Federal Disability Retirement Claims: Mental Health, Stress and First Steps

Disquietude is a negation of a former state of being.  Perhaps it is merely a retrospective re-characterization or romanticization of a time or status that never was; or, maybe even a partial remembrance of a slice of one’s life measured as a fullness in comparison to what is occurring in the present.

Regardless (as opposed to the nonsensical, double-negative modern vernacular of “irregardless”), to have a sense of disquietude implies of a former time, event, or state which had a greater positive light than the present one.

And it is in this context that the Federal or Postal Worker who begins to contemplate filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether the Federal or Postal worker is living in California, Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Minnesota or Texas (have we effectively zig-zagged a sufficiency of states in order to make the point, yet, or perhaps we need to include Arizona, Georgia, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin in order to make the point), that one must understand the greater bureaucratic involvement which one needs to undertake before engaging the complexity of the process of a Federal Disability Retirement application.

First, it is a Federal issue, and therefore, it will be unlikely that one will find, for example, a Florida Federal Disability attorney, or an Oregon, Kentucky or Louisiana Federal Disability lawyer; for, it matters not whether or not the lawyer lives in, or is licensed in a particular state, precisely because this is a Federal issue, and not a state issue.

Second, Mental Health issues — aside from being a valid and viable basis for a Federal Disability Retirement application — can either stand alone, or be in combination with a physical disability (isn’t it interesting how we bifurcate “mental” as opposed to “physical”, whereas both are part of the same physiological state of a person?).  Sometimes, mental health issues stand alone; other times, they can be concurrent medical conditions, or secondary ones.

Third, stress is a basis for a Mental Disability Retirement claim, although it must be properly and carefully approached because of issues concerning situational disabilities.

And Fourth, how one approaches the first steps in preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application, will often determine the success or failure of the disability case.

Overall, it is the plan itself, the cogency of the approach, and the gathering of the proper documentation, which will determine the efficacy of those first steps, and whether the stress, mental and physical health of one’s being, will be relieved as a result of filing for a Federal Disability claim.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Discretion in a Response

When a Federal Disability Retirement applicant under FERS or CSRS receives an unfavorable response from the Office of Personnel Management (translated:  an initial Denial), you have the right (which must be asserted in order to move forward in the future, i.e., to the MSPB and beyond) to file a Request for Reconsideration.  If you receive a second denial, then the only response required (and which should and must be asserted) is an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board.  A response to the initial denial, however, should include a reply to the (often) detailed “discussion” section of the denial letter. 

Normally, when I file a response (in addition to obtaining additional medical documentation from the doctors, and any other substantiating documentation which may be relevant), I normally write up a 5 – 7 page responsive legal memorandum rebutting the denial letter.  Now, this is where “discretion” is necessary.  Upon an initial reading of a denial letter, one’s first response is normally not that which one should act upon, because it is often a reaction of, “What???”   Discretion is a virtue to follow; there must be a proper balance between responding to every single criticism from OPM (not a good idea), to ignoring everything in the denial letter (also not a good idea), to choosing two or three of the more substantive issues brought up and addressing those issues.  How to address them, with what tone, what manner & style, etc., is what an attorney is for.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Standard Forms Do Not Mean “Standard Responses”

The problem with “Standard Forms” is that they often appear to solicit “standard responses”, and in a Federal Disability Retirement case under the Federal Employees Retirement Systems (FERS) or the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), nothing could be further from the truth.  Indeed, it is often because a Federal or Postal employee/applicant who confronts and begins to fill out SF 3112A, Applicant’s Statement of Disability, the very “blocked” appearance of the form, and the constricting questions themselves, makes it appear as if a “standard response” is required.  Don’t be fooled.

By way of example, take a “special animal” — that of a Federal Aviation Administration Air Traffic Controller who must take a disqualifying medication, loses his or her medical certification from the Flight Surgeon, and thinks that filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is a “slam dunk”.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Or, a Customs & Border Patrol Agent who goes out on stress leave, or suffers from chronic back pain.  Are there “standard responses” in filling out an Applicant’s Statement of Disability?  There are certain standard “elements” which should be considered in responding to the questions, but don’t be constricted by an appearance of “standard responses” to a “standard form”.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Interaction with EEOC & Other Legal Processes

I am often asked if other legal processes already filed — an EEOC Complaint, a corollary adverse action being appealed, etc. — will have an impact upon a Federal Disability Retirement application.  My general answer is, “No, it will not have an effect upon filing for Federal Disability Retirement.”  The second question which often follows, is:  What if the EEOC filing contradicts the Federal Disability Retirement application?  While the full answer to such a question will differ from case to case, depending upon the peculiar and particular circumstances of each individual case and application, my standard response to the second question will often contain a responsive query:  Have you ever heard of an attorney speaking out of two or three (or four) sides of his mouth?  As attorneys, we make multiple (and sometime contradictory) arguments all the time.  I am not concerned with the factual or legal arguments in a concurrent/parallel EEOC case; my job is to make sure that my client obtains a disability retirement — and if it somewhat contradicts the arguments made in an EEOC complaint, so be it — for, after all, I’m merely an attorney, and such inherent contradictions only prove the fact that lawyers have at least four sides to every mouth.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Social Security Disability

Under the rules concerning FERS disability retirement applications, one must file for Social Security Disability.  As most people already know, there is an interaction/offset between Social Security Disability benefits and FERS disability benefits, if both are approved (100% offset in the first year of annuity, 60% offset every year thereafter).  One would assume (dangerously, as it turns out), that if an application for Social Security disability is approved, that it would automatically render an approval under FERS disability retirement a “sure” thing.  Nothing could be further from the truth. 

The fact that Social Security has a higher standard of proof — where one must be considered “totally disable” as opposed to (under the legal standards for FERS) “disabled from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job”) — one would think that, legally and logically, if you have met the higher legal standard of proof, then the lesser standard would have been automatically met.  Unfortunately, because the two standards are applied in different, independent agencies, the fact that Social Security Disability benefits are awarded is not a guarantee that the FERS disability retirement application will automatically be granted.  However, there is clear case-law stating that OPM must consider the approval by SSD as one factor among many in the consideration of FERS disability retirement applications.  It is important to cite such cases in support of your application for FERS disability retirement.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Summer Doldrums & the Physician’s Statement

I have often pointed out in past blogs and articles that I do not have my clients sign the Physicians Statement (SF 3112C), for multiple and various reasons, not the least of which is that it is a confusing form, and in smaller print than necessary, leaving the impression to the doctor that what is requested is far more complex than what is actually required.  In its place, for my clients, I write a 4 – 5 page letter outlining the type of medical narrative report which I need.  This is the summer months; everyone from OPM representatives to lawyers, to doctors and Federal and Postal employees, take time off to recover from the hard work throughout the rest of the year.  When doctors take off for some “summer fun”, it just means that they have less time to spend on administrative matters — such as writing up a medical narrative report for their patients.  Because of this, it is important to try and simplify the matter as much as possible, and a blanket submission of the SF 3112C without some explanatory guidance, is not the best course of action.  Doctors need guidance, and in this busy world, it is best to streamline the process for them as much as possible.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill

OPM Disability Retirement: Representation Anywhere

I receive multiple calls weekly asking whether I have a satellite office in a particular state.  The answer:  No, but Federal Disability Retirement law is a federal issue, not a state issue, and that is why I am able to represent Federal and Postal employees from all across the United States.  It matters not whether a Federal or Postal employee is in California, Alaska, Mississippi or Florida.  I have represented individuals from every state, including Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Europe, Japan, Korea, etc.  Modern technology has allowed for such representation, and I am able to communicate with each of my clients, effectively and efficiently, via Express Mail, email, fax, telephone, cell phone, Federal Express, UPS, and every kind of electronic & physical transportation & communication system.  Modern technology certainly has its drawbacks; it has, in many ways, made life more complex.  Yet, at the same time, it has given me the honor of representing a wide range of Federal and Postal employees from everywhere, and to be able to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits for a wide range of interesting people, in interesting jobs, in a variety of Federal Agencies, suffering from multiple medical disabilities, ranging from psychiatric disabilities to severe and chronic physical disabilities. No, I do not have a satellite office in your state — but I am able to communicate with each of you, and represent each of you, as if I was right there in your particular town.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire