Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Respective Positions

The position of the applicant is a uniquely vulnerable one; for, as one who is requesting a benefit from a governmental entity, he or she is essentially powerless to act except in response to the agency’s determination on approving or denying a Federal Disability Retirement application.

There are certain “pressure points” which can be attempted, the efficacy of which is questionable but nevertheless engaged in:  repeated calls (although one may suspect that excessive inquiries may ultimately reflect in a detrimental way); attempted influences via backdoor channels; or perhaps a request for a Congressional inquiry through one’s representative; and other similar methods — some more effective than others.  But it is ultimately the respective positions of the applicant-versus-agency which defines the underlying sense of powerlessness-versus-power; for, in the end, the agency can make any determination it wants, with a basis of rationality or one which issues a complex and garbled statement of reasonings which may not possess any meaningful import as reflected in the law.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management is a powerful agency which is granted a special position and status — one which is responsible for the administration of retirement issues impacting upon all Federal and Postal employees.  Such a position is indeed one of heightened sensitivity and responsibility; and while the respective positions of the “little guy” (the Federal or Postal employee) as opposed to the “big guy” (the U.S. Office of Personnel Management) comes down to nothing more than individual human beings, it is the status granted to the latter which makes all the difference, and those within the agency should take such a position with the utmost of seriousness and gravity.

Ultimately, most case workers at OPM are doing the best they can with the tools and manpower provided; from the viewpoint of the applicant waiting for his or her Federal Disability Retirement application to be determined, however, that sense of vulnerability — where one’s future is “on hold” until an action is initiated by OPM — is what makes the entire process a frustrating one.

In the end, there is nothing which can change the respective positions of the applicant-versus-agency, until an approval from OPM is granted, and the status of “applicant” is then transformed into one of “annuitant” — at which point, a new set of respective positions are imposed.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Gathering All of the Pieces

Multi-tasking is a concept which suddenly came about, but always existed. The idea, the concept — the identifying name itself — is secondary; ask any mother caring for her children throughout the day, whether or not she has to “multi-task” and you will be given a look of puzzlement.

When a medical condition is impacting one in performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, or in performing the daily activities, chores and life-requirements on one’s “to-do” list, then the concept itself begins to have some relevance.

Most of us not only do 2 or 3 things at a time; we must, in this technologically fast-paced society, do that and more.  But in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the attempt to gather the necessary pieces in putting together one’s case, and in an effective and persuasive compilation of proof, becomes not only difficult, but another obstacle.  For, not only does the Federal or Postal employee need to continue to work in attempting to remain employed (for most Federal or Postal employees who are filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, continuation of work is a financial necessity), but further, the added burden of gathering all of the medical documentation, putting together a compelling enough Disability Retirement application, etc., becomes an overwhelming feat.  But the pieces do need to be gathered; the puzzle needs to be carefully crafted and put together.

It is another task in the multi-tasking world of today– one which is necessary to secure one’s future.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: A Hypothetical

The case-law opinions from the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, as well as from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, upholds the statement added onto Question 4 of Standard Form 3112A, the form which specifically requests the Applicant’s statement of disability, which asserts:  “We consider only the disease and/or injuries you discuss in this application”.

Failure to identify a particular medical condition can have an adverse impact upon one’s application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Take the following hypothetical: a Federal or Postal employee is terminated from Federal Service; he or she files for Federal Disability Retirement benefits within one (1) year of being separated from service.  While the Statute of Limitations has already been met because the filing has occurred within the 1-year timeframe, during the process of awaiting a decision from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the treating doctor has diagnosed with greater specificity the primary and underlying cause of the medical condition.

In his or her haste to file, the (now former) Federal employee quickly noted the diagnosed medical conditions in response to question 4, but nowhere is there an indication of the newly-diagnosed medical condition.  During the wait, it is now more than 1 year from the time of separation.  The quandary:  The Federal Disability Retirement application cannot be withdrawn, because the 1-year Statute of Limitations has already passed, and so he or she is no longer able to re-file.  No additional medical conditions can be added onto the SF 3112A.

Is there a problem? The answer:  Under this hypothetical, potentially yes.

Even if OPM approves the case, there may be future difficulties if OPM approves the Disability Retirement application based upon a medical condition listed, but resolved.  Care in identifying and properly annotating the medical conditions must be taken in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Fingerprints of an Ineffective Disability Retirement Presentation

Rushing through something is often a sign of attempting to make up for something lacking; if excellence is the goal, then one must take the time to cultivate the means of achieving it; if completion is the sole achieving end, then almost anything will satisfy such an undistinguished crown.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, one can discern from the quality of the disability retirement packet the psychology behind the packet itself.  Much like fingerprints left behind by a burglar, or a work of art created by a craftsman or an amateur bumbler merely attempting to make a few extra dollars in one’s spare time, the collateral context of a presentation can be very indicative.

If such indicators manifest a negative vibration to an objective observer, what could it be stating to the OPM Representative who is reviewing the case?  Whether it is a Federal Disability Retirement packet which is sloppily put together; is presented with generalizations in offering a diagnosis or symptoms; is disconnected or barely coherent in its reasonings; or a multitude of other linguistic symptoms implying lack of attentiveness — these will not do.

Excellence should always be the goal; as the craftsman must take care at each stage of the creative process, so a Federal Disability Retirement packet must reveal the fullness of the medical condition, its impact upon one’s ability/inability to perform the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal job, and why one has met all of the legal criteria in being entitled to the Federal Disability Retirement benefit.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Responsibility of the Applicant

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the importance of adequately conveying persuasive information to the Claims Representative at the Office of Personnel Management must be a primary goal of the Federal or Postal employee.  

Rarely does a doctor, without guidance and some “prodding”, execute an administrative duty such as preparing a medical narrative report for a patient, in a sufficiently excellent manner.  The work product of a doctor is normally defined by patient care, clinical examination, and prescribing an effective course of treatment.  It is up to the patient or his/her Federal Disability Attorney to remind the doctor as to “why” it is important to provide a medical narrative report in a Federal Disability Retirement application.  

Often, it is merely that the doctor does not understand the necessity of preparing a narrative report; or, as confusing as the entire administrative process of preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application is to the Federal or Postal employee, it is exponentially more confusing to the doctor, who is normally not part of the Federal workforce (unless he or she happens to be a doctor for the Department of Veterans Affairs, or is part of the Veterans Health Care System).  

It is ultimately the responsibility of the Federal or Postal employee to convey persuasive evidence and argumentation to the Office of Personnel Management, in order to meet that burden of proof, of showing that by a preponderance of the evidence the Federal or Postal employee has proven that he or she is eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits. While medical records, treatment notes, office notes, etc., can often be persuasive on their own, the applicant must be able to formulate a statement and refer to “the law” in order to convince the OPM Representative that his or her case meets that burden of proof.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Distinguishing between Diagnoses and Symptomatologies

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application with the Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS (Federal Employee’s Retirement System) or CSRS (Civil Service Retirement System), in preparing and formulating the Applicant’s Statement of Disability on Standard Form 3112A, it is important to distinguish between the medical conditions which are diagnosed, from the symptoms which are experienced by the Federal or Postal employee.  The focus is often upon the latter (the symptoms) as opposed to the former (the officially diagnosed medical conditions), as it should be because of the nature of the requirements in proving a Federal Disability Retirement case with the Office of Personnel Management.

By that is meant the following: Because one must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that one is eligible and entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits from OPM, by exhibiting a nexus between one’s medical conditions and one’s medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, the descriptive analysis of such bridging between one’s medical condition and the impact upon one’s ability/inability to perform the essential elements of one’s particular job, is quite naturally focused upon the symptomatologies which one experiences.

The blurring of the lines between the “official” medical condition as itemized in a list of diagnoses, as opposed to the descriptive delineation of the exhibited symptoms, or the symptoms which are subjectively experienced and (often) correlated by objective radiological reports, is a natural occurrence. Often, the two are (and should be) deliberately intermingled in the narrative description of the Applicant’s Statement of Disability. However, one should always write the narrative portion of the SF 3112A with the view towards the future potential issues which may arise: that of being “disabled” for a specifically-identified medical condition.

Sometimes the OPM Representative will specifically identify a medical condition; sometimes, no such identification will occur. Then, there are times when the lines between “diagnosis” and “symptoms” naturally crosses — as in, “Chronic Pain Syndrome” as distinguished from “chronic pain”. Blurring the lines in a discussion is expected and should be applied in formulating one’s Applicant’s Statement of Disability; but such blurring should occur with deliberation and purpose, and not just because one does not recognize the distinction between the two.

As with everything in life, the consequences of doing something by accident are quite different from that which results from a purposive and deliberate action.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Choosing the Medical Conditions

Often, in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the question is asked as to which medical conditions should be included in a Federal Disability Retirement application.  The obvious answer, of course, is to identify the “most serious” of the medical conditions, with a secondary consideration being the ones which impact one’s ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job.  

Whether to list “all of them” is a separate question, and then there are the subtleties which further delve into a more detailed analysis of the creation of an effective nexus between one’s medical conditions, the job description which one is supposed to be doing, and the provability of the medical conditions identified and described.  

Inasmuch as a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is a “paper presentation” to the Office of Personnel Management (and yes, the concept of a “paper presentation” still applies even if and when OPM converts entirely to the technological next-step of a paperless system; the Federal or Postal employee must still present a formatted application), the admixture of legal and medical issues will ultimately come about.  

The conceptual distinction between the diagnosis and the symptomatologies; the extent of willingness of what a treating doctor will state; the concordance between the diagnosis, the symptoms described, and their impact upon the particular elements of one’s position description; the potential impact of being found “disabled” by the Office of Personnel Management based upon a “minor” medical condition which may resolve itself in the future, as opposed to a more serious-listed one; the nebulous areas of “syndromes” (as in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) and the description of symptoms and making sure to relate the symptoms to a particular medical condition — these are all “subtleties” which involve an intersection between the legal standard of proof and the medical “facts”, in formulating a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  But that it were as easy as simply listing one’s medical conditions.  But, alas, OPM is a Federal bureaucracy, and the combination of “the law” and “a bureaucracy” can only lead to one result:  a conundrum.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire