OPM Disability Retirement: Opinions, OPM and Power

In filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, one must always be aware of the distinction between the two — opinions and power — and apply it with that awareness in filing an application for Federal Disability Retirement to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).  

There will be multiple opinions involved in any Federal Disability Retirement packet — the opinion of the medical doctor who is treating the applicant; the opinion of the applicant as to one’s ability or inability to perform some, which or all of the essential elements of one’s job; the opinion of the Supervisor or someone at the Agency on multiple issues, rendered in the Supervisor’s Statement and the Agency’s Certification for Reassignment and Accommodation; and the “opinion” handed out by the Office of Personnel Management as to whether all of the compendium of opinions, collectively gathered to present the evidence for approval in a Federal Disability Retirement application, constitute sufficient evidence such that it meets the preponderance of the evidence in proving one’s case.  It is thus helpful to understand that all of these identifiable propositions are all “opinions”.  

The one distinction, however, is that the opinion of the Office of Personnel Management carries with it the power of approval or disapproval, and so one may designate it as carrying more “weight” because it contains an inherent authority which all other opinions lack — that of the power to say yea or nay.  But remember that such power, fortunately, is not absolute, nor necessarily arbitrary and capricious, and there is ultimately an appeal process to have such raw power reviewed for viability and sufficiency.  That is why the validity and force of the “other” opinions is important to maintain — the medical opinion and the opinion of the Applicant — so that when it is reviewed by an Administrative Judge, the integrity of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS may be properly adjudicated.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: The Doctor and the FCE

For whatever reason, the treating doctor — unless he or she is a specialist (i.e., an Orthopaedic Surgeon, a Rheumatologist, a Pain Management Specialist, etc.) — is often uncomfortable and feels a sense of inadequacy in making a determination as to whether a Federal or Postal employee is unable to perform one or more of the essential elements of his or her job.  Under such circumstances, it may be fruitful for physical medical conditions, to undergo a Functional Capacity Evaluation (an “FCE”).  An FCE provides — in addition to “objective” diagnostic test results — an independent basis upon which to rely upon, in formulating a medical opinion.  The FCE provides, for the treating doctor, a “test” upon which the doctor can formulate an opinion, based upon reasonable medical certainty, as to the physical limits, endurance, and capabilities of an individual.  Further, the Office of Personnel Management is often impressed with an FCE.  Ultimately, the medical opinion of the treating doctor, based upon a long history of clinical examinations, diagnoses based upon generally accepted criteria within the medical profession, diagnostic testing, and an attempt at reasonable treatment modalities:  all together, comprise a valid basis for formulating and rendering a medical opinion in a Federal Disability Retirement case.  Nevertheless, if an FCE makes the treating doctor that much more comfortable in coming to a medical opinion, then by all means, go through with the FCE.  It can only make your OPM disability case stronger.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: Are all Doctors Necessary?

In a Federal Disability Retirement case under FERS or CSRS, is it necessary to obtain the medical opinion of each and every doctor for each and every medical condition listed on the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (SF 3112A)?  To put the question in another way, Must there be a one-to-one correspondence between the medical condition listed or described, and the doctor who is specifically treating the medical condition

Certainly, in today’s world of medicine, where specialization is the key to treatment because of the complexity of each field of medicine and the successful treatment of diseases and medical conditions, it has become a fact of life that patients are “referred out” to various specialists.  Thus, the Primary Care Physician is often merely the “gate-keeper” of referrals, coordinating the medical treatment of a patient by overseeing the referrals to various specialists who treat various medical conditions. An applicant for Federal or Postal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS who must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, his or her eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, must submit substantiating medical documentation to prove his or her entitlement.  As with all such questions, the answer is, “It depends”.  A one-to-one correspondence is not necessarily required; where helpful, of course, the referral specialist’s medical opinion should be used.  However, one should never underestimate the importance and force of the coordinating physician — the Primary Care Physician himself/herself.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire