arise as a result of “personnel issues” (i.e., interaction with supervisors, coworkers, etc.), then it becomes a “problem-child” which is best avoided, for numerous reasons, including the possibility and danger of having one’s Federal Disability Retirement application denied based upon a “situational disability“.  Concepts and thoughts to ponder, when preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Stress & Exacerbated Medical Conditions

Often, the generic designation of “stress” is the underlying medical condition; other medical conditions can exist, and perhaps are exacerbated by the underlying condition of “stress” — or, at least that is the suspicion, both by the Federal or Postal worker who is suffering from such conditions, and (hopefully) understood by the treating medical doctor

While failing to have direct causal linkage, the situation often arises where the chronic medical condition may have periods of remission, followed by severe episodes of unrelenting exacerbations.  The problem with such medical conditions in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, is that the medical condition must prevent one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, and such a condition must last for a period of 12 months or more. 

Medical conditions which “wax and wane” (OPM’s favorite description of Fibromyalgia) and are “not severe enough to preclude an individual from the workplace altogether” (another of OPM’s favorite descriptive rationalizations for denying a Federal Disability Retirement application — which is legally inconsequential and a mis-statement of the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement) — present a special challenge in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application.  However, even a challenge such as “stress” and a secondary medical condition which is exacerbated for episodic periods, is one which can be overcome, and successfully overcome. 

The fact is that the focus is often misplaced.  Instead of asking the doctor to focus upon each individual medical condition, it is the wiser route to have the doctor discuss all medical conditions in their totality, and show that the complex interaction of the primary and secondary medical conditions together prevent the Federal or Postal employee from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: The Origin of Psychiatric Disabilities

When preparing the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (Standard Form 3112A) in preparing to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management, it is important to keep the essence of the statement “on topic”.  By this, is meant that the primary focus of the applicant’s statement should be repetitively twofold:  First, what the medical conditions and their symptomatologies & manifestation of symptoms are, and Second, how those medical conditions and symptoms impact one’s ability/inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  

While history and origin of a medical condition may be somewhat relevant (unlike in an OWCP case, where causality and date of injury and where/how it happened are important elements in establishing that a medical condition was somehow job related), normally in Federal Disability Retirement cases the origin of a medical condition should not be emphasized, if only because OPM does not care about it.  If the origin of one’s psychiatric medical conditions (e.g., Major Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, etc.) find their source from conflicts within a job, such a history may be a red flag which can lead the Office of Personnel Management to conclude that the medical condition constitutes a “situational disability“.  In a final determination as to whether a medical condition can be characterized as “situational”, while it must be looked at in its full context, nevertheless, it is the origin of a psychiatric medical conditions which is the first point of reference in making such a determination.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire