OPM Disability Retirement: The Reality of Accommodations

Medical conditions test the value of a worker; for, while people may engage in theoretical discussions of “cost-benefits analysis“, where the cost of X is compared and contrasted to the benefit of Y, such that the hypothetical analysis results in a business decision based upon pure economic need — the reality of such an approach rarely gets a true test beyond such dinner table discussions.  But when a Federal or Postal Worker begins to suffer from a medical condition, such that the medical condition visibly impacts one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, then the economic paradigm of a cost-benefits analysis is applied, whether overtly or in a more subtle, inconspicuous manner.

The agency may recognize the need to allow for temporary suspension of certain positional duties — travel may be taken up by some other employee; heavy lifting may need an additional helper; telecommuting may be a viable option.  The cost of such temporary measures is felt in the work left undone; the benefit is accrued by the experience, wisdom, and knowledge of the disabled retained worker.  In rarer occasions, a formal request for an accommodation may be submitted by the Federal or Postal Worker, and an administrative process of attempting to provide a legally viable accommodation may ensue; but that is a rare process, indeed.

The reality of accommodations in the Federal sector is one of practical need versus the trouble such attempts bring; for the Federal or Postal Worker, whether under FERS or CSRS, the true option left is to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  Such an option results from an agency being tested — and loyalties revealed.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Medical Retirement: Reassignment Considerations

In considering filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the issue of possible reassignment will arise — normally as a rather secondary and unimportant facet of the process — as an obligatory agency action.

SF 3112D is a form which the agency must complete.  The form essentially affirms that the agency attempted either of 2 things:  tried to “accommodate” the Federal or Postal employee, or tried to find a suitable “reassignment” to another existing, available position.

As to the latter, case-law has made it clear that in order for an offer of reassignment to preclude the Federal or Postal employee from continuing with one’s Federal Disability Retirement application, such light or limited duty offer must be at the same pay or grade of one’s current position (there are some complicating details connected with the enunciated standard, but for present purposes, this general rule will suffice).

Sometimes, the Agency or the U.S. Postal Service will find a lower-paying position, and offer it, and the employee will gladly accept it because it allows for continued employment.  But one must understand that, if down the road, the Federal or Postal employee finds that he or she is unable to perform one or more of the essential elements of that “lower” position, then it is from that “lower” (and often of lesser responsibilities) position that one will be filing for Federal Disability Retirement.

Just some thoughts to ponder; for, as a general rule, the greater the responsibilities of a position, the lesser the standard of meeting the threshold for a Federal Disability Retirement; and, conversely, the lesser the responsibilities of a position, the higher requirement to prove one’s case in a Federal Disability Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: The Disjunctive between Words and Actions

In symbolic logic, there is the disjunctive which allows for a choice between two elements, and one must exhaustively pursue the symbolic “tree” in order to arrive at a logical conclusion.  At each fork in the road, there remains a choice; the pursuit of each road leads to the answer one searches for.

Similarly, in life, one is often confronted with such metaphorical “forks in the road“, and the choice which one embraces will determine whether the path taken leads to — if not a logically sound outcome — a reasonable judgment.

Throughout the career of the Federal or Postal employee, a sense of “loyalty” is stressed; that if one works hard, one will be rewarded; if the agency succeeds in its accomplishments, the individual worker who contributed will be acknowledged, praised, etc.  But the true test of sincerity is actions, not more words.

When the time comes when a Federal or Postal employee is overwhelmed by a medical condition, such that the medical condition impacts one’s ability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, then that is precisely the time to “cash in” on that loyalty which the agency had previously and so honorably declared to be of penultimate importance.

Don’t count on it.

If one’s agency indeed confirms the sincerity of its words, then that is an exponential benefit to the process of one’s life and career.  But short of that, one has reached a true “fork-in-the-road”, tripartite in character, and the choice is often one of walking away, being constantly harassed, or filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Federal Disability benefits were always part and parcel of a Federal or Postal employee’s total compensation package.  It was part of the reason why you “signed on” as a Federal or Postal worker.

When the appropriate time comes — when a medical condition prevents you from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job — then it is time to go down that path, and pursue the tree of logic, and look out for one’s own best interest — and not merely be blinded by the words of an agency which somehow declares a state of amnesia when it comes to such vainglorious words like honor, loyalty, and the mission of the agency.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Qualifying Medical Condition

The question is often asked, “Does my medical condition qualify for Federal Disability Retirement?”, or some variation of that question.  

Such a question, of course, in order to “make sense” in the context of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, must be reformulated, precisely because the manner in which it is posed produces multiple sub-questions.  For, ultimately, the laws and regulations governing Federal Disability Retirement do not provide for a calculus of a mathematical correspondence, where medical condition X is considered a “qualifying” one, whereas medical condition Y fails to meet such a qualification criteria.  

The sub-questions which are immediately necessitated by the originating question, involve multiple factors:  Does the medical condition you suffer from impact your ability to perform one or more of the essential elements of your job?  In what way?  Can you describe how the medical condition impacts your ability to perform your job?  Are you being medically treated for your medical condition?  Will the doctor support you in your quest and application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits?

Take, for instance, the following “extreme” hypothetical, used for purposes of expanding upon the previous conceptual paradigm:  Question:  Does my aching right thumb qualify for Federal Disability Retirement benefits?  Answer:  Normally not.  Sub-question:  If my job requires the constant and repetitive use of my right thumb, and such use is an essential element of my job, can my aching right thumb qualify me for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS?  Answer:  In all likelihood, yes.  

Often, it is the right question asked, and not the answer to the original question, which is the important starting point of the process in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, from the Office of Personnel Management.

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

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: OWCP, Light Duty & Federal Disability Retirement

As I stated in my previous blog, OWCP is not a retirement system. Instead, it is meant to return an injured worker back to productivity with his or her agency. This is done through means of providing for medical treatments; paying the Federal employee temporary total disability benefits during the time of treatment and recuperation; then, if the Federal or Postal employee is unable to return to the former position in full capacity, to offer a “modified position” to the employee.  At each step in the process of OWCP/DOL, the onerous and burdensome hand of the process becomes clear — for, if at any time, the employee refuses to follow the mandates given by OWCP, the real threat of having one’s temporary compensation suddenly terminated is always a possibility. 

Thus, in accepting OWCP benefits, there is a clear trade-off:  tax free compensation for the price of being completely governed by OWCP.  Then, when the modified job offer is given, you have no choice but to accept it, in whatever form, and must be accepted “as is” — otherwise, your temporary total disability payments will be terminated.  Remember, however, that accepting such a position does NOT preclude you from filing for disability retirement benefits, because the case-law governing Federal Disability Retirement has a “safety” feature:  in order to be considered a legally viable “accommodation” under the law, the modified job that is offered and accepted must have been one which was previously in existence, and vacant.  It cannot be your old job slot, modified by a piece of paper prepared by your agency and the Department of Labor.  It must be a true job.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire