OPM Disability Retirement: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome & Related Conditions

The Weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal published an informative article entitled, “The Puzzle of Chronic Fatigue“.  For Federal and Postal employees who are considering filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, who suffer from the condition identified generally as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, the article provides an informative analysis of the medical condition, as well as a greater understanding of the underlying causes — and a possible link to a retrovirus identified as XMRV.  

It is an article worth reading, if only to have a better understanding.  Perhaps it can be pointed out to the treating doctor.  Perhaps some of the article’s substantive content can be used as persuasive argumentation against some of the common counter-arguments given by the Office of Personnel Management in filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  

In any event, being informed about updates on medical issues is always an important step in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, if only for the purpose of expanding one’s ability to access greater understanding of a particular kind of medical condition.  For, ultimately, the attorney who represents an individual who is considering filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS must be able to accurately describe the impact of the medical condition upon one’s employment; and, to do so, one must always be up-to-date on the most recent medical discoveries.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: The "Lost Cause" Case

Often, an approval for a Federal Disability Retirement case will come in the mail, and the client will state, “I never thought I would see it approved.”  It is the job of an attorney who specializes in any area of law, to win the case.  In representing Federal and Postal employees to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the ultimate “win” is to get the approval from the Office of Personnel Management

Some cases are harder to get approved than others; then, there are the “Lost Cause” cases — ones which, for one reason or another, seem to encounter greater obstacles:  from agencies which attempt to undermine the Federal Disability Retirement application, to adverse termination proceedings prior to the filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application; to insufficient medical documentation; and multiple other reasons, there are cases which appear to be lost causes.  Yet, so long as there is another stage of appeal, and so long as there is sufficient merit to a case, one should never give up.  Lost causes are especially triumphant moments for the attorney representing a disabled Federal employee.  For an OPM Disability Retirement case, it is especially sweet to obtain that letter of approval from the Office of Personnel Management, for that case which the client himself/herself believed as a “lost cause”.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal & Postal Disability Retirement: OPM's Words

It is a frightening thought that there may be a percentage of Federal or Postal Federal Disability Retirement applicants who read an initial denial from the Office of Personnel Management, and take their words at face value.  From statements such as, “Your doctor has failed to show that your condition is amenable to further treatments” (by the way, when did the Office of Personnel Management obtain a medical degree or complete a residency requirement?) to “you have not shown that you are totally disabled from performing efficient work” (hint:  this is not Social Security, and the standard is not “total disability”), to a full spectrum of error-filled statements in between, one may suspect that there may be a knowing strategy in rendering a denial, knowing that a small percentage of the corpus of disability retirement applicants will simply walk away and not file a Request for Reconsideration. 

Further, I suspect that this occurs more often with certain more “vulnerable” medical conditions — Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Major Depression, PTSD, anxiety, panic attacks; Chemical Sensitivity cases, etc.  Why do I suspect these?  Mostly because such cases are attacked for “lacking objective medical evidence” (see my articles on Vanieken-Ryals v. OPM, and similar writings) and failing to provide “diagnostic test results”, etc.  There was a time, long ago, when it used to mean something when someone said, “The Government says…”  In this day and age, I would advise that you take it to an attorney to review whether or not the words of the Office of Personnel Management are true or not.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Case of Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is one of those medical conditions that the Office of Personnel Management systematically “targets” as a condition which is prima facie “suspect”. This is despite the fact that there are cases which implicitly “admonish” OPM from engaging in the type of arbitrary reasoning of denying a disability retirement application because they “believe” that “no objective medical evidence” has been submitted, or that the “pain” experienced (diffuse as it might be) is merely “subjective”, or that the chronicity of the pain merely “waxes and wanes”, and a host of multiple other unfounded reasonings. Yet, cases have already placed a clear boundary around such arbitrary and capricious reasonings.

A case in point, of course, is Vanieken-Ryals v. OPM, a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit case, decided on November 26, 2007. In that case, it clearly circumscribes the fact that OPM can no longer make the argument that an Applicant’s disability retirement application contains “insufficient medical evidence” because of its lack of “objective medical evidence”. This is because there is no statute or regulation which “imposes such a requirement” that “objective” medical evidence is required to prove disability. As long as the treating doctor of the disability retirement applicant utilizes “established diagnostic criteria” and applies modalities of treatment which are “consistent with ‘generally accepted professional standards'”, then the application is eligible for consideration. Further, the Court went on to state that it is “legal error for either agency (OPM or the MSPB) to reject submitted medical evidence as entitled to no probative weight at all solely because it lacks so-called ‘objective’ measures such as laboratory tests.” Statues are passed for a reason: to be followed by agencies. Judges render decisions for a reason: for agencies to follow. Often, however, agencies lag behind statutes and judicial decisions. It is up the an applicant — and his or her attorney — to make sure that OPM follows the law.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Federal Disability Retirement: Psychiatric Disabilities

I am often asked, on an initial interview/consultation of a potential client, whether or not psychiatric medical disabilities (Major Depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, PTSD, panic attacks, Bi-polar disorder, etc.) are “more difficult” to prove than physical disabilities. This question is similar, of course, to the question often asked of certain other kinds of disabilities, like Fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and other similar (often designated as “auto-immune” disabilities) medical conditions.

In my experience, there is no single generic answer to the question of whether or not a particular medical disability is “more difficult” to prove than another. In my experience, I have gotten approved an application for Major Depression based upon a single-page note from a Psychiatrist; on the converse/inverse experience, I have had cases rejected at the First Stage of the process (but, fortunately, had the same cases approved at the Second, Reconsideration Stage) showing chronic, failed-back syndrome cases where prior surgical discectomies, multiple diagnostic MRIs showing incontrovertible basis for severe and radiating pain, and multiple specialists verifying the client’s clear and irrefutable inability to perform the essential elements of his/her job. In preparing a Federal disability retirement retirement application, my many years of experience has taught me a number of elementary & foundational lessons: First, a clear and concise presentation of providing a direct nexus between the particular medical condition and the type of job that the Federal/Postal employeee performs, is very important; Second, it is very rarely the volume of records which is convincing; rather, it is the quality of the medical report which is paramount; and Third, it often depends upon which OPM Disability Specialist it is assigned to, which sometimes “makes the difference” between approval and denial.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire