Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: How and What

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, “how” one states something is often just as important as the “what” one says.

The latter is relevant for obvious reasons:  the subject of the statement is the “identifier” for purposes of directing the reader (in this case, the person who is handling your Federal Disability Retirement benefit application at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management) to focus upon a particular matter; but just as importantly, “how” it is said — i.e., the tone, tenor and context of the “what”.

How a medical report is stated will often determine the success of a Federal Disability Retirement application, more than what is expected to be said.  For, from the perspective of the Office of Personnel Management, the generic “what” (the subject matter of the application) will almost always contain the obvious:  that there is a medical condition; that the medical condition prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job; that the Federal or Postal worker will make statements and claims of an inability to perform certain key elements of one’s job because of one’s medical conditions, etc.

On the other hand, how it is stated:  Is it persuasive?  Does the doctor follow from a reasonable explanation to an unequivocal conclusion?  Is the doctor convincing?  While the “what” of a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS, may be a necessary condition of a Federal Disability Retirement application, it may not be sufficient; sufficiency may be determined by how a Federal Disability Retirement application is prepared, formulated, and ultimately filed.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Medical Support, Belief, Documentation and the Diagnosis

Ultimately, in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, one must always remind one’s self that this is a “paper presentation” (regardless of the prevailing and inevitable march towards a paperless society) to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM).  As such, there are certain inextricable components in the presentation itself, which must be reviewed, evaluated, and decided upon before proceeding.

As a “presentation” which is meant to be persuasive — i.e., proving by a preponderance of the evidence that one is entitled to the Federal Disability Retirement benefit, whether under FERS or CSRS — it must obviously have the essence of the proof itself:  Medical Support.  Without the medical support, one need not consider moving forward at all.

Once the Federal or Postal employee has ascertained that he or she has the medical support to proceed, then the question is one of obtaining the documentation which confirms such support.  For, a pat on the back and a wonderful smile from the doctor will not be persuasive to OPM; the doctor must be willing to document, in detailed format, the support which is expressed.

Next, in sequential order, the medical documentation must reveal, convey, and persuasively reflect, a level of belief which will be tested in the event that the Federal Disability Retirement application is denied at the First Stage of the Process, and further tested if it is denied at the Second, or Reconsideration Stage, of the process.  Thus, in short, the treating or supporting doctor must possess a level of belief in one’s case, and be willing to support that belief throughout the entire administrative process.

Finally, the doctor must be able to make a diagnosis, but more than that, to support the diagnosis, and be willing to make the “nexus” between the diagnosis, the patient’s physical, emotional and cognitive capabilities, and to relate them to one’s positional duties of one’s job.  It is through this process of connecting the dots, where the end-goal is achieved:  of obtaining one’s Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Blunt Clarifications

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 a good idea to distinguish between the entities and issues which will respond favorably or not; the extent of the response; whether straightforward or not.  

Blunt clarifications will provide an effective road map — however, remember that a question asked can provide the wrong type of information to the recipient of the question, and so one must always be careful.  

Where possible, however, it is a good idea to be clear on a road map.  Thus, by way of example, take the following:  The doctors who will be asked to provide medical narrative reports — will they be supportive?  To what extent will they be supportive?  The agency which will be receiving the Federal Disability Retirement application (assuming that the Federal or Postal employee has not been separated from Federal Service for more than 31 days) —  how will they react if they are informed now, as opposed to when the application is submitted?  Will they respond in a negative, reactionary manner, or will the supervisors and chain of command show some empathy and be supportive during the process?  

It is best to be able to gauge the level of support, be able to determine the people who will be favorable, etc.  In the end, of course, it is the medical condition which will determine the plan and course of one’s actions, because the impact of one’s medical conditions upon the ability/inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job may compel the Federal or Postal worker to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  But it is a good thing to know the “road map” and the people along the way, whether supportive, neutral, or negative, in the preparation, formulating and filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: The Essential Points

Becoming embroiled in the minutiae and complexities in the preparation, formulation and filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application is important and necessary; however, in doing so, it is important to make sure that the foundation — the “essentials” — are not overlooked in the process.

Thus, while preparing and formulating the Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, for submission to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, always go back to the three (3) essential elements of a Federal Disability Retirement case:  First, the medical condition itself.  Preparation by the treating doctor of a sufficient medical narrative report is essential to the successful outcome of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  Guidance as to the elements which must and should be contained in the medical narrative report is crucial to the endeavor.  

Second, the position description.  Always remember that it is not only what one is actually doing in a Federal or Postal position (although that is also a part of it), but also what the official position description states that one should be doing, or may be asked to do at any moment (this can become an important part of the argument later against OPM if OPM decides to bring up any issues concerning Agency Accommodations).

Third, the Bridge or Nexus between the Medical Condition and the Position.  This is the important “third rail” of the entire process, which should be delineated first in the medical narrative report prepared by the doctor, as well as described effectively in the Applicant’s Statement of Disability.  Of course, throughout the process, it is important to attend to the details; but never let the complexities of the details sidetrack you from the important essentials 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

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The Unguided Doctor

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is important to guide the doctor into properly preparing and formulating the medical narrative report.

This is not a matter of “telling what the doctor to say”.  The treating doctor is obviously aware of the types of medical conditions that the patient — the Federal worker who is filing for Federal or Postal Disability Retirement benefits — is suffering from.  The doctor’s professional integrity, as to what his or her medical opinions are, should always be preserved and be paramount.  

Further, it is merely a factual issue as to whether the doctor will be supportive of such an endeavor, and such support can only come about by having a direct and frank discussion about the requirements of one’s positional duties and how those positional duties are impacted by one’s medical conditions.  

Rather, the issue of guiding the doctor is one of informing him or her of the particular elements which are necessary and unique in a Federal Disability Retirement application, which must be addressed in a narrative report.  For, otherwise, the unguided doctor will simply issue a narrative report with a different focus and a different end.

Guidance is merely knowing what the goal of a particular activity requires, and unless the treating doctor understands the technical requirements of what is needed (the end-goal), that doctor will merely attempt to meander by accident in a formulation which may include elements which are more harmful, than helpful, in preparing, formulating, and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under either FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Quality & Quantity of Medical Report

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is often asked as to the quantitative sufficiency of the medical documentation to be submitted.

Qualitative sufficiency for Federal Disability Retirement applications, at least on a generic level, is an easy one to answer — the substance of the medical documentation must meet the legal standard of proof.  If the Office of Personnel Management or the Merit Systems Protection Board approves the Federal or Postal employee’s Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, then obviously both the quality and quantity of medical documentation met the standard of proof.  

But an answer based upon “after the fact” circumstances is rarely useful; the generic answer of, “Submit medical evidence such that it meets the legal burden of proof, of Preponderance of the Evidence”, might be well and good, but what does that mean?  

Ultimately, the reason why such questions as to sufficiency of medical documentary submission cannot be answered in a generic manner, is that each particular case is unique, and any imposition of a general rule is dangerous because, the moment the general rule is followed and violated (with a denial from the Office of Personnel Management), then the rule becomes obsolete and irrelevant.  

The quality of the medical documentation to be submitted must ultimately show to OPM that each of the legal criteria are met, and that there is a nexus between one’s medical conditions and the type of work that one performs.  

Quantity of medical documentation is ultimately determined by the quality of the medical narrative.  While generic in scope, the general approach is that one should submit only the extent of medical documentation sufficient to prove one’s case; and in each particular case, what that proof must consist of, is unique, particularized, and ultimately personalized to the individual Federal or Postal Worker who is preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire