Identifying the Right Bridge to Reach Your Destination: Federal Employee Disability Retirement

When considering filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether one is under FERS or CSRS, the natural inclination is to ask the seemingly primary question of: Does medical condition-X qualify as a disability? But such a question is in actuality secondary; it is the reverse-order and counterintuitive process which is often confusing for the Federal and Postal Worker who is contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

The primary question, making the previously-stated questions secondary, is to ask: Does medical condition-X prevent one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job?  By inverting the primary-secondary sequence, one can then attain a better level of understanding as to the administrative process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  Further, such a switch in sequence of questions-to-answers allows for an important paradigm shift.  For, in the very asking of the proper question, one can reach a level of understanding to such a stage of comprehension that the question almost answers itself.

Medical conditions in and of themselves do not necessarily qualify the Federal or Postal Worker who is otherwise age or service-eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits; it is the nexus which must be established between one’s position and the medical conditions one suffers from.  It is the crossing of that bridge which will reveal the extent of success or failure in attempting to go down this path; but first, the Federal or Postal Worker must correctly identify which bridge to cross, before even starting the long and arduous trek of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: Lexical Nexus

The lexical expansion of the English language and the evolution of meaning, the transition of words and application, is a subject worth investigating.  One needs only to read a Shakespeare play to recognize that language refuses to remain static; and a culture which desires to progressively develop and advance will systematically reflect the changes of a society’s culture, ethos and normative infrastructures.

There is something to be praised for a static society — one which steadfastly refuses to alter its traditional ways; but as technology is the force of change, and as capitalism is defined by progressive advancement of development at all costs, so we are left with a Leviathan gone berserk and unable to be stopped, and language reflects such revolutionary upheaval.

For the Federal or Postal employee suffering from a medical condition, one needs only to pick up an old medical dictionary to realize the exponential explosion of identified medical conditions.  Yet, the interesting aspect of comparative historical analysis, even on a superficial level, is that the symptoms described in an old dictionary prompts recognition of all such “new” medical conditions.

This leaves one to believe that the reality of the world does in fact remain static; it is only our language which must adapt and reflect in order to adequately account for the reality of the physical universe.

In preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the inadequacy of one’s lexical universe may be a hindrance to the proper formulation and delineation of the nexus which must be created between one’s medical condition and the impact upon one’s job.  It is thus the lexical nexus (if one may coin a unique phrase) which must be created in order to effectively prevail in a Federal Disability Retirement application.

While having a medical dictionary may aid one in such an endeavor, the better approach is to first understand that it is not the correspondence between language and reality which matters, but that language is a universe unto itself in which man is the ultimate master of such, caught in that unreality which Heidegger attempted to unravel, and which Kant successfully bifurcated.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: Preexisting Conditions

In OWCP/Department of Labor cases, often the focal point of contention (among other issues) involves whether or not a medical condition “pre-existed” the on-the-job injury which is the basis of the claim for compensation.  

In a FERS or CSRS Federal Disability Retirement application, such an issue is usually irrelevant, precisely because the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement is unconcerned with the “where” of a medical condition, as in, “Where did the event take place, which resulted in the medical injury or condition — on the job or not?”  However, the term “preexisting condition” can involve a different conceptual paradigm, encapsulating not the situs of the occurrence, but whether the Federal or Postal employee was hired with the medical condition, and thus was able to accomplish and perform the essential elements of one’s job despite having the medical condition.  

The Office of Personnel Management will sometimes argue this point — that the Federal or Postal employee who has filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS has a “preexisting condition”; but such an argument actually goes to the issue NOT of whether or not such a preexisting condition is a basis for a denial (it is not), but rather, as to why a Federal or Postal employee would be eligible with such a preexisting condition since that Federal or Postal employee was able to successfully perform his or her job for many years even with the medical condition upon which the Federal Disability Retirement application is based upon.  

Thus, the question in such an instance is not really a preexisting medical condition issue; rather, it is an issue about exacerbation and whether such a preexisting medical condition has progressively worsened to impact one’s ability/inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  How one formulates the issue is very important; OPM does not necessarily understand the proper formulation of a legal issue; as such, it is often the job of the applicant for Federal Disability Retirement benefits to re-formulate the issue in its proper context.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Clarifying Accommodations

There is a conceptual and legal distinction to be made between an Agency’s “accommodations”, as used in a loose, non-technical manner, and being “accommodated” in accordance with the laws, regulations and statutes governing Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS, and as intended in usage on Standard Form 3112D, Agency Certification of Reassignment and Accommodation Efforts for the Office of Personnel Management.  

Often, when a Federal or Postal employee becomes injured (whether on the job or while on vacation is an irrelevancy for purposes of Federal Disability Retirement eligibility), the Agency will attempt to lessen the workload, allow the Federal or Postal employee to work in a modified manner, allow for “light duty” assignments, or even temporarily suspend certain essential elements of one’s job (travel, heavy lifting, required overtime, e.g., etc.), and such efforts on the part of the Agency are commendable, allowable, and perfectly within the acceptable structures of law.  

Such efforts by the Agency are often referred to loosely as an attempt to “accommodate” the Federal or Postal employee’s medical conditions, and indeed, it is a correct (but non-legal and non-technical) use of the term.  It is not, in terms of legal sufficiency, an “accommodation” to the extent that the narrow definition of what it means to be “accommodated” under the law is that an agency will provide an accommodation such that the Federal or Postal employee, with the accommodation, will be able to perform all of the essential elements of what the position requires.  

Lessening the duties temporarily, or suspending certain essential elements of the job for a prescribed period of time, does not allow for the Federal or Postal employee to perform those essential elements of the job, and therefore is not technically an “accommodation”.  That is why most accommodations are not accommodations at all, and as such, those accommodating actions by the agency do not preclude a Federal or Postal employee to file for, and be eligible for, Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Thanksgiving

In representing Federal and Postal employees for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, one encounters multiple medical conditions, from the very severe and debilitating, to manageable but chronic conditions which impact one’s ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job.  

Such review of medical conditions and recognition of what many Federal and Postal employees must undergo, is often a humbling experience; for, while a lawyer’s job is to focus upon the legal aspects of a case, and to bifurcate one’s personal “feelings” as distinct from the legal issues, the antiseptic medical facts, and the ability to provide an objective, analytical view of all of the facts and circumstances — such conceptual bifurcation has its limits.  

Daily, Federal and Postal employees who suffer from various medical conditions must make difficult choices about their future, their career, and their work & personal obligations.  It is well to pause during this Thanksgiving to reflect upon the blessings that we have, as opposed to conditions which have resulted in the loss or reduction of that which we do not have.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Continuing Confusions

In Federal Disability Retirement law under FERS & CSRS, the issue concerning accommodations can continue to remain a rather confusing area of law.  This is especially true when an Agency allows for an individual, either in the Postal Service (which is becoming rarer because of the prevailing winds of the National Reassessment Program) or in the non-Postal, Federal sector, to remain in a position and perform much of the lighter duties of the job, and to allow for one or more of the essential duties of the job to be delegated to others, or not be performed at all.  Now, such a situation can continue on for years, and there is nothing inherently wrong with such an arrangement (aside from the fact that the other Federal workers to whom such work is “delegated” may grumble and complain about fairness or, more likely, that some of the work is never completed), especially if the work which the injured individual performs is valuable to the Agency — even in such a “light duty” status.  

What must be kept in mind, however, regarding the relevance and significance to filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, is that throughout the entire time-period of being on such light duty, the Federal or Postal worker could have, at any time, filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits and should have been approved.  This is because such temporary “light duty” arrangements never constituted an “accommodation” under the law, and the Federal or Postal worker was eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits regardless of remaining in the “light duty” job.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Overlooking an Essential Element

Potential applicants who are considering filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS will sometimes ask the question, What are the essential elements of one’s job?

Sometimes, the answer to the question is often easy to identify, especially if there are unique and distinct features to a particular type of Federal or Postal job.  Other elements are sometimes so obvious that they are overlooked — such as the fact that one must be able to work full time at a job.

Thus, the fact that a Federal or Postal worker is able to work 4 hours a day, or 6 hours a day, and be able to perform all of the other essential elements of his or her job, does not preclude one from being eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Further, if the Agency is being “nice” and “accommodating” by allowing for the remainder of the hours to be covered by sick leave or even LWOP, does not preclude the Federal or Postal employee from filing for, and being eligible for, Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Being able to work full time in a full time position is an essential element of the job.  Don’t overlook the obvious; the obvious is often the gateway to success.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire