OPM Form SF 3112C and the Sufficiency of the Physician’s Statement

Confusing necessity and sufficiency is always a precarious matter. That which is necessary may not be sufficient for a given purpose, and failure in understanding such a fundamental distinction can be fatal to a Federal Disability Retirement claim.

SF 3112C requires that a physician complete and provide essential medical information in the pursuance of a Federal Disability Retirement application. The form itself — SF 3112C — is the vehicle by which the medical documentation is obtained. It is “necessary” in the sense that SF 3112C delineates a guideline of the type of information which is needed in order to become eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

The form itself — SF 3112C — however, is to a great extent irrelevant (although, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management has recently required that a signed SF 3112C be included in the final Federal Disability Retirement packet, despite SF 3112E clearly stating that an “equivalency” of the form would satisfy the lack thereof, as in the attachment of the medical documentation itself), and it is instead the medical documentation through which SF 3112C is obtained, which is what is important.

Regardless, while the OPM SF 3112C constitutes the vehicle, is necessary, but is ultimately irrelevant in and of itself, it is a necessary form to the extent that it mandates the delineation of what information is required for eligibility and entitlement to Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Will following the guidelines in accordance with what SF 3112C states, result in a successful OPM Disability claim? That is the question of “sufficiency”, as opposed to “necessity”.

Over the years, case-law and statutory interpretation and expansion of Federal Disability Retirement laws have greatly altered the landscape of a Federal Disability Retirement claim. SF 3112C is the vehicle of necessity, although the form itself is an unnecessary one. The greater question is whether it is sufficient to meet the legal weight of preponderance of the evidence, and that question must ultimately be answered by questioning the efficacy of the form itself.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: Physicians

Physicians are peculiar animals.  They are here to help; and from their perspective, success is measured in terms of how rarely a patient returns for further care.  The ultimate sentence of failure is to conclude that nothing further can be done for an individual, and one must therefore declare that the patient is permanently disabled.

For the Federal or Postal employee contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, such a perspective on the part of the physician is important before approaching the treating doctor with a request for a medical report.  That is why the SF 3112C is such an ineffective vehicle of communication.

Consider this:  SF 3112C is a government-prepared form; it is formulated by Federal bureaucrats; the language merely proposes generic guidelines concerning what is required — without any amendments or consideration of case-law refinements which have been promulgated over the evolution of Federal Disability Retirement laws over these many years.

Perhaps more importantly, however, is the lack of bedside manners in handing to a physician a standard form.  While many physicians themselves lack adequate bedside manners, it is the epitome of bad form to thrust a pre-printed form (no pun intended) under the nose of a physician who is supposed to be treating and taking care of you, and to declaratively order, “Fill this out”.  Even an addendum of “please” will not adequately modify such an affront.

The physician-patient relationship is one based upon communication, knowledge, personal sharing, and a good bit of explaining.  Taking the time to prepare a physician is the least one should do in preparing for an effective Federal Disability Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: The Reluctant Doctor

In preparing, formulating, and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the linchpin (sometimes spelled “lynchpin”) is comprised of a supportive doctor who is willing to provide substantive medical evidence, by a preponderance of the evidence, that a Federal or Postal employee is no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, and that the medical condition will last a minimum of 12 months.  

Originally, a linchpin referred to a metal fastener which prevented a wheel from becoming separated or dislodged from the axle.  Similar to the conceptual analogy of the “weakest link” in a chain, the idea of viewing a Federal Disability Retirement application in such terms and perspective is to recognize the centrality of a foundation, and how everything else is supported by that foundation.  If the foundation itself is weak, then the chain may snap, and the wheel may fall off the wagon, and everything which is supported by the foundation may come tumbling down.

Such a weak linchpin may be characterized by “The Reluctant Doctor.”   For, ultimately, it will be the treating doctor’s opinion which will provide the primary basis of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  To presume the support of one’s treating doctor may reveal an unfounded sense of confidence.  To declare that, “Of course my doctor will support me.  He’s been my doctor for X number of years,” is to be naive about the psychology of doctors.

Doctors enjoy engaging in the practice of medicine; they abhor the administrative necessities of supporting their patients in preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application.  The Reluctant Doctor is fairly widespread; it is up to the potential applicant, or his/her attorney, to explain the process, beginning with a simple request for an assurance of support from the patient — the applicant who will be filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: Don’t Assume

We are all familiar with the acronym-like adage which can be extracted from the word “assume”.  In preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the first question that one must ask of one’s self is:  “Do I have a supportive doctor?”  If the answer is an unequivocal “No”, then entertaining even the thought of proceeding forward with the process is a virtual act of futility.  

Now, to all unqualified statements, there are exceptions to the rule.  There are, indeed, medical conditions where the mere treatment records, office notes, etc., reveal irrefutably of a medical condition of such severity that there is no question as to its impact upon one’s ability/inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job.  But that is rare.  If the answer to the original question is:  “He may be…”  “I assume he is supportive…”  “He seems supportive because…”   While these are niceties in one’s figment of one’s imagination, and foster a sense of security and a warmth for a doctor-patient relationship, such answers all have an undercurrent of an assumption.  Don’t assume, if you are planning to go forward with a Federal Disability Retirement application.  Instead, make an appointment with your doctor and have a frank and open discussion.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Agencies & SF 3112C

Agencies have an amazing ability to be inquisitive, especially into those areas which really do not concern them.  Often, Agencies will insist that, despite all of the relevant, pertinent, and desired medical documentation already having been attached to a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the applicant/Federal employee “must” sign the Standard Form 3112C (“Physician’s Statement) , which becomes superfluous and irrelevant.  They insist that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) “requires” the form, which is an erroneous statement.  OPM has never required a signed SF 3112C so long as the Federal Disability Retirement application is accompanied by sufficient medical documentation to support the application.  Sometimes, the insistence by the Agency is merely based upon ignorance; other times, it is based upon an administrative and bureaucratic inflexibility to longstanding “procedures” which the Human Resources personnel cannot adapt to, or change, because “this is the way we’ve been doing it for X number of years”.  Still, there is a suspicion that in some instances, the “requirement” of SF 3112C is because of a more nefarious reason:  The Agency wants full access to all medical records, notes, treatment notes, etc.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Tendencies

There are certain tendencies which seem to exhibit themselves on a spectrum of behaviors, and the pattern is fairly common.  As such, it is important to be aware of the natural tendencies of all parties involved when filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  For instance, it is a common tendency for the doctorFamily Doctor, Orthopaedic Surgeon, Neurologist, Psychiatrist, etc. — to avoid having to write a medical narrative report for a Federal Disability Retirement application.

What to do about it?  To try and place the doctor at ease by explaining the process in as direct, simple and concise manner as possible; then to tie the importance of the request for a Medical Narrative Report to the overall treatment plan for the patient — you.  To have an attorney involved can further ease the natural anxiety of a doctor — but it helps to have the client/patient forewarn the doctor as to the role and involvement of the attorney.

Attorneys and doctors are “natural enemies” (i.e., attorneys sue doctors; doctors hate to be sued; ergo, doctors have a natural tendency to dislike lawyers).  If the patient/client, however, approaches the doctor and explains that the lawyer who is representing him or her is there to explain the process, to guide the doctor in the preparation of the entire packet, including giving guidance to the doctor in formulating a medical narrative report, then the tendency towards anxiety and reluctance to assist in a Federal Disability Retirement application can be lessened and overcome.  Tendencies are there to be recognized, then to be adjusted in order to achieve a positive outcome.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: A Doctor’s Comfort Level

Doctors are funny creatures.  Administrative matters are often distasteful; yet, most doctors recognize that it is a necessary evil as part of the general practice of medicine.  Doctors often act arrogantly; yet, their arrogance is often in reaction to questions and statements which they deem to be irrelevant or insolent.  In filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS, it is obviously important to get the active, affirmative support of a treating doctor.  How does one go about doing this?  It is ultimately up the patient.  Remember — we are speaking about a “treating doctor” — not a stranger, but a person who, normally over the course of many years, has come to know, evaluate and treat the potential applicant who is filing for OPM Disability Retirement benefits.  Over the years, therefore, hopefully a relationship has grown to fruition.  Asking the treating doctor to support you in a Federal Disability Retirement application — or, if an attorney is hired, to let the doctor know that his or her legal representative will be requesting a medical report — should be the culmination of that special relationship which has developed:  the doctor-patient relationship, one which has grown over the many years of contact, discussion, conversation, and treatment.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire