Federal Disability Retirement Attorney: Qualia & First Person Attribution of Mental States

Private, subjective mental states are unique by self-definition; they become public knowledge only when shared with deliberate intent, revealing the inner thoughts, private conceptual pondering, and narrative voices of the subjective “I”. Pain is similar in form, in that one can mask and keep private the experiential factor of pain, just as one can remain hidden in the private thoughts one engages.

Qualia, in philosophy, has to do with the subjective experience of one’s encounter with the greater world; and the first person attribution of a mental state encompasses the “I” in the midst of that universe of contained subjectivity. The problem always is how one can and should relate the private experience when a public narrative of that subjectivity is required.

For Federal and Postal employees who must file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the problem of conveying in persuasive form and argumentation, of transversing the chasm between the “qualia” of one’s subjective mental state into the foray of medicine, diagnostic testing, clinical encounters with medical professionals, and the entire compendium of what constitutes the “objective” world, is a necessary prerequisite where the incommensurable wall must be overcome.

An effective OPM Disability Retirement application under FERS, CSRS or CSRS Offset, is like watching a gymnast on a balance beam; overstating the subjective may result in loss of that balance.  Federal employees and Postal workers who suffer from those specific medical conditions which are considered “unverifiable” through normal channels of diagnostic methodologies — Fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, chronic and intractable pain, etc. — must find ways where the public description goes beyond the qualia of private mental attributes.

In many ways, we have progressed culturally; and such progressivism is found in the diminishment and near-extinguishment of that dualism between the cognitive and the physical, and this is established by the general acceptance of psychiatric conditions as being just as “valid” as physical maladies. But old haunts and biased perspectives still abound, and during such times of transition, one must still take care in how one approaches subjectivity in the wake of the yearning for objectively verifiable evidentiary components.

Like the public who watches the graceful movements of a gymnast on a balance beam, it is the roar of the crowd in appreciation one seeks, and not the gasp of disappointment when lack of balance results in a sudden and unexpected fall.


Robert R. McGill, Esquire


Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Cartesian Bifurcation

Modern philosophy is often considered to have begun with the French philosopher, Descartes; this is perhaps unfortunate, for the resulting inward navel gazing which was precipitated and the subsequent conceptual bifurcation between mind and body, for which we must contend with and pay the price, to this day.

For the longest time, of course, there was a suspicion that psychiatric conditions were somehow less viable and more difficult to prove; this is perhaps as a result of a misconception and misunderstanding of that proof which constitutes “objective” data as opposed to “subjective” interpretations of any factual analysis.

In Federal Disability Retirement cases, the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board has steadfastly rejected any notions of subjective/objective differentiation, especially when it comes to psychiatric medical conditions.  Fortunately for the Federal and Postal Worker who suffers from medical conditions such that the medical disability prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s positional duties, the MSPB has repeatedly rejected OPM’s claim that certain medical evidence (clinical examinations and encounters with a psychiatrist, for instance) is merely “subjective”, as opposed to what they deem to be considered “objective” medical evidence.

Whether anyone at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is aware of Descartes and the French philosopher’s profound influence upon the mind/body bifurcation is a matter of factual irrelevance; the important historical point to be recognized is the trickling down impact from theoretical discourses in academia, to the pragmatic application of concepts in bureaucratic administrative functions.

Descartes lives, and the echoes of his philosophical influence resounds and reverberates down into the hallways of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, in the daily reviews of Federal Disability Retirement applications.


Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: Bureaucracy and the Objective Algorithm

On the one hand, objectivity can be viewed as a positive thing; for, with it, one is assured that all applications are treated equally, by the implementation of identical criteria across the board.  “Gut feelings”, personal beliefs, and that “sixth sense” is eliminated; and thus is fairness achieved by the equal treatment of all cases, and “exceptional circumstances” are not, and cannot be, considered.

What such an approach gains in large-scale application, however, may lose out in individual cases.  For, if experience and age accounts for anything, it should allow for decisions made outside of the mainstream of thought, based upon those very factors which make up the difference — wisdom from years of engaging in a particular endeavor.

The problem with the bureaucratization of a process is precisely that it fails to allow for exceptions; but concomitantly, it is precisely those unique circumstances which cry out for a carved-out exception.  In a Federal Disability Retirement application, submitted to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, there are always cases where all of the facts and circumstances reveal eligibility; but in applying the mathematical (and thoughtless) algorithm of criteria-based analysis, there may be something missing.  Perhaps the doctor would not, or could not, say exactly X; or the test results revealed nothing particularly significant.

In some ways, the medical conditions identified as Fibromyalgia or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome represent such scenarios.  In those instances, it is important to descriptively convey the human narrative in a particularly poignant manner.

The administrative bureaucracy is here to remain among us; to rise above the level of thoughtless application of a criteria, however, one must creatively encourage the phoenix to rise from the ashes of boredom, and span its wings to include those others who deserve the benefits of Federal Disability Retirement.


Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Gov. and USPS Disability Retirement: Pain as a Reminder

Pain is a reminder that the physiological state of one’s body is in need of rest or repair; it is tantamount to an error message on the computer, with the analogy of our brain being the software component.  Chronic pain thus constitutes a system shutdown; continued non-response and delay will either result in systematic error messages or progressive deterioration where the entire system will begin to be impacted with reverberating consequences.

It is well that the largest organ of our body is our skin; for, as a concealing covering, it contains the inner workings — and malfunctions — of our other organs and systems.  But within the constellation of the composite of organs and systems functioning in coordinated fashion to keep us alive, the “software system” allows for error messages to be relayed to important information centers, of warnings meant to be heeded.

Pain is such an error message; chronic pain is the heightened alert system to keep us informed.

For the Federal or Postal worker who experiences such continuous and persistent relays of error messages, the failure to heed merely delays the necessity of responding to the system shutdown.  Federal Disability Retirement is meant to be a compensatory system whereby a restorative period of recuperation is allowed for, with the possibility of engaging in employment in a different capacity without losing one’s base annuity.  It is a long and involved administrative process.  Such preparations must be submitted through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether you are under FERS or CSRS; further, if you are a separated Federal or Postal employee, you have only up until one (1) year to file from the date of separation.

Allowing the error message to be sent repetitively and ignored out of hand may constitute malpractice on the part of the recipient — the Federal or Postal Worker who does nothing but continue to be dedicated to one’s job, while ignoring the basic rule of life:  self preservation.


Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Pain and the Fallacy of Objectivity

Pain by definition is “subjective”, if by it one means that the experiential verification of the condition is uniquely possessed by the “I”, or the subject of the experience.  By contrast, that which is deemed “objective” is presumably validated by more than the possessor of the experiential condition — i.e., by third parties; by testing for the validity and verification of an event through means other than the personal narrative of a singular subject.  Yet, if verification of an experience is accepted merely by sheer volume of a collective consensus, then most scientific revolutions in advanced discoveries would never have survived.

In Federal Disability Retirement law, it is often the argument of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management that the Federal or Postal applicant has failed to provide “objective” medical evidence in presenting his or her case.  The narrative of having a condition of “chronic pain”, or “severe pain” — being “subjective” by definition — is not deemed “objective“, and therefore cannot be the valid basis alone for a Federal Disability Retirement case (or so the argument by OPM is often presented).  Even the results of an MRI will not necessarily satisfy the scrutiny of OPM; for, ultimately, an MRI can only reveal an observable abnormality — not that a person experiences “pain”.

Fortunately, there are a number of cases in law which rebut OPM in their attempt to bifurcate between “objective” and “subjective”, and such legal tools should always be cited and applied in any Federal or Postal Disability Retirement application.

While pain may indeed be subjective by definition, the objectivity of a Federal Disability Retirement application should never be based upon what OPM deems as sufficient; rather, it is the law and the long history of legal guidance by the courts which should mandate how OPM acts.  Indeed, if we let OPM’s subjective determinations rule the day, we would all be left in an existential state of pain — one which would then result in a collective consensus which may be deemed objective in nature.


Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Language, Truth, and the Agency

Wittgenstein’s conceptual identification of society’s creation of various “language games” is indicative of a relativistic approach to truth and reality.  For, Wittgenstein rejected the classical tradition of the correspondence theory of truth, where language corresponds to events in the “objective” physical realm, and in the course of such correspondence, arrives at a notion of objective truth.  Instead, the world of language is an artificial creation within the consciousness of societies, and is tantamount to board games which we play.

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 often interesting and instructive to view the entire bureaucratic process as a kind of “language game” which one must master and engage in.  Indeed, encounters with how one’s own agency views the game, then how OPM views the game, can be quite shocking.

The fact that it is not a “game” per se, for the Federal or Postal employee who is depending upon the Federal Disability Retirement annuity for his or her livelihood for the short-term, does not undermine the fact that agencies and OPM act as if it is just another board game — say, for instance, chess, in the the manner in which various strategic moves and counter-moves are made to try and corner the Federal or Postal employee; or the classical game of go, in which territories are asserted and surrounded in order to “defeat” the opponent.

Language is meant to convey meaning and to communicate human value, worth, emotions and factual occurrences as reflected in the physical world; it is only us humans who create a universe of artifice in which we sequester ourselves in order to torment the weaker members of such participants.  But because language is the only game within the realm of human living, we must contend with the language games played by Federal agencies, and especially the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.


Robert R. McGill, Esquire