Physical and Mental Conditions in Federal OPM Disability Retirement Claims: Ahead of the Proverbial Curve

Trends are often characterized by the actions of a few.  Whether in cultural expectancies via movie moguls, fashion designers, technology innovators and convention-busters, the known so-called leaders who stay ahead of the proverbial “curve” which maintains the continuum of linear stability in a given society, often dictate the direction of an otherwise directionless future.

The ivory tower of academia is another such bastion of proclivities where, if observed carefully, can infer a discernment for future waves to come. The views of sociologists, psychologists, philosophers and economists (to name just a few “ists” within the self-vaunted world of esoteric penumbras; note, however, how the “philosopher” is not termed the “philosophist” — why is that? Perhaps because there was a desired disassociation with sophistry?) preview a trend of forthcoming conundrums impacting a society.

In the pragmatic world in which most of the rest of society inhabits, however, the dualism pronounced (and in many sectors of philosophy, denounced) concerning the bifurcated universe of the cognitive as opposed to the physical, continues to be debated. Dennett, consciousness, Nagel, Scruton, and the continuing debate over whether human consciousness can be reduced through the scientific language-game of mere biological processes, rages on in the ivory towers of conceptual constructs.

In the real world, this debate is reducible to the pragmatic question of whether psychiatric conditions are “as acceptable” as physical manifestations of traumatic conditions. For the Federal employee and the U.S. Postal worker who is contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the question of whether it is “more difficult” to win a Federal Medical Retirement claim from OPM is one which overwhelmingly can be answered in a positive, pro-worker manner: today, fortunately, there is little distinction to be made between psychiatric health problems and physical health problems.

Major Depression, Anxiety, panic attacks, Bipolar Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorders, suicidal ideations, nervous breakdowns, etc. — all are viable bases upon which to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, on a par with physical conditions of chronic pain, cervical and lumbar dysfunctions, shoulder impingement syndrome, Crohn’s Disease, etc.  Descartes’ dualism cannot be found in the world of OPM and in the filing for a Federal Medical claim of disability.

The proverbial curve of societal trends is often determined by those at “the top”; but in the case of acceptance of psychiatric conditions in comparative analysis to physical conditions in the filing for Federal Disability benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the trend of acceptance on a par for both was established long ago, probably as a result of the reality of either and both conditions, and the realization by the bureaucracy that however you term the condition, the importance of a Medical Disability Retirement claim finds its essence on the impact of one’s ability or inability to perform all of the essential elements of one’s positional duties.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

Federal Disability Retirement and the Inescapable Bureaucracies

The gargantuan of Leviathans is the Federal entity with a bureaucracy so expansive that identities of Federal employees are not merely never recognized, but to a great extent, irrelevant. Certain agencies fall into that category: The Department of Defense; The Department of Homeland Security; the Department of Veterans Affairs; The Department of Agriculture, with all of their subsidiary services, including the U.S. Forest Service; The U.S. Department of Justice; and, further, the U.S. Postal Service probably qualifies in that category of large, subsuming organizations where one’s identity of any sense of “self”is lost within the overwhelming size of the bureaucracy.

For the Federal employee or the Postal worker who is employed by such organizations, or any of the lesser ones (i.e., U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration; Department of Commerce; NOAA; Department of Energy; Department of — and one may almost be able to simply insert any pragmatic noun or adjective, and there is a department or agency which fits the bill), the intersection of a medical condition which begins to impede one’s ability and capacity to perform the full positional duties of one’s job, becomes a double-edged sword: On the one side of the equation, being an employee of a large organization can mean that one can, with some success of anonymity, continue to work without much notice, so long as the immediate supervisor or other coworkers do not take note; on the other side of the sharpened sword, is the reality that if such an organization begins to take punitive and adverse actions, it is difficult to fight against the compendium of agency tactics.

Whether the agency notices or not, the Federal employee and the U.S. Postal worker has an absolute right to file for CSRS or FERS Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, so long as certain prefatory legal criteria are met.  For the Federal employee or Postal worker under FERS, a minimum of 18 months of Federal Service is required. For the quickly-fading dinosaur of CSRS employees, the minimum requirement of 5 years of Federal Service is required. In either case, if a Federal employee or Postal worker begins to suffer from a medical condition, such that the medical condition prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, then it is time to consider filing for Federal OPM Disability Retirement benefits, especially if it becomes fairly evident that the medical condition is going to last a minimum of 12 months.

Then comes the next hurdle and realization: While the ill Federal employee or the injured Postal worker is employed by one of those gargantuan entities, the filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application must ultimately be submitted to another Leviathan of sorts: The U.S. Office of Personnel Management. C’est la vie.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The Agency’s Actions

“That which the Federal Agency determines is tantamount to the hand of God — only more powerful.”  Or so it may often seem.  And so the Federal (and Postal) Worker will often wait with trepidation and anxious disturbances, caught in the limbo of a Federal bureaucracy, whether in issuing a leave-restriction letter, a warning, a formal PIP plan, a determination of being fit or unfit for duty, and multiple other actions which will adversely impact upon a Federal worker.

Preemptive actions rarely have any efficacy with a Federal Agency; an appeal to the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board is often seen as a mere formality for the Board to render a decision in the agency’s favor, especially when it comes to agency actions concerning discipline and work; and an EEO complaint, while a tactic for forestalling ultimate decisions, is a burdensome and lengthy process of litigation.

Federal Disability Retirement is often the most advantageous of avenues to pursue, if only because the standard of proof to meet the eligibility criteria is quite low — not the high standard of Social Security Disability, where one must show a deleterious impact upon the daily living abilities, but the much lower standard of being unable to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.

Proactive choices in life are often limited, especially when one is confronted with a seemingly omnipotent entity like a Federal Agency; but Federal Disability Retirement is an existent benefit which allows for the Federal or Postal employee to opt out and reach that rehabilitative period of seclusion, in order to regain one’s health and come back for another day, another fight, another round.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Stress & the Workplace

Taking off from work for a few days because of “stress” may be entirely appropriate; basing a Federal Disability Retirement application through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, upon a “stress claim” may not be the most effective way of formulating one’s case.

Stress is a pervasive factor in all employment atmospheres; whether resulting from overly demanding supervisors, or the self-imposition of time and due-dates, stress is a daily occurrence and reality of the modern technological world.  If we ever thought or believed that technology would reduce the burden of stress, we have been sorely mistaken; for, in this world where instantaneous responses are expected, where emails are sent and received within the blink of a button being pushed; where smartphones hound you with texts and emails; where phone calls and faxes are merely afterthoughts in the business world; stress is an inherent aspect and element in all workplaces.

How one deals with stress; the varying tolerance levels particularized to individual personalities; the level of trigger-points which result in tertiary and consequential medical conditions — it is the latter which must be focused upon when preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. For, while stress itself may not be an acceptable basis for a Federal Disability Retirement application, the resulting medical conditions which manifest themselves as a result of stress likely are.

In the end, attempting to create a stress-free environment is in itself a stressful venture; and one which is not likely to succeed.  Similarly, while stress itself may not be a valid basis for a Federal Disability Retirement case, the medical consequences of stress are likely the foundational basis of an effective application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, submitted to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The Gatekeeper of Stress

The gatekeeper’s duties encompass the power to determine who enters and exits, and to monitor guests, invitees and generally to control the inflow and outflow of traffic to and from the designated property.

Stress originates from one’s external environment.  It can be physical — as in manual labor which, often because of repetitive use and impact, can result in injuries or occupational hazards; as well as mental and emotional, resulting in secondary or tertiary medical conditions as a natural and direct result thereof.  One often thinks of the gatekeeper as merely he who guards the physical security of a piece of property.  But stress also requires a gatekeeper — especially for the psychological impact which it portends.

In contemplating the preparation, formulation and filing of a Federal and Postal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS, with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, it is important to understand the inherently problematic nature of attempting to feature “stress” as a medical condition itself.  While it may spawn other conditions, because stress is a part of almost every workplace environment, it rarely serves to be a successful “condition” standing alone.  In conjunction with medical conditions often associated with it, however, it can be effectively and persuasively be identified and delineated.

All of us are ultimately gatekeepers for the things which impact our lives.  Each of us have innate spectrums for tolerating varying levels of environmental factors, including workplace stress.  When the gatekeeper allows too many security violations to occur, it may well be a basis for “removal” from the environment.  And while stress itself may not be the single best basis for exiting the environment, there will surely be other medical conditions which result from the stresses, which will justify preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Claims of Stress

“Stress”is a phrase which is used to describe a myriad of conditions, circumstances and origins of countless medical conditions.  The word itself is malleable and elastic, and can be used in multiple forms — as an adjective, noun, verb, etc.  As a term of common usage to describe the workplace, it is accepted as an inherent part of any job encapsulating a set of responsibilities, because of the accompaniment of positional duties, time management, goal-orientation, and working cooperatively with others in unison and common coordination of efforts.

In the context of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the term itself will appear repeatedly throughout — in medical reports, in an Applicant’s Statement of Disability, and even in a Supervisor’s Statement.

In most circumstances, the term “stress” is used in a grammatically loose sense, and as a secondary identifier of a medical condition, as opposed to a primary diagnosis of a medical condition.  To assert that one “suffers from stress” is a generalization which normally requires greater particulars, and rather describes one in a series of multiple symptoms rather than a conceptually clear diagnosis which is accepted in the medical community.

Moreover, such a statement implies that the “sufferer” of the “stress” receives such a condition and is responding to a particular source of such suffering — i.e., a specific workplace.  This is where “situational disability” is then alleged, and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management will deny a Federal Disability Retirement application based upon such an assumption and implication.

There are ways to counter such assertions, implications and inferences, but such inoculation against such a charge must be addressed at the outset, not in the middle (although, in most cases, such mistakes can indeed be corrected), of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Different Agencies

The question is sometimes asked as to whether, in filing for a Medical Retirement from the Office of Personnel Management, it makes a difference whether the Attorney has previously dealt with a particular Agency of the Federal Government.  

Ultimately, whether it is the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration, Customs & Border Protection, Department of Agriculture, Department of the Army, Navy, Air Force, etc., or the multitudinous variety of other departments, including the U.S. Postal Service, Department of State, Securities & Exchange Commission, Social Security Administration, NASA, NOAA, NIH, etc., it matters not. Agencies are made up of individuals.

Whether individual supervisors or Human Resources Departments are “helpful” or not, depends not upon an Agency, but upon the very individuals who comprise the corporate culture of the agency.  Certainly, the tone and tenor of the Department head, and the deliberate compilation of an unpleasant group of supervisors can make a difference in the cumulative culture which conducts business, but for purposes of a medical retirement under FERS or CSRS, the focus needs to be upon the medical conditions, the impact of the medical conditions upon one’s positional requirements, and obtaining the proper documentation to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that one is eligible and entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  

Having prior experience with a multitude of different agencies, over many years, is helpful in recognizing those issues which are central to a Federal Disability Retirement case, and those issues which are and should remain peripheral to a case.  Whether a particular agency or department has been specifically encountered in the past is of far less relevance.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire