OPM Disability Retirement: Technical Application of Terms

Wittgenstein’s contribution to Western Philosophy was twofold:  On the one hand, his insight into the role of language and how much (if not all, according to him) of philosophy’s substantive problems and complexities could be unraveled through the analytical dismantling of linguistic confusions, and secondly, the idea that philosophy as an academic discipline should not be given greater stature than any other — in other words, he believed that philosophy was a waning and anachronistic field which would eventually wither on the vines of history, and properly so.

While the undersigned disagrees with the latter assessment, it is the former contribution concerning “language games” and their import to society, daily living, and even to the technical world of legal jargon, which is of interest and relevance.  Lawyers necessarily have a “language game” of their own.  Within the peculiar universe of legal terms, the technical application of such “legalese” has direct and dire consequences if not understood properly and applied narrowly.

In the world of Federal Disability Retirement law, the term “accommodations” is often and profusely applied by agencies and Human Resources Personnel, but more often than not, in a loose and inappropriate manner.  Agencies bandy about the term, to wit:  “Mr. X. was accommodated by allowing for temporary light duty“; “We provided him with an accommodation by letting him take liberal sick leave and LWOP”; “Ms. Y was accommodated with instructions not to lift over her medical restrictions”; and other such implied applications of the term.

Which of the previously-cited statements constitute a technically correct use of the term “accommodation” within the context of Federal Disability Retirement?

Answer:  None of them.

Language games have inherently peculiar traits and rules of application; within the parameters of Federal Disability Retirement, too often the rules of usage are not complied with.  The consequences of non-compliance, unfortunately, is that Federal and Postal employees actually believe that they are being “accommodated”, when in fact they are not.

Further, believing that one is being accommodated by an agency may lead to the mistaken belief that one is ineligible for Federal Disability Retirement, when in fact one has always been eligible precisely because the agency cannot or has failed to provide a legally viable accommodation.  Look into the proper use of terms, and the technically correct application of terms.

In the end, Wittgenstein was right:  Language games reveal more about the competence of those who play them, than about the lack of precision exhibited by human behavior.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: The Agency’s Attempt

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the issue of “accommodations” will necessarily surface, if only because the Agency must complete SF 3112D — the Form which is entitled, “Agency Certification of Reassignment and Accommodation Efforts” (which bureaucrat came up with that title?).

Agencies will often choose the wrong box to check because they will either misread the choices or misunderstand what the statements mean.  For instance, in the third choice of Question 4, it states, “Yes, describe below the accommodation efforts made, attach supporting documentation and provide narrative analysis of any unsuccessful accommodation efforts.”  The problem with the choice itself is that the entire concept of “accommodations” has been clarified, modified, and thoroughly discussed in cases which have been brought before the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board and the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, and such court opinions have been issued subsequent to the original meaning of the term when the Standard Form was first issued.

But when the Agency completes the form, they will often answer the question in terms of “allowing for liberal use of sick leave” or “letting the employee refrain from doing X, Y or Z”,  etc.  But allowing for temporary, light duty work does not constitute a “legal accommodation“, and thus does not go to the requested information.  In fact, the loosely-used term of “accommodation” is actually no accommodation at all.

What to do about it when it happens?  One must be discreet in how to approach it.  For most cases, the agency’s lack of understanding will have no impact at all, and it should not be responded to.  In other instances…

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire