Federal Disability Retirement: Dependent Contextual Information

The historical context of one’s medical condition is an issue which is mostly irrelevant for the First and Second Stages of a Federal Disability Retirement application, submitted to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS. This is because OPM is not interested — or, more accurately, the law does not recognize as relevant in analyzing the eligibility criteria applied in a Federal Disability Retirement application — of “how” or “why”.

While such contextual information may be relevant for OWCP/FECA cases because of the issue of causality and its importance in such cases, the overriding and determining factor in a Federal Disability Retirement application is whether a Federal or Postal employee has a medical condition; how that medical condition prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job; and whether the medical condition will last a minimum of 12 months.

Outside of that contextual information (actually, such information is more accurately identified as content-information), OPM in pragmatic terms has no patience for the historical background of such information.  Obviously, however, some contextual narrative should be included in any Applicant’s Statement of disability, in order to make the statement meaningful.

One last point:  While historical context may not be relevant for the Initial Stage and the Reconsideration Stage, it may be very important if one finds oneself before an Administrative Judge at the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

USPS and Federal Disability Claims: Medical Conditions which Predate Federal or Postal Employment

Often, there is a concern about medical conditions which one suffers from, which “predate” employment in the Federal Sector, or with the U.S. Postal Service.  Such conditions are often identified as “preexisting medical conditions” — meaning, thereby, that they exist prior to an event.

In the context of OWCP (Federal Worker’s Compensation), under the aegis of the Department of Labor, such an issue normally involves the assertion and allegation (by the Department of Labor, Office of Worker’s Compensation Programs) that a Medical Condition-X already existed prior to Event-Y — the latter normally constituting the “on-the-job” accident or occurrence, or an occupational disease, etc.  Because causation — the “what caused the injury” issue — is important in OWCP/DOL cases, the concern of preexisting conditions is normally a point of contention between the Federal worker and the Federal Government/Department of Labor.

However, in OPM Disability Retirement cases, because causation is not an “issue” of concern (the “how” or “where” it happened is not a relevant legal criteria of proof), it rarely becomes a point of conflict between the Office of Personnel Management and the Federal or Postal employee.

It can become of interest, however, for the Office of Personnel Management, in a Federal Disability Retirement application, if a Federal or Postal worker has been hired and working in a particular job, with a specific medical condition for many years, successfully, but then files for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  The reason it may become of some interest, however, is not as to the “causation” issue (of the “how” or “where” it happened), but rather, to the question:  Why is it that the Federal or Postal employee who has had a Medical Condition-X all of these years can now claim not to be able to perform Essential Elements Y & Z now?

That is the point where a medical condition existing prior to one’s Federal or Postal employment may be of some interest to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  It is, however, easily addressed; it just needs to be discussed in the right way.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: Psychiatric Disabilities — Origin versus Situational (Continued…)

The “origin” of a medical disability, from the perspective of a Claims Representative at the Office of Personnel Management, may be relevant for purposes of adjudicating a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  Note that physical disabilities rarely become an issue in the context of the origination of the medical disability, precisely because it is irrelevant whether or not a medical disability occurred on the job or not.

The origin of a psychiatric disability, however, is potentially relevant from OPM’s perspective, because it may give rise to the argument that it is a “situational” disability — one that is contained, limited, and ultimately circumscribed within the situation of the particular office of the specific agency in which the Federal or Postal Worker works.  

Thus, from this argument, the logical extrapolation is that while the Federal or Postal worker is unable to work in the specific office or location, he or she is nevertheless able to perform all of the essential elements of the particular job — but in another agency, another office, another location, etc.  Thus, the concept of “situational disability” arises, with the consequential argument that one is in fact NOT prevented from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job — but rather, it is the “situation” which is at fault. This is why the citation of correlative EEOC complaints, hostile work environment accusations, etc., are dangerous to make in the context of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Agency Interaction

Federal Agencies often act like little fiefdoms.  This is not necessarily a negative thing; each agency is an independent entity, and each has a province of responsibilities which it must carry out and execute according to the statutory mandate provided by Congress.  As independent entities, each agency acts without coordination or regard to other agencies. 

Thus, while approval for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration will mean an offset of monetary payments under FERS, such interaction between the two agencies simply goes to the financial payments — not to the substantive issues of approval or disapproval of a disability retirement claim.  Similarly, while receipt of temporary total disability payments from the Office of Worker’s Compensation Programs means that you cannot concurrently receive payments under CSRS or FERS disability retirement (unless you are receiving a scheduled award from OWCP/DOL), the substantive basis of approval or denial of a claim rarely overlaps.  This is because each agency has its own independent criteria for eligibility — meaning that, for Social Security, the “disability” has a higher standard of “total disability”, whereas under FERS & CSRS, it is a lower standard of “inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job”.  Similarly, with OWCP/DOL, the issue of “causality” and whether it is “work-related” is often the important component of consideration. 

All of this is not to say, however, that an approval of a disability benefit from one agency,or a report from a doctor considered for one benefit, should not be used by the applicant for submission to another agency.  Indeed, this should be done — but carefully, and with thoughtfulness. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: A New Beginning

After representing so many Federal and Postal employees over these many years, there are stories which continue to sadden me; as with all professionals, I attempt to bifurcate my life, and not get “personally” involved with my cases.  To blur the lines between providing sound and effective legal advice, and getting “involved” in the personal tragedies of my clients, would certainly undermine the professional effectiveness needed in providing for my clients.  To a great extent, I am successful. Every now and then, however, I am informed of a tragedy — and it touches me. Perhaps that is a good thing; for one can become insensitive, or “de-sensitized” in a way that can be detrimental.

I try and explain to many people that getting Federal Disability Retirement benefits should never be a judgment upon one’s career — let alone one’s life. A career can span a lifetime, or it can extend for a couple of years (i.e., at least the 18 months of Federal Service that is needed to even qualify under FERS). However long, to come to a point in one’s career where it becomes necessary to acknowledge to one’s self that certain medical conditions are directly impacting one’s ability to perform the essential elements of the job — such an admission should never be interpreted to mean that such a circumstance has somehow devalued the worth of a person.  Human beings are complex entities, bundled up by personality, uniqueness, family, job, hobbies, thoughts — a compendium of a history of one’s life.  Note that I merely inserted the concept of “job” within a sequence of many facets.  And, indeed, one’s job is important — it takes us away from the many other bundles of our lives, and forces us to expend 8, 10, 12 or more hours per day, Monday thru Friday, and some weekends, too.  But that which takes up a large quantity of our time does not necessarily or logically result in the definitional essence of a human being; the fact that we spend a great deal of time in the bathroom does not mean that such an activity defines our “essence”.  “Worth” of a human being attaches to each of us, and is inseparable from each human being.  One’s job and career constitute only a small part of us.  Let’s keep that in mind, and in its proper perspective.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The OWCP Danger of Complacency

I have had far too many calls by individuals who were complacent with being on OWCP/DOL temporary total disability compensation. The old adage, “Ignorance of the law is not an excuse”, is still generally true. It is the responsibility of the Federal or Postal employee to file for Federal Disability retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS in a timely fashion — within one (1) year of being separated from Federal Service.  The fact that an individual is on the rolls of Worker’s Comp, receiving Worker’s Comp, receiving a scheduled award, going through rehabilitation or job retraining does not protect or extend the Statute of Limitations of 1 year.  Many people, especially Postal Workers, become separated from service without being properly notified.  A hint:  If you all of a sudden stop receiving those “Zero-balance” pay checks, chances are, you have been terminated & separated from service.  The burden is on the Federal employee to keep on top of things:  ask for your PS Form 50, or SF-50, whichever the case may be; call your agency on a regular basis to make sure that you are still on the rolls of the Agency.  If you have been separated from service, a personnel action should have been initiated.  From that moment — when you have been separated from Federal Service — you have one — I emphasize and reiterate — ONE YEAR from the date of separation from Federal Service to file for disability retirement benefits.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire