Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The Gatekeeper of Stress

The gatekeeper’s duties encompass the power to determine who enters and exits, and to monitor guests, invitees and generally to control the inflow and outflow of traffic to and from the designated property.

Stress originates from one’s external environment.  It can be physical — as in manual labor which, often because of repetitive use and impact, can result in injuries or occupational hazards; as well as mental and emotional, resulting in secondary or tertiary medical conditions as a natural and direct result thereof.  One often thinks of the gatekeeper as merely he who guards the physical security of a piece of property.  But stress also requires a gatekeeper — especially for the psychological impact which it portends.

In contemplating the preparation, formulation and filing of a Federal and Postal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS, with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, it is important to understand the inherently problematic nature of attempting to feature “stress” as a medical condition itself.  While it may spawn other conditions, because stress is a part of almost every workplace environment, it rarely serves to be a successful “condition” standing alone.  In conjunction with medical conditions often associated with it, however, it can be effectively and persuasively be identified and delineated.

All of us are ultimately gatekeepers for the things which impact our lives.  Each of us have innate spectrums for tolerating varying levels of environmental factors, including workplace stress.  When the gatekeeper allows too many security violations to occur, it may well be a basis for “removal” from the environment.  And while stress itself may not be the single best basis for exiting the environment, there will surely be other medical conditions which result from the stresses, which will justify preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Psychiatric Conditions

Sometimes, it is asked whether or not Psychiatric medical conditions are more difficult to pass through in filing a Federal Disability Retirement application.  Implicit in that question, of course, is whether there still exists an inherent stigma attached to Psychiatric conditions, as opposed to “physical” medical conditions.

Over the years, there has obviously been a cultural transformation in the legitimization, acceptance, and overall recognition that Psychiatric conditions are just as “valid” as any other medical conditions.  With such acceptance and recognition, the increase in applications for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS based upon Psychiatric medical conditions has had a parallel effect, and the short answer is that there really is no greater difficulty or distinction to be made between filing a Federal Disability Retirement application based upon Psychiatric medical conditions as opposed to, or in contradistinction to, non-psychiatric conditions.  

The legal criteria remains the same. From the wide spectrum of Major Depression, Anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Agoraphobia, Panic Disorder, various forms of Paranoia, etc., the preparation, formulation and presentation of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS remains the same:  Obtaining the proper and substantiating medical documentation; forming the narrative bridge between one’s psychiatric medical conditions and the impact upon one or more of the essential elements of one’s job; and making the proper legal arguments, etc.  

Ultimately, one must approach Psychiatric medical conditions in the same manner as non-psychiatric, physical conditions:  by preparing, formulating and filing an excellent narrative presentation of a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Stress

“Stress” is always the “problem child” in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  If a Federal or Postal employee is no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job because of an intolerance to a certain level of stress, then certainly it should be considered as a basis for preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application, either under FERS or CSRS.  However, treatment modalities must be engaged — normally, via a psychiatrist or psychotherapy.

Further, there are always issues which will come about in basing the primary medical condition as “stress” — aside from the fact that it is a generic designation which will often have corollary designations, such as Major Depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, etc.  For example, can one define “tolerance to stress” as an essential element of one’s job?  It is certainly an inherent element, implicit in many multi-tasking jobs and ones which require a high level of responsibilities or is subject to timeliness in quotas and work production.  But when issues concerning stresses which arise as a result of “personnel issues” (i.e., interaction with supervisors, coworkers, etc.), then it becomes a “problem-child” which is best avoided, for numerous reasons, including the possibility and danger of having one’s Federal Disability Retirement application denied based upon a “situational disability“.  Concepts and thoughts to ponder, when preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder is classically characterized by extreme and unpredictable mood swings between depression and manic episodes, and such alternating swings of highs and lows impact upon one’s judgment, perception, orientation, and ability to maintain a rational perspective.  This psychiatric medical condition, with its symptoms of lethargy, racing thoughts, delusional thought processes leading to long periods of excitability, alternating with unrelenting and intractable depressive moods, impacts many different kinds of duties and daily living activities.  It can impact physically-intensive job duties, and not just cognitive-intensive core elements of one’s job. 

For Federal and Postal employees who are contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, it is important to understand the psychiatric medical condition; whether a medication regimen returns one to a sufficient level of functional sufficiency such that one can continue to perform all of the essential elements of one’s job; and, if not, then how best to prepare, formulate, construct and complete a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS.  What is often known as OPM Disability Retirement is a benefit which must be fought for, in order to secure one’s future ability to receive an income — perhaps to reach that level of functionality that one may return to the labor force despite the medical condition.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Anxiety

Anxiety is a special form of a psychiatric disability — one which must be approached with thoughtful care in preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  While often accompanied by Major Depression, and sometimes panic attacks, Generalized Anxiety Disorder will often have corollary discussions in medical treatment and office notes of references to employment issues involving workplace harassment, discrimination, hostile work environments, etc.  Such references to workplace issues can lead to the Office of Personnel Management denying a Federal Disability Retirement application based upon “Situational Disability” — a medical disability which is self-contained within a particular workplace situation, but which may not necessarily extend to a different office environment with the same job requirements.  

To make moot a claim of situational disability, one would have to show that the medical condition — Anxiety — pervades all aspects of one’s life, and is not just circumscribed by the particular harassing environment of a specific workplace, or a Supervisor, or a hostile workplace, etc.  The more one focuses upon the workplace as the instigating causal force behind one’s anxiety, the more it will compound the problem of being deemed a “situational disability” in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  Ultimately, it is irrelevant what “causes” the anxiety; the important thing is that a person suffers from a medical disability, and the primary focus should be upon treatment of that condition.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Psychiatric Disabilities — Origin versus Situational

While the issue concerning “situational disability” has been previously discussed and written about in my various blogs and articles, it is helpful to keep in mind certain conceptual distinctions when preparing to file for Federal or Postal Disability retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  

The concept normally applies to psychiatric disabilities, and specifically to two major areas:  Major Depression and Anxiety.  The paradigm of such a case often involves a Federal or Postal worker who has had some difficulties, conflict with, harassment by, etc., a supervisor or coworker within the agency. The Federal or Postal worker begins to manifest symptoms of anxiety, depression, panic attacks, etc.  An EEO Complaint is filed; a grievance is filed; perhaps, several such alternative venues of legal processes are utilized.  Despite fighting back, the hostile work situation fails to resolve itself.  More importantly, the psychiatric medical condition continues to worsen.  

Does this simple hypothetical constitute a basis for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, or is it precluded by the legal preclusion of “situational disability”?  As with all generic paradigms, the answer is:  It all depends.  

One must look at the chronicity of the psychiatric medical condition; whether the symptoms pervade all aspects of the life of the Federal or Postal Worker; to what extent the psychiatric medical conditions impact his or her ability to perform the essential elements of the job; and to what extent the Federal or Postal worker can perform such a job in a different environment.  It is in the details of the conceptual distinctions made, which determine the course of viability in filing for Federal or Postal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: Psychiatric v. Physical Disabilities

People continually inquire as to the difference between Psychiatric v. Physical disabilities, as to whether one is more amenable to an approval over the other.  Psychiatric conditions can include a wide range of variables — from Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Major Depression, Anxiety, panic attacks, Agoraphobia, ADD/ADHD, and multiple other diagnoses.  Physical medical conditions, also, include a wide spectrum of disorders — Cervical, Thoracic or Lumbar conditions; various cardiac conditions; Carpal Tunnel Syndrome; Fibromyalgia; Chronic Fatigue Syndrome; Shoulder Impingement Syndrome; Plantar Fasciitis; Migraine headaches; Lupus; Chemical Sensitivity issues; allergies; COPD; and multiple other conditions.  Is there a difference between these (and the listed conditions are by no means meant to be exhaustive, but merely illustrative of the wide range of medical conditions)?  The answer is, ultimately, No. 

The foundational essence of a Federal Disability Retirement case, whether involving Psychiatric disabilities or Physical disabilities, is the impact upon one’s ability to continue to perform all of the essential elements of one’s job.  Further, recent case law holds that OPM cannot make a distinction between “objective” medical evidence as opposed to “subjective” medical evidence, and so the old distinction between “psychological” medical conditions as distinguished from “physical” medical conditions can no longer be seriously upheld.  Ultimately, and fortunately, there is no difference between psychiatric disabilities and physical disabilities when trying to get approved for a Federal Disability Retirement case under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Spouse

I find that when a person is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS, an important component which is often overlooked is the supportive spouse.  I often get calls concerning various aspects of the Disability Retirement process — not from the applicant, but from the spouse.  And, indeed, this is natural, because often the medical condition itself is serious enough that the applicant is unable to “handle” or “deal with” the complexities of the process itself.  It becomes further complicated when the medical condition which is suffered is a psychiatric condition — severe Major Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, suicidal ideations, etc.

However, whether it is psychiatric or physical, a supportive spouse — or “significant other” — is often very, very important to the success of the entire process.  Obviously, as an attorney who represents “the Client“, I must be careful that there is never a conflict between the Applicant (my client) and “the spouse”, but that is rare.  In almost all cases, I find that the spouse is looking after the best interest of my client, and I am happy to talk to and update the spouse on any and all issues surrounding a FERS Disability Retirement case, because I know that he/she is looking after the best interests of my client, just as I want to.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire
Federal Disability Retirement Attorney

OPM Disability Retirement: The Law

I will be writing an article of greater length on this issue, but suffice it for now that when “the law” works, it works well. A major second case has been decided in favor of the Federal employee — first, it was Vanieken-Ryals v. OPM, 508 F.3d 1034 (Fed. Cir. 2007), and now, Sylvia M. Reilly v. OPM, decided July 15, 2009. Vanieken-Ryals toppled the irrational imposition of a baseless standard by OPM — that there is a distinction to be made between “objective” as opposed to “subjective” evidence concerning medical evidence (example of the absurdity: How do you prove the existence of pain? While an MRI may show a physical condition, you cannot prove that such a physical condition equates to debilitating pain, leaving aside any quantification of pain. Similarly, how do you prove the existence of Major Depression? Anxiety? Panic attacks?).

Now, Reilly v. OPM has toppled another idol of a false standard imposed by OPM: that medical documentation which post-dates separation from Federal Service is near-irrelevant. This has never made sense, for at least 2 reasons: first, since a person is allowed to file for Federal Disability Retirement within 1 year of being separated from service, why would medical documentation dated after the separation be considered irrelevant? Second, medical conditions rarely appear suddenly. Most conditions are progressive and degenerative in nature, and indeed, that is what the Court in Reilly argues. Grant another win for the Federal employee, the law, and the process of law. It makes being a lawyer worthwhile when “the law” works.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Trying it Without an Attorney

I get calls all the time by people who tell me that they thought their particular Federal Disability Retirement case was a “slam dunk”; that the medical documentation was there; that everything looked like it should be approved at the first level.  Then, there are people who tell me the same thing after the second, Reconsideration denial — that he or she thought it should definitely pass through.  But law, and especially administrative law before the Office of Personnel Management, has peculiarities beyond a surface, apparent reality.  There is a process and a methodology of obtaining disability retirement. Can a federal disability attorney guarantee the success of a disability retirement application?  No.  Does an individual applicant have a better chance with the assistance of an attorney who specializes in disability retirement law?  In most cases, yes.  Aren’t there applicants who file for disability retirement, without the assistance of an attorney, who are successful?  Yes.  Should everyone who files for disability retirement hire an attorney?  Not necessarily. 

When I speak to a client, I try and place him or her on a spectrum — and on one side of that spectrum is an individual who works at a very physical job, and who has such egregious physical medical disabilities; on the other side of the spectrum is an individual who suffers from Anxiety, who works in a sedentary administrative position (please don’t misunderstand — many people who suffer from anxiety fall into the “serious” side of the spectrum, and I am in no way attempting to minimize the psychiatric disability of Anxiety).  Most people, of course, fall somewhere in the middle.  Yes, I have told many people to go and file his or her disability retirement application without an attorney.  There are those cases which are so egregious, in terms of medical conditions, that I do not believe than an attorney is necessary.  However, such instances are rare.  Thus, to the question, Should everyone who files for Federal disability retirement under FERS & CSRS hire an attorney?  Not necessarily — but in most cases, yes.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire