Disability Retirement from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management: Concurrent Actions

Idioms often convey an underlying truth recognized and identified by a specific culture or population; they are statements from an experiential aggregation of similitude, based upon a shared set of values.  The phrase, “When it rains, it pours”, is easily a recognizable idiom; that when things go wrong, multiple wrong things tend to occur altogether, all at once.  It is somewhat of a tautology, as when “X is Y, X are Ys”.  But it is in the very pluralization of the outcome which makes the differentiation significant.

For Federal and Postal employees contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether the Federal or Postal employee is under FERS or CSRS, the engagement of the administrative and bureaucratic process of preparing, formulating and filing for FERS Disability Retirement benefits rarely results in a vacuum.

Often (or perhaps one is forced to begin with the prefatory clause, “All too often”), the long and complex history of harassment, complaints, formal complaints, grievances, lawsuits, EEO filings, etc., precede the filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application, thereby complicating one’s Federal Disability Retirement application with much baggage, historical aggregation of enmity and acrimony, and creating a simple set of causal facts into a convoluted compendium of complexities.  All of a sudden, the soft sounds of rain turn into a downpour of ferocious flooding.

In such cases, in formulating one’s Federal Disability Retirement application, it is important to bifurcate the compounded complexities, and to simplify, streamline and segregate.  From the viewpoint of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the very agency which receives and decides upon all Federal Disability Retirement applications, the mixing of concurrent actions and issues merely complicates matters.

As we all do, we would prefer to hear the soft patter of rain, and not the thunderous mess of a downpour.  Even the plants in the garden recognize that.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Complexity in the Hidden Background

To prove one’s eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether one is under FERS or CSRS, is seemingly an uncomplicated matter.

As one’s medical condition impacts the ability to perform one or more of the essential element of one’s job, it is up to the treating doctor to establish the nexus and provide an opinion as to the connecting bridge between the medical condition and the positional requirements of one’s Federal or Postal job.

How does one do that? Must it be comprised of a 1-to-1 ratio between job elements and medical conditions? How important and prominent are “symptoms” considered, as opposed to the mere clinical declaration of the diagnosis, in persuading the U.S. Office of Personnel Management that a particular medical condition should qualify for Federal Disability Retirement benefits? To what extent is one’s own statement of disability, as described on Standard Form 3112A, important in establishing the foothold towards gaining an approval from OPM?

Also, what algorithm or comparative analysis does OPM use in evaluating a case, and how does one enhance the chances of success at the First Stage of the process? If denied at the First Stage of the Federal Disability Retirement process, does the basis of the denial (often characterized by a plethora of multiple reasons given) require a point-by-point refutation, and is the Reconsideration Division at OPM using the same standard of review, or a different application of laws in evaluating the additional evidence submitted at the next stage?

If one watches a gymnast, a ballerina, or even a mathematician at work in solving or unraveling a complex problem or exercise, one is immediately struck by the ease with which the feat is performed. But it is almost always the unseen preparation which has preceded the actual performance that sets the stage of an uncomplicated presentation.

It is that mystery of the uncomplicated, which tends to trip us all, and that is no different in the preparation, formulation and submission of a Federal Disability Retirement application, applied through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether you are under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: Ockham’s Razor

Ockham’s Razor is a principle of economy; in its various forms and historically evolved attributes, the formulation of lex parsimoniae involves the idea that, where there are multiple competing theories and paradigms in explaining a phenomena, issue, or working hypothesis, one should always choose the least complex delineation — the reason being, superfluous and extraneous material generally lead to complications which rarely add to the foundational essence of the paradigm.  To put it in an alternate form:  Keep it simple.

Thus, in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is always important to follow the principle underlying Ockham’s Razor:  Keep to the core and essence of the case; focus upon the nexus between one’s positional duties and the medical condition which one suffers from; weave a consistent theme; check for inconsistencies; and always maintain the simplicity of the case, while avoiding and disregarding extraneous factual issues which, while they may be personally of importance or of special aggravation, should be left out because they unnecessarily complicate matters.

FERS & CSRS Disability retirement and the obtaining of an approval is the goal to focus upon; all else should fall by the wayside, cut loose by the sharp blade of Ockham’s razor.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Keeping it Simple

Simplicity merely covers the complexity behind the beauty of the uncomplicated.  Indeed, one only has to look upon an Apple product, or a modern automobile, to recognize the underlying complexities which went into the production of such simplicity.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, there is often a desire to respond to an OPM denial by attempting to understanding the apparent ‘complexity’ of the denial.  By ‘apparent’ is meant the following:  Most, if not all, of OPM’s denials are regurgitated templates from thousands of previous denials, and quotations of alleged legalese notwithstanding, the basic components of a Federal Disability Retirement case do not change just because the language used attempts to complicate matters.

In the end, driving a technologically advanced automobile still requires hands on the steering wheel, and a foot on the gas pedal and the brake (hopefully, not both at the same time).  All the rest are simply “whistles and horns” to make it appear worth the price tag.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Simplification of a Complex Process

It is the simple things in life which provide the greatest amount of pleasure; but simplicity often conceals the underlying complexity inherent in that which merely appears so.  

The child who first observes the vivid pictures on a computer screen has little to no understanding of the complex hardware and software network interfacing which, in the long history of computer design and evolving creation of computers, resulted in the seemingly simple result, produced by a push of a button.  Thus, the complexity behind the microchip and the human endeavor which designed, created and manufactured the product is what makes for the simplicity of the complex.  

As with all other things simple and complex, Federal Disability Retirement must be approached with caution. The questions which are required to be answered on Standard Forms (SF 3107 series for FERS applicants; SF 2801 series for CSRS applicants; SF 3112 series for both FERS and CSRS applicants) may appear quite simple in form; the content of what must be provided will necessarily require a complex interaction of thought, foresight, knowledge of the law, and carefully chosen words to provide information, argument and documented evidence which proves, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the Federal or Postal worker is entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  

To compile and produce a product which appears “simple”, from the myriad of administrative complexities, is the key to a successful outcome in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  Simplicity betrays complexity; that which appears so, may not reveal the underlying and compound complexities which must be cautiously approached.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Simplicity of Presentation

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is important to maintain and manage the entire process in as simplified a form as possible, in presenting one’s case to each segment of the process — i.e., to the doctors who will be supporting one’s case; in the formulation and articulation of one’s Applicant’s Statement of Disability; in the compilation of the supporting medical documentation; in the entirety of the presentation submitted to the Office of Personnel Management.

Thus, while the process itself may involve multiple complexities because of the bureaucratic morass from which it originates, it is nevertheless the job of the Federal or Postal worker who is preparing and formulating the Federal Disability Retirement packet to keep it within manageable and understandable, coherent and comprehensible limits.  

The art of simplifying the complex is the key to a successful outcome.  By “simplification”, however, does not mean that one should exclude or otherwise deliberately leave out complex aspects of a medical disability retirement case; rather, it means that it is the job of the Federal or Postal employee, or his or her attorney and legal representative, to articulate, convey, and delineate such complexity into an understandable format.  

As the true artist makes his artwork appear simple in its very beauty, so the Federal or Postal employee must present his or her case before the Office of Personnel Management, and potentially before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board, in a format which evinces a response of, “Of course!”

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Simplicity v. Complexity

Each Stage in the process of proving eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS requires a unique approach and methodology of response.  It requires the combination of responding to, and thoroughly completing, forms required to meet the criteria at the initial stage of the process; of responding to any perceived lack of evidence in responding to a denial at the First Stage of the process, issued by the Office of Personnel Management, and therefore requiring a Request for Reconsideration; and finally, an ability to persuade an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board of the completeness of the application for Federal or Postal Disability Retirement, as well as to prepare the case well for submission of further evidence.

There are, in addition to the three stages mentioned, two further stages of the process (a Petition for Full Review to the Merit Systems Protection Board, which is comprised of a panel of administrative judges; and then to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit), but both such appeal stages will only review the issue of whether or not there was an “error of law” committed by the Administrative Judge at the third stage of the process.  

The entirety of the process is comprised of inherent complexities — involving issues of medical (obviously), legal, administrative, agency, credibility, etc. — issues impacting each Federal Disability Retirement application in its own unique and specific manner.  One can try to simplify the process by breaking each component down into its basic elements, but the complexity of the whole process cannot be avoided.

Understanding each relevant component, addressing the specific issues, dissecting each, then compiling the evidence from each to make up the whole, results in wading through the complexity while maintaining the simplicity of each component part.  Keep the application simple, concise, and to the point.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The “Grab-bag” Approach

In preparing, formulating, and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, there is always the question of which medical conditions to include in the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (prepared on SF 3112A).  One approach which many Federal and Postal employees take (which, in my opinion is the wrong one to embrace), is to name every medical condition, symptom and suspected symptom one has suffered from, or is suffering from.  This might be characterized as the “shotgun” or “grab-bag” approach. 

One must be sympathetic to this approach, of course, if only because of the following reason:  OPM regulations and case-law supports the position that once an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits has been filed with the Office of Personnel Management, a Federal or Postal employee cannot amend or add any further medical conditions without withdrawing the application and re-filing. 

Thus, a Federal or Postal employee who prepares and files an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is “locked into” what is stated on one’s SF 3112A.  Because of this, many Federal and Postal employees who prepare the application without the assistance of competent legal representation will take the “grab-bag” approach of listing every possible medical condition known to man. 

While this may seem like a reasonable, “safe” approach to take, remember that such an approach can have unintended consequences:  Upon an approval of the Federal Disability Retirement application, the approval letter may approve the Disability Retirement application based upon a minor medical condition which you no longer suffer from.  This, of course, can have negative consequences down the road.

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

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Keeping it Simple

In almost all instances, stating the obvious when filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS is the rule to follow.  Another simple rule to follow:  Keep it Simple.  Except in special circumstances (e.g., where there is a nebulous diagnosis and one must interweave multiple symptmatologies in order to bypass the possibility that you may be later precluded from “adding” a “new” medical condition, etc.), it is best to stick to a paradigm of a 1-to-1 ratio or correspondence of medical conditions, symptoms, impact upon work, etc.  

Such a template can be dangerous to follow, however, because any Applicant’s Statement of one’s disability should never appear mechanical or stilted in its tone and tenor.  Emotionalism should not be stripped from an applicant’s statement of one’s disability in a Federal Disability Retirement application and, indeed, sterility should not be a goal to be sought.  

That goal should be from the treating doctor, where technical medical terms present a sense of diagnostic objectivity and scientific validity.  But such simple rules as presenting the correspondence between specific physical conditions with the physical requirements of one’s job, and similarly, between specific psychiatric symptoms with the cognitive requirements of one’s job, is an important “rule” to follow.  Remember, however, that filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is not a “perfect science”; in fact, it is not a science at all, but a mix between law, personal input, and medical facts, with the creative force of persuasion.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire