OPM Form SF 3112C and the Sufficiency of the Physician’s Statement

Confusing necessity and sufficiency is always a precarious matter. That which is necessary may not be sufficient for a given purpose, and failure in understanding such a fundamental distinction can be fatal to a Federal Disability Retirement claim.

SF 3112C requires that a physician complete and provide essential medical information in the pursuance of a Federal Disability Retirement application. The form itself — SF 3112C — is the vehicle by which the medical documentation is obtained. It is “necessary” in the sense that SF 3112C delineates a guideline of the type of information which is needed in order to become eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

The form itself — SF 3112C — however, is to a great extent irrelevant (although, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management has recently required that a signed SF 3112C be included in the final Federal Disability Retirement packet, despite SF 3112E clearly stating that an “equivalency” of the form would satisfy the lack thereof, as in the attachment of the medical documentation itself), and it is instead the medical documentation through which SF 3112C is obtained, which is what is important.

Regardless, while the OPM SF 3112C constitutes the vehicle, is necessary, but is ultimately irrelevant in and of itself, it is a necessary form to the extent that it mandates the delineation of what information is required for eligibility and entitlement to Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Will following the guidelines in accordance with what SF 3112C states, result in a successful OPM Disability claim? That is the question of “sufficiency”, as opposed to “necessity”.

Over the years, case-law and statutory interpretation and expansion of Federal Disability Retirement laws have greatly altered the landscape of a Federal Disability Retirement claim. SF 3112C is the vehicle of necessity, although the form itself is an unnecessary one. The greater question is whether it is sufficient to meet the legal weight of preponderance of the evidence, and that question must ultimately be answered by questioning the efficacy of the form itself.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement Attorney’s blog: The Importance of Coordination

Logic and coordination do not necessarily occur naturally.  The fact that a systematic and logical sequence of events would present themselves in a coordinated manner, does not imply that such coordination was pre-planned.  Rather, it is normally the case that, because X occurs in a logically sequential manner, that therefore a semblance of coordination is implied.  

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Employee Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, it is important to coordinate the various standard government forms — or, at least, the information which is provided in completing such forms.  

There are those forms which the Federal or Postal employee has no direct control over — i.e., the Supervisor’s Statement and the Agency’s Efforts for Reassignment and Accommodation (SF 3112B and SF 3112D).  Then, there are the “superfluous” forms, which merely constitute a checklist of information (e.g., SF 3112E).  But those forms which the Federal or Postal employee are directly responsible for — SF 3107 & Schedules A, B & C for FERS employees; SF 2801 and Schedules A, B & C for CSRS employees; and SF 3112A for both FERS & CSRS employees — should be coordinated with medical reports and records, and any additional documentary support which may be submitted.  

The analyzing agency (in this case, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management) should never be able to use a case against itself by finding inherent contradictions to attack itself.  As such, coordination should — unlike that found in “nature” — be artificially imposed within the logical sequencing of submissions in a Federal Disability Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: The Undisciplined Narrative

‘Discipline’ is a concept which is anathema to the American psyche; for, it is precisely the American character to have unfettered liberty, the ability to “be one’s self”; of self-expressive uniqueness, and to embrace the boldness of the American Dream, as represented by the vast expanse of the American Midwest.

We debate about the constructive use of discipline for our children; complain if the government attempts to discipline our spending habits; and question whether societal constraints should be imposed in our daily lives.  In writing, however, a measure of self-discipline is necessary, if only because the audience for whom one writes will necessarily veto our refusal to discipline one’s writing in a penultimate manner, if we do not:  by refusing to read it.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, one must discipline the writing of the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (Standard Form 3112D), in multiple respects:  in length; in providing historical background; in careful content selection; in answering the questions asked in a relevant and appropriate manner; in avoiding breaching certain taboo subjects which could defeat a Federal Disability Retirement application; in taking on the tone, tenor and texture of objectivity as opposed to pure emotional appeal, etc.

‘Discipline’ is a dirty word in the American lexicon; but in the preparation, formulation and filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application from OPM, it is a necessary clump of dirt which must be sifted, cleansed and appropriately dusted, in order to provide an effective narrative vehicle to have a Federal Disability Retirement application approved by OPM.

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 “Nice” Doctor

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is first and foremost important to have the support of one’s treating doctor.  By “support” is meant that the treating doctor must be willing to spend the time and effort needed to prepare and present a medical narrative which will not only narrate and delineate the diagnoses and symptoms — but beyond that, to take the time to explain the “why” of the nexus between the patient’s medical conditions and the essential elements of one’s job.  

To this extent, of course, the Federal or Postal Worker’s attorney should be of the utmost assistance — to guide the doctor in order to meet the legal criteria for qualifying for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  It is never an issue of telling the doctor “what to say” — the integrity of the medical opinion of the doctor should never be violated.  Rather, it is an issue of explaining the elements and legal criteria which need to be addressed.  

In ascertaining the level of support which a doctor is willing to provide, it is simply not enough to establish the factual foundation that the doctor is very “nice”.  Nice doctors aside — whether in conversation, table manners or a general sense that he or she is genuinely an all-around nice person — the question is, Will the doctor spend the time and effort (and yes, it is proper for the doctor to be reasonably compensated for his time and effort) in preparing a narrative report which addresses the legal elements in order to present a case of medical disability to the Office of Personnel Management?  

It is nice to have a nice doctor; it is even nicer to have a nice doctor who will support one’s Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The Quantitative Approach

The problem with submitting a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS based upon the “quantitative approach” (submitting a voluminous medical file which, by the sheer weight, extent and thickness of the file, reveals the severity of the multiple medical conditions) is that it often fails to provide the proper bridge between the particular medical condition a Federal or Postal employee suffers from, and the impact upon the essential elements of one’s job.

Certainly, medical records, notes, diagnostic test results, etc., can provide a narrative delineation of one’s continuing medical conditions — but the question becomes, a narrative to what end?  The Office of Personnel Management will often review a large stack of medical documentation and simply conclude that there has been insufficient medical documentation, and further, that the medical documentation submitted fails to show that such conditions are severe enough to prevent one from perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job. That is because the mere existence of a medical condition — no matter how extensive such medical conditions have required in terms of hospitalizations, testing, surgical or other procedures, etc. — is not enough to satisfy, by a preponderance of the evidence, the criteria applicable for eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  

Remember, always use the golden rule:  quality over quantity.  And in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, quality means the bridging of that conceptual gap between the medical condition, and the essential elements of one’s job.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Keeping it Simple

In almost all instances, stating the obvious when filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS is the rule to follow.  Another simple rule to follow:  Keep it Simple.  Except in special circumstances (e.g., where there is a nebulous diagnosis and one must interweave multiple symptmatologies in order to bypass the possibility that you may be later precluded from “adding” a “new” medical condition, etc.), it is best to stick to a paradigm of a 1-to-1 ratio or correspondence of medical conditions, symptoms, impact upon work, etc.  

Such a template can be dangerous to follow, however, because any Applicant’s Statement of one’s disability should never appear mechanical or stilted in its tone and tenor.  Emotionalism should not be stripped from an applicant’s statement of one’s disability in a Federal Disability Retirement application and, indeed, sterility should not be a goal to be sought.  

That goal should be from the treating doctor, where technical medical terms present a sense of diagnostic objectivity and scientific validity.  But such simple rules as presenting the correspondence between specific physical conditions with the physical requirements of one’s job, and similarly, between specific psychiatric symptoms with the cognitive requirements of one’s job, is an important “rule” to follow.  Remember, however, that filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is not a “perfect science”; in fact, it is not a science at all, but a mix between law, personal input, and medical facts, with the creative force of persuasion.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Template Approach

The Office of Personnel Management essentially renders both approvals and denials of a Federal Disability Retirement application with a “template” approach.  This is not surprising, but it is little noticed, and this is why:  For disabled Federal and Postal workers who file for Federal Disability Retirements benefits under FERS or CSRS, and who are not represented by a federal disability attorney, it is their “one-and-only” exposure to the Office of Personnel Management.

Thus, if an approval is received, that approval is the first and only time of having any correspondence from the Office of Personnel Management.  Similarly, if a denial is received, then that is the first exposure and contact from the Office of Personnel Management.  There would be no way of knowing whether or not the approval letter, or the denial letter, was or was not a “standard template”.  Certainly, in a denial letter from the Office of Personnel Management, there are references to submitted medical documents, or supervisor’s statement, or some other document which was part of the Federal Disability Retirement application; but the remainder of the denial letter is in “template form”. 

However, when an attorney represents a Federal or Postal worker and receives an initial denial letter, or a denial at the Reconsideration Stage, it is an obvious issue, because any attorney who specializes in Federal Disability Retirement law has viewed hundreds, if not thousands, of such letters.  Why is it important to recognize that the format is in “template” form?  For many reasons.  The type of template; from whom the template is received; the extent of the template; the issues presented in the format; these are all helpful for any experienced Federal Attorney who specializes in Federal Disability Retirement law, to successfully answer such formatted denials.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Knowledge

It has often been noted that “knowledge is power”, which necessarily and logically implies, of course, that lack of knowledge leaves one with weakness.  Preparing a Federal Disability retirement application under FERS or CSRS requires a vast amount of knowledge.

After practicing in this area of law for over twenty (20) years (with my first 10 years involving not only Federal Disability Retirement law, but also including a heavy trial practice, appellate practice and employment law and general practice — with the last 10 years devoted exclusively to disability retirement law), the consistent and persistent need to keep updated on any changes; on case-law updates; on nuances of cases which I may have previously missed — one might think that the practice of law in a specialized field might get easier over the years.

I find that, to remain on top of the constant changes and shifts in the law is an ever-present, all-encompassing endeavor.  One cannot, and must not, put a “generic” case before a Merit Systems Protection Board Judge.  To do so becomes transparent and phony.  The same goes with submitting a generic application to the Office of Personnel Management.  There is no such thing — all Federal Disability Retirement applications must be tailored to fit the individual, and knowledge — and more importantly, greater knowledge — allows for such tailoring.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire