Context, Content and Vacuums in Federal Employee Disability Retirement Applications

Vacuums constitute space devoid of matter.  In the practical world, the mechanical tool used for removal of unwanted substances merely moves matter from one location to another; in theoretical physics, one encounters complex conceptual discussions which will often involve comparative analysis of partial vacuums in relation to pure vacuums.  Discussions involving vacuums, where a proper context is important in understanding the relational significance of subjects focused upon, and the incomprehensible vacuity of meaningless occurs when conceptual connections are lost because context and substance lose their connective importance.

In the context of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether the Federal or Postal employee is under FERS or CSRS, too much focus and attention upon peripheral matters, outside of the context of medical conditions in their relationship to positional duties and essential elements of one’s Federal job, will often create a vacuum of significance.

Context is always important; but the extent of detail required, and necessity of issues to be discussed, and the quantitative value of documentation and evidence submitted, may well prove to attain an opposite effect from the one intended. Unintended consequences resulting from intended actions are to be expected in daily life; but where one has decided to pursue an administrative and bureaucratic process where submission of the evidence can be thoughtfully controlled, it is always important to coordinate the relationships between context, content and vacuums.  The descriptive context of an OPM Disability Retirement application; the substantive content of the evidence to be submitted; and the vacuum created by placing evidence in one part of the Federal Disability Retirement application but leaving it omitted from another, results in the intended whole of an effective Federal Disability Retirement packet.

All Federal Disability Retirement applications are filed through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether one is under FERS or CSRS, and because the agency which reviews, approves or denies a Federal Disability Retirement claim is different from the one which originates with the source (with the exception of the injured Federal Employee who actually works with OPM, which can of course happen and has happened), it is important to consider the connective relationship between context, content and vacuums created, both in practical life, in theoretical physics, as well as in the preparation, formulation and filing of a CSRS or FERS Disability Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Relevance & the Intended Audience

Relevance within the context of a particular subject can branch out into parallel areas of substantive issues; thus, it may be “relevant” that in Set-X, subset a,b,c…w be included in the discussion of the  primary issue.  But relevance may not be the proper criteria to apply; rather, it may be important to consider the “intended audience” in an effort to tailor, streamline, and make succinct that which can become potentially unwieldy.

In a Federal Disability Retirement application submitted to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the compilation of the evidence needed in order to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the Federal or Postal employee is eligible for Federal Disability Retirement, will necessarily involve the selective customization of the evidence to be presented.

One can argue, in compiling a case, that everything is “relevant” — from one’s history of a personal nature (which then resulted in one’s education, one’s background, how one came to become a Federal employee, etc.), to the historical genesis of one’s agency (to the extent that the Federal Disability Retirement applicant’s involvement and intersection with the agency came into being); and many other “relevant” facts.

By such logical connections, one can argue that every event which occurs around the world has some logically relevant connection to every Federal Disability Retirement application.  Obviously, such an approach would be absurd, and ultimately untenable.

How to temper the inclusion of all that is “relevant”?

Always keep in mind the intended audience of one’s submission.  Then, ask yourself the questions:  What is the intended audience seeking?  Will this information help or obfuscate the main point of my application?  Will the intended audience have the time to read through this corollary issue?  And many other similar questions.

Questions are asked not only to seek unknown answers; they are also pointedly applied in order to self-correct the potential pitfalls which the questioner may be advocating.

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

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: Psychiatric Disabilities — Origin versus Situational (Continued…)

The “origin” of a medical disability, from the perspective of a Claims Representative at the Office of Personnel Management, may be relevant for purposes of adjudicating a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  Note that physical disabilities rarely become an issue in the context of the origination of the medical disability, precisely because it is irrelevant whether or not a medical disability occurred on the job or not.

The origin of a psychiatric disability, however, is potentially relevant from OPM’s perspective, because it may give rise to the argument that it is a “situational” disability — one that is contained, limited, and ultimately circumscribed within the situation of the particular office of the specific agency in which the Federal or Postal Worker works.  

Thus, from this argument, the logical extrapolation is that while the Federal or Postal worker is unable to work in the specific office or location, he or she is nevertheless able to perform all of the essential elements of the particular job — but in another agency, another office, another location, etc.  Thus, the concept of “situational disability” arises, with the consequential argument that one is in fact NOT prevented from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job — but rather, it is the “situation” which is at fault. This is why the citation of correlative EEOC complaints, hostile work environment accusations, etc., are dangerous to make in the context of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for U.S. Federal Government Employees: Context, Sequence & Connections

Often, a potential applicant for Federal Disability Retirement will insist that the origin of the medical condition or injury is important to annotate, for one reason or another.  Unlike OWCP issues, origin and causation is usually of little or no significance in a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS.  Thus, for OWCP Disability, it may be of importance to show that X injury was caused by occupational hazard Y; or that, while on the job on a certain date, the applicant slipped and fell, etc.  In proving OWCP Disability, such “incident-specific” facts are important in establishing causation, in order to determine eligibility and entitlement to OWCP Disability benefits.

For purposes of OPM Disability, however, the Federal or Postal worker who is seeking Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management, does not have to establish such incident-specific facts.  Rather, the focus shifts upon the medical condition, the symptoms, and the impact upon those medical medical conditions and symptoms upon one’s inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, within the last year.  While it may be that some factual context is significant by way of showing a sequence of events from the past, in order to show how the medical condition worsened over time, OPM normally does not care about such historical facts.  While the history of X is interesting, what occurs in the recent-to-present timeframe is what interests OPM.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: Situational Disability, Revisited

Remember that there is nothing wrong with issues and events in the workplace being the originating factor which instigates or otherwise propels a medical condition — often (though not necessarily always) a psychiatric condition.  The characterization of a “situational disability” (one of the basis upon which the Office of Personnel Management may attempt to deny a Federal Disability Retirement application) only becomes a problem if and when a psychiatric condition prevents a person from performing one or more of the essential elements of his or her job with a particular office, agency or department. 

If the Federal or Postal employee is unable to perform in a particular job in an office or agency, but is able to perform the same basic set of essential elements with another agency, or in the private sector, then it becomes a case of “situational disability”.  However, if the medical condition pervades other aspects of the Federal or Postal employee’s life — personal life; relationships with family & friends; impacts his or her ability to be employable in other sectors; then the medical condition is no longer one of “situational disability” — despite its origins having been formulated in the workplace.  Thus, the issue is not “where the condition came from”, but rather, “where is it now”?  The Office of Personnel Management will often attempt to blur the boundaries between the two questions, and try and characterize the medical disability as not only originating with an agency, but being limited to that particular agency.  And, indeed, the Federal or Postal employee who files a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS does not help matters when he or she wants to persist in focusing upon the events in the workplace which may have contributed to the medical condition.  Beware not to fall into OPM’s trap.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The (non) Problem of Causality & Causation

In a Worker’s Comp (DOL/OWCP/FECA) case, causation and causality often loom as significant issues, and doctors often have to walk a difficult line in making unequivocal statements, or somewhat equivocating statements, as to the “cause” of a medical condition or injury.  Such statements can sometimes be the singular focus as to the success or failure of an OWCP case.  Why?  Because OWCP compensable injuries and medical conditions must be related to the job — either as something caused by an accident while on the job, or in some way occupationally related. 

In Federal Disability Retirement cases under FERS or CSRS, one can be on a skiing vacation and incur a medical condition or disability, and so long as that person is unable to, because of the medical condition, perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, one is thereby eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS. 

Sometimes, however, the issue of causation comes into the picture, but can work in a detrimental way, but need not.  Let me clarify:  In a chemical sensitivity case, or a psychiatric condition which finds its originating “causation” from the workplace, the doctor may want to relate the “cause” of the medical condition directly to the workplace.  This is fine, so far as it goes — and, ironically, most doctors (because they have no idea about FERS or CSRS disability retirement) think they are doing their patients a favor by relating it as “causally related” to the workplace.  More often than not, however, it can open up a “can of worms” — of being characterized by the Office of Personnel Management as a “situational disability”, which must be avoided like the plague.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire