Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Causation Irrelevancy

Causation and the issue of causality involves the occurrence of X as a result of an action Y.  There are direct causes, intermediate causes, interceding causes, etc., which concern whether or not an immediate linkage can be established between the action Y and the effect X.

Thus, if the white billiard ball strikes the Number 7 ball, and the latter moves forward, we say that X (the white ball) caused Y (the Number 7 ball) to move.  On the other hand, if the rooster makes its traditional cry at 7 a.m. as the sun is rising, and does so only when the sun rises, we may informally say, in an imperfect sense of causation, that “because” the sun rose, the rooster crowed.  We rarely ascribe a direct cause between X and Y, however.

For OWCP/Department of Labor cases, causation is a relevant and significant aspect of proving a case — for, in a FECA case, one must prove, as one of the elements of eligibility, the fact that the injury was “caused” by the job, while on the job, while related to the job, etc.  A significant amount of time is thus expended in proving the issue of causality in a Department of Labor, Office of Workers’ Compensation claim.

For FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement cases, however, under the auspices of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, causation is not an issue.  A Federal or Postal Worker can be injured while on vacation; he or she can have the injury while at work, and concurrently (or sequentially) file for OWCP benefits and OPM Disability Retirement benefits; or the injury or medical condition can simply “occur” during his or her tenure with the Federal government.

In any and all events, it is essentially an irrelevancy.  The issue is not “how” it occurred; rather, the point is to show that, once occurred, in what manner does it impact one’s ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job.

While causation in a FERS or CSRS Disability Retirement application may be of some historical interest, it should not be a central focus of any applicant’s statement of disability.  To do so would be to make a peripheral issue a central one, and conversely, to allow for the central issue to become less focused.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Further Clarifications

In order to prepare, formulate, file and qualify for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under either FERS or CSRS, one must have a medical condition such that the medical condition prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  There are, of course, additional minimum eligibility requirements — such as the fact that one must have been a Federal employee for at least 18 months under FERS (and 5 years under CSRS — which is a moot point, obviously, because anyone who finds him/herself under CSRS already has the minimum 5 years), and further, that the medical condition must last for at least 12 months. 

The 12-month/1 year requirement often poses a puzzlement to Federal and Postal employees contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  Often the question is asked whether a Federal or Postal employee must have been “out of work” for at least 1 year; or, just as often, the question of the 12 month length or duration of the medical condition will often be confused with the requirement that a Federal or Postal employee must file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits within 1 year of being “separated” from Federal Service.  Thus, the confusion often becomes coagulated to be interpreted as:  I must be separated from service and suffer from my medical condition for a year.  WRONG. 

Normally, a doctor can provide a “prognosis” when it comes to a medical condition — where the doctor “predicts”, within reasonable medical certainty, that a medical condition will last for a minimum of 12 months, 2-3 years, permanently, etc.  That is all that is required in order to meet the 12-month requirement.  One does not have to suffer for a year, or even for many months, in order to begin the process of preparing, formulating, and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Agency Accommodation Reiterated

In most cases, the agency is unable to accommodate the individual.  By “accommodation” is often meant lessening the workload, or temporarily allowing for the medical conditions resulting in certain limitations and restrictions to be taken into account — for purposes of travel, for sustained periods of sitting, for physical aspects of the job, etc.  But such temporary light-duty allowances do not constitute a legally viable “accommodation”.  But one must always remember that, while such measures by the Agency do not constitute an accommodation under the law, and as such do not preclude a Federal or Postal employee from filing for and being eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, nevertheless, there is nothing wrong with the Agency providing for such temporary light duty modifications of the job.  In fact, it reflects well upon the agency that it would go to such extents, even if for only a temporary period of time, in hopes that the Federal or Postal employee will be able to sufficiently recover to return to “full duty”.  

Remember that there are at least two senses of the term “accommodation” — in the layman’s sense of some temporary measures to allow the employee to continue to work; then, in the legal sense of a viable “accommodation” under the law.  Don’t confuse one with the other.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Years Later, Still On the Rolls of the Agency

The Postal Service is especially guilty of this, but many other Federal (non-Postal) agencies are also “negligent” on the issue of keeping an injured worker on the rolls for years on end.

Often, such “non-existent” Federal and Postal workers receive OWCP payments, or simply go on with their lives while unofficially still a Federal or Postal employee.  Never having been separated from Federal or Postal service, such individuals are still eligible for filing Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS because the 1-year statute of limitations has not been violated.

So long as a Federal or Postal employee files for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS within one year of being separated from service, you have met the statute of limitations.  If you were never officially separated from service, then your 1-year deadline never began.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire