OPM Disability Retirement: Secondary Depression and Other Contingent Medical Conditions

Often, in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, one must selectively choose, based upon the medical reports received from one’s requested doctors, the medical conditions upon which one’s Federal Disability Retirement application will be based.  

Sometimes, there is confusion as to which medical conditions should be listed, how it should be “prioritized” (how can one prioritize multiple medical conditions when any or all of them may have debilitating symptomatologies?) and whether some should be relegated to mere peripheral, ancillary discussion, as opposed to retaining a centrality of focus and prominence.  

For example, “Secondary Depression” is a term which often will accompany chronic and debilitating pain.  It may, over time, become a primary source of debilitating disability, but the reason why it is initially, and for some time thereafter, characterized as “secondary” is precisely because it is contingent upon the existence of the primary medical condition — that which results in the chronic and debilitating pain.  As such, if the secondary depression is listed as the primary basis for a Federal Disability Retirement application, but sometime later the originating medical condition which is the foundational cause of the depression gets better, then there is the potential ramifications that the secondary medical condition (“secondary depression”) will resolve itself.  

Such considerations can be important in determining which medical conditions to list, inasmuch as in a future time, if one is found to be disabled by the Office of Personnel Management for a secondary medical condition and is asked in a future Medical Questionnaire to have one’s doctor determine the disability status at a later time, it may become an important issue.

Linking potential future problems to thoughtful preparation in the present time is important in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The “Mixed Case”

The “Grab-bag” approach of annotating every medical condition on an Application for Federal Disability Retirement should be distinguished and differentiated from a “Mixed-Case” approach.  The former contains some unintended consequences (i.e., of being approved for a minor medical condition), while the latter is a formulation of multiple medical conditions, any one of which may be a basis for a Federal Disability Retirement application, but the combination of which will strengthen the case as a whole. 

By “Mixed-Case” does not necessarily include a mixture of psychiatric and physical conditions (although it might); rather, the conceptual term which is used here is meant to be a compendium of the primary medical conditions from which a Federal or Postal worker suffers, along with a descriptive narrative of the symptoms which are manifested. 

By preparing, formulating and completing an Applicant’s Statement of Disability (SF 3112A) in this manner, it satisfies the concerns which lead to the “Grab-bag” approach, but prevents the danger of having a Federal Disability Retirement application approved based upon a “minor” medical condition, by conceptually differentiating between diagnosed medical conditions v. symptoms, while at the same time including all of the medical conditions relevant to one’s Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

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 Disability Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: The Developing Medical Issue

There is a legitimate concern in preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application, that if an Applicant’s Statement (Standard Form 3112A both for FERS & CSRS employees) is not prepared properly, there may be some unforeseen repercussions down the road, including being barred from “adding” to the list of diagnosed medical conditions, to being found “disabled” based upon a minor, peripheral medical condition which may become “cured” within a short timeperiod.  This is true also of a “developing” medical condition — where symptoms abound, but the doctor is unsure of the specific diagnosis to ascribe to the patient.  That is why much of preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is more of an art form than a strict application of “the law” .  Yes, it is important to understand and apply the law.  Yes, it is important to extract prior experiences and weave the essential elements, both of the law, of facts, of medical descriptions, etc., into a meaningful narrative in bridging the two essential fields of evidentiary substance:  the medical evidence and the type of job which is impacted.  But more than that, one must know how to interconnect all of the necessary elements — the law, the facts, the medical basis, the essential elements of one’s job — into a coherent whole.  As for any developing medical issues, the same methodology can be applied — in an artful way, such that an unnamed diagnosis will have been “covered” by a description of the symptoms.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Don’t Overlist Medical Conditions

The natural inclination, taking all factors into consideration, would be to list all medical conditions, and to take the chance that the Office of Personnel Management will intelligently discern and ascertain such medical conditions in the order of their severity.  This would be a mistake.  For, in filing an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the arbitrary nature in which the medical conditions are selected by OPM, makes it into a dangerous gamble.  What must be decided early on, is to take into consideration all factors and circumstances, looking at the medical conditions in their priority of severity, and assessing the impact of each, or the combination of several, and placing them into a “pool” in which medical conditions comprise a generic designation which would “cover” or “identify” a number of subcategories — then to list them in the order of how they specifically impact one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  This must be done intelligently, with foresight, and with deliberation.  Otherwise, to rely upon a presumed rational methodology by the Office of Personnel Managment will ultimately backfire in an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Which Medical Conditions to List II

If you list all of the medical conditions you suffer from on the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (SF 3112A) in filing an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, then you take the risk that the Office of Personnel Management may approve your disability retirement application based upon a condition which is only marginally serious (which can lead to some future problems, if OPM requests that you respond to an OPM Medical Questionnaire, inquiring about your current status and your disability).  On the other hand, if you fail to mention a medical condition, and you file your Federal Disability Retirement application, once you are assigned a CSA Number, you are precluded from amending or adding to the list of medical conditions described in your Applicant’s Statement of Disability.  Thus, discretionary decisions must be made.  You must strike a proper balance between listing the major medical conditions, and deciding which medical conditions truly impact your ability/inability to perform the essential elements of your job, and discern which conditions and symptoms are likely to remain chronic, or continue to deteriorate.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire