CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: The Uniqueness of Medical Conditions

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS, there are always unique aspects of particular medical conditions which impact upon specific elements of the positional duties of a Federal or Postal employee.

Thus, for example, shoulder problems (rotator cuff tears; shoulder impingement syndrome, etc.) limits the ability to engage in rotational movements, and specifically restricts overhead lifting, or lifting above shoulder-level, and therefore constrains the ability to perform multiple craft-required duties for the U.S. Postal Service.

Similarly, for psychiatric medical conditions, Major Depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Attacks, and similarly oriented psychiatric medical conditions related or on a coordinated spectrum, impact the ability to maintain a sustained analytical perspective and performance of duties.  Thus, for information-based positions (Information Technology Specialist; Budget Analyst; auditors; personnel management duties, etc.), the very cognitive-intensive duties are directly impacted by such uniquely psychiatric conditions.

These examples, however, are merely referential samples, and in no way reflect an exhaustive discussion of how a medical condition impacts a particular kind of job, or the various elements which make up a Federal or Postal job.

Thus, by way of cross-over example, a person who suffers from shoulder pain can be prevented from performing the essential elements of an information-based administrative job, because of the high distractability of the pain, the inability to take pain medications during work hours because of the sedation it creates, and because of the radiating pain and numbness to one’s extremities, preventing the repetitive type of work on a computer keyboard, etc.

Ultimately, one should never think in terms of a one-to-one ratio or correspondence between a specific medical condition and a particular element of a job.  Crossovers of medical conditions and their impact upon a job are ultimately unique to the individual, and it is the job of the OPM Disability Attorney to properly represent that uniqueness.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Psychiatric Conditions

Sometimes, it is asked whether or not Psychiatric medical conditions are more difficult to pass through in filing a Federal Disability Retirement application.  Implicit in that question, of course, is whether there still exists an inherent stigma attached to Psychiatric conditions, as opposed to “physical” medical conditions.

Over the years, there has obviously been a cultural transformation in the legitimization, acceptance, and overall recognition that Psychiatric conditions are just as “valid” as any other medical conditions.  With such acceptance and recognition, the increase in applications for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS based upon Psychiatric medical conditions has had a parallel effect, and the short answer is that there really is no greater difficulty or distinction to be made between filing a Federal Disability Retirement application based upon Psychiatric medical conditions as opposed to, or in contradistinction to, non-psychiatric conditions.  

The legal criteria remains the same. From the wide spectrum of Major Depression, Anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Agoraphobia, Panic Disorder, various forms of Paranoia, etc., the preparation, formulation and presentation of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS remains the same:  Obtaining the proper and substantiating medical documentation; forming the narrative bridge between one’s psychiatric medical conditions and the impact upon one or more of the essential elements of one’s job; and making the proper legal arguments, etc.  

Ultimately, one must approach Psychiatric medical conditions in the same manner as non-psychiatric, physical conditions:  by preparing, formulating and filing an excellent narrative presentation of a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Psychiatric Issues

For Federal and Postal workers who are filing, or contemplating filing, for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the distinction between “physical” medical conditions and “psychiatric” medical conditions are not always so clear and distinct.  While cases can be bifurcated for many clients (where the medical basis upon which a Federal Disability Retirement is based is wholly physical, or entirely psychiatric), often, cases have a “mixed” character to them, where depression, anxiety, panic attacks, etc., arise or become “secondary” to a chronic medical condition.  

The complex interaction between physical pain, chronic medical conditions which impact one’s job, physical abilities, etc., can at their inception be “secondary” in the sense that they have arisen and manifested the symptomatologies “after” or “second to” the original medical conditions.  However, after some time (and this is being stated from a legal perspective reviewing many such instances in filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS), such secondary Major Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and even other psychiatric medical conditions, can become the central or prominent medical condition which forms the basis of a OPM Disability Retirement application.  Thus, that which was once “secondary” does not always remain so; it can become the primary basis.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Attorney

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Psychiatric Disabilities

Perhaps there will always be a suspicion that a distinction is made by a governmental entity/bureaucracy, between physical medical conditions and those which are deemed “psychological“.  For Federal and Postal workers who are considering filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, there are ample legal tools to point out to the Office of Personnel Management that such a distinction is not only improper, but moreover, contrary to the “law of the land“.  

The Federal Circuit Court has pointed out clearly and unequivocally that the law does not allow for OPM to make a distinction between that which is “objective” medical evidence and that which is “subjective“.  Further, beyond the conceptual distinction applying to the medical evidence, this means that the categories encompassing the two should not be distinguishable when applying the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement.  Thus, rational conclusions based upon clinical examinations, a long history with the patient, consistent symptoms as related to by the patient to the doctor — all are valid, and “as valid”, as the “objective” medical evidence purportedly revealed by an MRI or other diagnostic tools.  

Thus, the credence and credibility of Major Depression, Anxiety, Panic Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and a host of other psychiatric disabilities, hold an equal level of legal validity as the long list of physical disabilities.  Don’t ever let OPM go down an argumentation route where no law exists to support it; they may often try, but it is up to the Federal or Postal Worker who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS to meet them at every juncture of such sophistry.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: How to Handle those “Second-Class” Medical Conditions

Attitudes toward various medical conditions change over time.  This has certainly been the case with psychiatric medical conditions:  Major Depression, Anxiety, panic attacks, Bipolar Disorder, Agoraphobia, PTSD, OCD, etc.  At one time in our society, the heavy stigma placed upon such medical conditions essentially made them unacceptable.  Over time, however, as greater numbers of such conditions came to the forefront, and greater success at treatment of such conditions became evident, the validity and acceptance of such conditions have resulted in other medical conditions taking their place. 

Thus, certain conditions such as Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic Pain, Chemical Sensitivity cases, etc., have become the psychiatric conditions of a prior age.  Perhaps it is because the medical profession treats such conditions as afterthoughts — where, through a process of elimination of saying that the medical condition is not X, Y or Z, therefore it is A. 

Whatever the reasons, in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, a Federal or Postal employee who is applying for such benefits who is suffering from any of the Second-Class medical conditions must formulate and compile his or her case in a thoughtful, deliberate and forceful manner.  Such an application must include adequate medical support; a clear and concise bridge between the symptomatologies experienced and the type of job which one must perform; and legal arguments which support the basis for an approval.  To some extent, this approach is no different than with any other medical condition; it is merely a reminder that one must cross all “T’s” and dot all “I’s” with that much more care.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: Psychiatric v. Physical Disabilities

People continually inquire as to the difference between Psychiatric v. Physical disabilities, as to whether one is more amenable to an approval over the other.  Psychiatric conditions can include a wide range of variables — from Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Major Depression, Anxiety, panic attacks, Agoraphobia, ADD/ADHD, and multiple other diagnoses.  Physical medical conditions, also, include a wide spectrum of disorders — Cervical, Thoracic or Lumbar conditions; various cardiac conditions; Carpal Tunnel Syndrome; Fibromyalgia; Chronic Fatigue Syndrome; Shoulder Impingement Syndrome; Plantar Fasciitis; Migraine headaches; Lupus; Chemical Sensitivity issues; allergies; COPD; and multiple other conditions.  Is there a difference between these (and the listed conditions are by no means meant to be exhaustive, but merely illustrative of the wide range of medical conditions)?  The answer is, ultimately, No. 

The foundational essence of a Federal Disability Retirement case, whether involving Psychiatric disabilities or Physical disabilities, is the impact upon one’s ability to continue to perform all of the essential elements of one’s job.  Further, recent case law holds that OPM cannot make a distinction between “objective” medical evidence as opposed to “subjective” medical evidence, and so the old distinction between “psychological” medical conditions as distinguished from “physical” medical conditions can no longer be seriously upheld.  Ultimately, and fortunately, there is no difference between psychiatric disabilities and physical disabilities when trying to get approved for a Federal Disability Retirement case under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal & Postal Service Disability Retirement: Experience & the Medical Condition

Often, when a client receives the finalized disability retirement packet, I receive a response that goes something like:  “I didn’t realize I was so bad off, until I read through the prepared packet.”  While I have not personally experienced the medical conditions of my many clients over the years, I have the experience of having spoken to them, and have learned about the symptoms, the words which best describe the pain, the impact, and the symptoms which are experienced on a daily basis. 

That is why it is an absurdity for the Office of Personnel Management, for example, to continually and redundantly refer to Fibromyalgia cases as ones with symptoms which “wax and wane”.  Or, with severe Major Depression, Anxiety and panic attacks, the Office of Personnel Management will systematically deny many such claims by stating that there is no “objective medical evidence” to show that the individual is unable to continue to provide efficient service in a cognitive-intensive job.  It is the job of the attorney, in a Federal Disability Retirement case, to be the one who projects the experience of the disabled Federal or Postal employee.  The attorney does not have to personally experience the medical condition in order to properly and descriptively convey the impact of the symptoms and debilitating conditions; however, it is helpful if the attorney has had a wide range of experience — by having spoken to multiple individuals over the years who have personally experienced such conditions.  In this way, the attorney can obtain the experience to express the medical experience of the applicant.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Spouse

I find that when a person is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS, an important component which is often overlooked is the supportive spouse.  I often get calls concerning various aspects of the Disability Retirement process — not from the applicant, but from the spouse.  And, indeed, this is natural, because often the medical condition itself is serious enough that the applicant is unable to “handle” or “deal with” the complexities of the process itself.  It becomes further complicated when the medical condition which is suffered is a psychiatric condition — severe Major Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, suicidal ideations, etc.

However, whether it is psychiatric or physical, a supportive spouse — or “significant other” — is often very, very important to the success of the entire process.  Obviously, as an attorney who represents “the Client“, I must be careful that there is never a conflict between the Applicant (my client) and “the spouse”, but that is rare.  In almost all cases, I find that the spouse is looking after the best interest of my client, and I am happy to talk to and update the spouse on any and all issues surrounding a FERS Disability Retirement case, because I know that he/she is looking after the best interests of my client, just as I want to.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire
Federal Disability Retirement Attorney

Federal & Postal Disability Retirement: OPM's Words

It is a frightening thought that there may be a percentage of Federal or Postal Federal Disability Retirement applicants who read an initial denial from the Office of Personnel Management, and take their words at face value.  From statements such as, “Your doctor has failed to show that your condition is amenable to further treatments” (by the way, when did the Office of Personnel Management obtain a medical degree or complete a residency requirement?) to “you have not shown that you are totally disabled from performing efficient work” (hint:  this is not Social Security, and the standard is not “total disability”), to a full spectrum of error-filled statements in between, one may suspect that there may be a knowing strategy in rendering a denial, knowing that a small percentage of the corpus of disability retirement applicants will simply walk away and not file a Request for Reconsideration. 

Further, I suspect that this occurs more often with certain more “vulnerable” medical conditions — Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Major Depression, PTSD, anxiety, panic attacks; Chemical Sensitivity cases, etc.  Why do I suspect these?  Mostly because such cases are attacked for “lacking objective medical evidence” (see my articles on Vanieken-Ryals v. OPM, and similar writings) and failing to provide “diagnostic test results”, etc.  There was a time, long ago, when it used to mean something when someone said, “The Government says…”  In this day and age, I would advise that you take it to an attorney to review whether or not the words of the Office of Personnel Management are true or not.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Law

I will be writing an article of greater length on this issue, but suffice it for now that when “the law” works, it works well. A major second case has been decided in favor of the Federal employee — first, it was Vanieken-Ryals v. OPM, 508 F.3d 1034 (Fed. Cir. 2007), and now, Sylvia M. Reilly v. OPM, decided July 15, 2009. Vanieken-Ryals toppled the irrational imposition of a baseless standard by OPM — that there is a distinction to be made between “objective” as opposed to “subjective” evidence concerning medical evidence (example of the absurdity: How do you prove the existence of pain? While an MRI may show a physical condition, you cannot prove that such a physical condition equates to debilitating pain, leaving aside any quantification of pain. Similarly, how do you prove the existence of Major Depression? Anxiety? Panic attacks?).

Now, Reilly v. OPM has toppled another idol of a false standard imposed by OPM: that medical documentation which post-dates separation from Federal Service is near-irrelevant. This has never made sense, for at least 2 reasons: first, since a person is allowed to file for Federal Disability Retirement within 1 year of being separated from service, why would medical documentation dated after the separation be considered irrelevant? Second, medical conditions rarely appear suddenly. Most conditions are progressive and degenerative in nature, and indeed, that is what the Court in Reilly argues. Grant another win for the Federal employee, the law, and the process of law. It makes being a lawyer worthwhile when “the law” works.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire