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

Disability Retirement for U.S. Federal Government Employees: Context, Sequence & Connections

Often, a potential applicant for Federal Disability Retirement will insist that the origin of the medical condition or injury is important to annotate, for one reason or another.  Unlike OWCP issues, origin and causation is usually of little or no significance in a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS.  Thus, for OWCP Disability, it may be of importance to show that X injury was caused by occupational hazard Y; or that, while on the job on a certain date, the applicant slipped and fell, etc.  In proving OWCP Disability, such “incident-specific” facts are important in establishing causation, in order to determine eligibility and entitlement to OWCP Disability benefits.

For purposes of OPM Disability, however, the Federal or Postal worker who is seeking Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management, does not have to establish such incident-specific facts.  Rather, the focus shifts upon the medical condition, the symptoms, and the impact upon those medical medical conditions and symptoms upon one’s inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, within the last year.  While it may be that some factual context is significant by way of showing a sequence of events from the past, in order to show how the medical condition worsened over time, OPM normally does not care about such historical facts.  While the history of X is interesting, what occurs in the recent-to-present timeframe is what interests OPM.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The (non) Problem of Causality & Causation

In a Worker’s Comp (DOL/OWCP/FECA) case, causation and causality often loom as significant issues, and doctors often have to walk a difficult line in making unequivocal statements, or somewhat equivocating statements, as to the “cause” of a medical condition or injury.  Such statements can sometimes be the singular focus as to the success or failure of an OWCP case.  Why?  Because OWCP compensable injuries and medical conditions must be related to the job — either as something caused by an accident while on the job, or in some way occupationally related. 

In Federal Disability Retirement cases under FERS or CSRS, one can be on a skiing vacation and incur a medical condition or disability, and so long as that person is unable to, because of the medical condition, perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, one is thereby eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS. 

Sometimes, however, the issue of causation comes into the picture, but can work in a detrimental way, but need not.  Let me clarify:  In a chemical sensitivity case, or a psychiatric condition which finds its originating “causation” from the workplace, the doctor may want to relate the “cause” of the medical condition directly to the workplace.  This is fine, so far as it goes — and, ironically, most doctors (because they have no idea about FERS or CSRS disability retirement) think they are doing their patients a favor by relating it as “causally related” to the workplace.  More often than not, however, it can open up a “can of worms” — of being characterized by the Office of Personnel Management as a “situational disability”, which must be avoided like the plague.

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

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: OWCP, Light Duty & Federal Disability Retirement

As I stated in my previous blog, OWCP is not a retirement system. Instead, it is meant to return an injured worker back to productivity with his or her agency. This is done through means of providing for medical treatments; paying the Federal employee temporary total disability benefits during the time of treatment and recuperation; then, if the Federal or Postal employee is unable to return to the former position in full capacity, to offer a “modified position” to the employee.  At each step in the process of OWCP/DOL, the onerous and burdensome hand of the process becomes clear — for, if at any time, the employee refuses to follow the mandates given by OWCP, the real threat of having one’s temporary compensation suddenly terminated is always a possibility. 

Thus, in accepting OWCP benefits, there is a clear trade-off:  tax free compensation for the price of being completely governed by OWCP.  Then, when the modified job offer is given, you have no choice but to accept it, in whatever form, and must be accepted “as is” — otherwise, your temporary total disability payments will be terminated.  Remember, however, that accepting such a position does NOT preclude you from filing for disability retirement benefits, because the case-law governing Federal Disability Retirement has a “safety” feature:  in order to be considered a legally viable “accommodation” under the law, the modified job that is offered and accepted must have been one which was previously in existence, and vacant.  It cannot be your old job slot, modified by a piece of paper prepared by your agency and the Department of Labor.  It must be a true job.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement & Treatment Compliance Issues

While the issue of ‘causality’ is not one which often comes up in OPM disability retirement cases (by obvious contrast, of course, is the fact that causality, whether it was caused while working, on the way to work, outside of the parameters of work, etc, is often an issue in OWCP/DOL cases), there are certain cases where such an issue may be important to address. Baker v. OPM, 782 F.2d 993 (Fed. Cir. 1986) is actually a case which continues to remain of interest, in that, there, the Court noted that where obesity had a causal impact upon the appellant’s back pain, and since the appellant failed to follow medical instructions to lose weight, therefore the cause of the back pain was not as a primary and direct result of a medical condition, but rather because of non-compliance of reasonable available corrective or ameliorative action.

Thus, there are certain areas where you will be in danger of having your disability retirement application denied: one such area, where the Merit Systems Protection Board has been fairly consistent, is non-compliance of a prescribed medication regimen. In other areas, however, especially where surgery is recommended but where the percentage of success cannot be easily quantified, there is much more leeway. Disability Retirement is an area of law which encompasses a wide range of complex and potential “legal landmines”, and it is often a good idea to seek the counsel of an experienced attorney to help guide your way.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire