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

Federal Disability Retirement: Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder is classically characterized by extreme and unpredictable mood swings between depression and manic episodes, and such alternating swings of highs and lows impact upon one’s judgment, perception, orientation, and ability to maintain a rational perspective.  This psychiatric medical condition, with its symptoms of lethargy, racing thoughts, delusional thought processes leading to long periods of excitability, alternating with unrelenting and intractable depressive moods, impacts many different kinds of duties and daily living activities.  It can impact physically-intensive job duties, and not just cognitive-intensive core elements of one’s job. 

For Federal and Postal employees who are contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, it is important to understand the psychiatric medical condition; whether a medication regimen returns one to a sufficient level of functional sufficiency such that one can continue to perform all of the essential elements of one’s job; and, if not, then how best to prepare, formulate, construct and complete a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS.  What is often known as OPM Disability Retirement is a benefit which must be fought for, in order to secure one’s future ability to receive an income — perhaps to reach that level of functionality that one may return to the labor force despite the medical condition.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Employees Disability Retirement: Major Depression

Federal and Postal workers who are inquiring about filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS often lack any context as to his or her own particular situation, in relation to the greater Federal and Postal workforce.  Let me elaborate:  a Federal or Postal employee who suffers from chronic and intractable Major Depression, despite being placed on various psychotropic medications, and having undergone psychotherapeutic intervention, and (in more serious cases) hospitalization for intensive treatment — often believe that his or her “situation” is unique, isolated, and rare.  It is not.  

When an individual suffers from Major Depression, it is common to feel isolated, as if the particular psychiatric disorder is unlike other medical conditions (e.g., physical medical conditions which can be ascertained by an MRI or other diagnostic tools).  This is part of the very medical condition itself — of feeling isolated and trapped, and unable to escape from one’s own plight.  

Indeed, Federal and Postal employees who suffer from Major Depression often ask me the “how many” question — how many people do you represent who suffer from Major Depression, as if numbers correlate to security.  While I am very protective of client confidentiality and information related to my clients, it can safely be said that a “great many” Federal and Postal employees suffer from Major Depression, that it is not uncommon, that your co-worker sitting beside you may suffer from it, and that such sufferers work hard to hide it.  

Further, the success in filing for, and obtaining, Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS is no less than any other medical condition.  Thus, for those who suffer from Major Depression and are contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS:  you are definitely not alone.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Taking a Trickle of Leave and Back Pay Issues

When a Federal or Postal employee files for, and is approved for, Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the disability retirement annuity which one receives extends back to the “last day of pay” of a Federal or Postal employee.  It matters not what “kind” of pay; the Office of Personnel Management merely receives the date of the Federal or Postal employee’s last day of pay from the Agency, then gives back-pay back to that date which the Agency determines that he or she was last paid.

Thus, if a person was on LWOP for a six-month period while awaiting for a decision from OPM on his or her Federal Disability Retirement application, then decided to use up the last couple of hours of Annual or Sick Leave and receive a nominal amount — in that scenario, the back pay would extend only to the payment received for the Annual or Sick Leave, and the Federal or Postal employee would lose any back-pay for the six-month period of LWOP.

With this in mind, it is important to plan — to either remain on LWOP during the entire period of waiting for a decision from OPM, or if one continues to work or to receive payments for Sick or Annual Leave, to make it worth one’s while (i.e., to continue to receive a payment rate equal to what the rate of pay for back-pay would be, which is 60% of the average of one’s highest three consecutive years of salary the first year, then 40% every year thereafter).  Just some thoughts.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: A Hostile Work Environment

Unfortunately, reality often outperforms and upstages any attempt at fictional characterization of the workplace.  Often, the meanness and temperamental behavior of a supervisor in the “real” workplace can never be properly represented by an actor’s attempt in a sitcom or a drama; the persistent, irrational, capricious and outright cruel behavior and acts of “the boss” or one of his/her underlings can never be accurately depicted in fiction.  Further, the reality of the consequences of such behavior can be devastating.  Workplace stress resulting from demeaning behavior, intentional acts to undermine, cruel and arbitrary acts against a specific employee, can all result in serious medical consequences.  

It is all well and good to talk about internal procedures — of filing an EEOC Complaint; filing a grievance; filing a complaint based upon discrimination, etc.  But beyond such agency procedures to protect one’s self, there is the problem of the eruption of a medical condition, be it Major Depression, Anxiety, panic attacks, physical symptoms of IBS, chronic pain, headaches —  some or all of which may result from such stresses in the workplace.  There is no diagnostic tool to establish the link between the medical condition and the workplace stress.  

For Federal and Postal employees thinking about filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, there is the context of harassment & stress in the workplace, and then the medical condition which prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job. Sometimes, it is difficult to bifurcate the two.  That which is difficult, however, must sometimes be accomplished in order to be successful.  The origin of the medical condition may have to be set aside, because it “complicates” the proving of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  If one is contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, the story — however real — of the workplace harassment, may have to be left behind.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Sometimes, It is the Wrong Question

If the question is asked, “Is it difficult to get Federal Disability Retirement benefits based upon a Stress Claim?” — within the context of the poorly-worded question, you may get a wrong answer.  This is because it is the wrong question to begin with.  

The concept and term “stress claim” is more appropriately formulated in the context of an OWCP claim.  It implies that one is claiming for compensation based upon a situation — a hostile work environment, a harassing supervisor, etc. — because the origin and inception of the medical condition generically characterized as “stress” implies that it is the workplace which is the originating responsibility for the very medical condition claimed.  

Such a question would thus imply a multitude of irrelevant considerations for purposes of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, such as the causality of the claim, whether the cause is merely situational (is it the supervisor causing the stress?  If so, if a Federal or Postal worker moved to another office or agency, could he or she work in the same job?), or contained within the context of the workplace. The problem with using the term “stress” in a question is that, whether as a noun or a verb, it implies too much while revealing too little.  If expanded upon (e.g., while stress may be the origin, is the medical condition Major Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, etc.), then the entire question takes on a new form.  Sometimes, the problem begins with the question asked which is poorly worded; and to a poorly worded question, a wrong answer might be given.

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

OPM Disability Retirement: Psychiatric Issues

For Federal and Postal workers who are filing, or contemplating filing, for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the distinction between “physical” medical conditions and “psychiatric” medical conditions are not always so clear and distinct.  While cases can be bifurcated for many clients (where the medical basis upon which a Federal Disability Retirement is based is wholly physical, or entirely psychiatric), often, cases have a “mixed” character to them, where depression, anxiety, panic attacks, etc., arise or become “secondary” to a chronic medical condition.  

The complex interaction between physical pain, chronic medical conditions which impact one’s job, physical abilities, etc., can at their inception be “secondary” in the sense that they have arisen and manifested the symptomatologies “after” or “second to” the original medical conditions.  However, after some time (and this is being stated from a legal perspective reviewing many such instances in filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS), such secondary Major Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and even other psychiatric medical conditions, can become the central or prominent medical condition which forms the basis of a OPM Disability Retirement application.  Thus, that which was once “secondary” does not always remain so; it can become the primary basis.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Attorney

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Psychiatric Disabilities

Perhaps there will always be a suspicion that a distinction is made by a governmental entity/bureaucracy, between physical medical conditions and those which are deemed “psychological“.  For Federal and Postal workers who are considering filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, there are ample legal tools to point out to the Office of Personnel Management that such a distinction is not only improper, but moreover, contrary to the “law of the land“.  

The Federal Circuit Court has pointed out clearly and unequivocally that the law does not allow for OPM to make a distinction between that which is “objective” medical evidence and that which is “subjective“.  Further, beyond the conceptual distinction applying to the medical evidence, this means that the categories encompassing the two should not be distinguishable when applying the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement.  Thus, rational conclusions based upon clinical examinations, a long history with the patient, consistent symptoms as related to by the patient to the doctor — all are valid, and “as valid”, as the “objective” medical evidence purportedly revealed by an MRI or other diagnostic tools.  

Thus, the credence and credibility of Major Depression, Anxiety, Panic Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and a host of other psychiatric disabilities, hold an equal level of legal validity as the long list of physical disabilities.  Don’t ever let OPM go down an argumentation route where no law exists to support it; they may often try, but it is up to the Federal or Postal Worker who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS to meet them at every juncture of such sophistry.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire