OPM Disability Retirement: The Vicious Cycle of Psychiatric Conditions

The paradigm and general assumption of those who are not suffering from a chronic medical condition, especially of a psychiatric component — whether of severe Major Depression, Panic Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, or possessing characteristics of paranoia and suicidal ideations — is one of, “What’s the big deal?”

If you are going to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, then why hasn’t the paperwork been done?  Why haven’t you gotten the medical reports (as if doctors just drop everything for their patients and fill out forms, etc.)?

Those who are not in the same shoes as a person who suffers from psychiatric medical conditions, fail to understand the vicious cycle — of the impact of the medical condition itself, upon the very ability to proceed in a productive manner.  Yet, the puzzling question is:  If X could behave and produce in the same manner as non-X, would he/she be filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits to begin with?

The vicious cycle of a person beset with psychiatric conditions involves the paralysis of behavior and the ability to create and produce.  Unfortunately, the world around us fails to understand or have the requisite empathy for such behavior.  To get out of the cycle of paralysis, the sufferer of psychiatric medical conditions will often need the advice and legal assistance of someone who can guide, prompt and implement.

The world is an uncaring system of rules and regulations; empathy and understanding, unfortunately, are not written into the law of life.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Concept of Psychiatric Medical Conditions

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, and in representing Federal and Postal employees these many years to obtain the benefit of Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management, the encounter with psychiatric medical conditions is often an involvement of greater complexity for multiple reasons:  Unlike physical conditions, the insidious nature of having an appearance of normalcy often undermines the Agency’s ability to effectively deal with the medical condition.  

While “the law” has certainly adapted itself to accept the concept of psychiatric medical conditions, such that Major Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Anxiety, panic attacks, Agoraphobia, paranoia, psychotic episodes, etc. (as well as multiple other psychiatric medical conditions not listed herein, as this is not intended to be an exhaustive list) have become “legitimate”, it is the encounter with “real” people that continues to present the problems inherent in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application.  

For, as a “paper presentation” to the Office of Personnel Management, the conceptualized presentation of a medical condition — whether physical or psychiatric — can be effectively made by the efficacy of words and concepts.  However, the reaction and treatment of “real people” in the “real world” (i.e., the Agency, coworkers, Supervisors, etc.), who deal with appearances and productivity, the problematic lack of compassionate or empathetic encounter with psychiatric medical conditions continues to abound.  

It is easy to have compassion for that which we can observe; it is far more difficult to grasp and understand the world of one’s psyche.  This is why other such medical conditions similar in their conceptual framework — Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, etc., present difficulties for the employment community, whether in the Federal sector or the private arena.  Unless, of course, there is a “blood test” or some other diagnostic tool which one can point to, where one is able to say, “Ah, yes, so that is the problem…”  

We live in a world where we have the arrogance of believing that everything can be conceptualized and understood, and that every effect must have an understandable cause.  We are all logicians at heart; but sometimes the music of the world around us makes us pause, and astounds us to remind one that our speck of life in a vast universe should bring about a sense of humility.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Psychiatric Conditions and Accommodations

In preparing, formulating and filing a successful Federal Disability Retirement application with the Office of Personnel Management, under FERS or CSRS, the issue of accommodations will come up.  The Agency from which one retires under a Medical Disability Retirement will have to ultimately fill out Standard Form 3112D —  Agency Certification of Reassignment and Accommodation Efforts — which will constitute and satisfy the Agency’s attempts at “accommodating” a Federal or Postal worker in his or her current position, taking into account his or her medical conditions. 

Unfortunately, most medical conditions are deemed to be “non-accommodatable” (if such a term exists in the English Language), and this is logically as well as legally true because with or without the accommodations, one must be able to perform all of the essential elements of one’s positional description.  Minor adjustments to the workplace, or even to the work assignments, may be able to allow for the Federal or Postal worker to continue to work in a Federal or Postal position for some time, but that Federal or Postal worker must be able to perform all of the essential elements of the job, as described in the position description.   An Agency may temporarily suspend certain elements of the core functions of the job, but such temporary suspension does not constitute an accommodation under the law. 

For psychiatric medical conditions, it is rare that an Agency will be able to accommodate such a medical condition, precisely because of the inherent nature of the medical condition — that which impacts upon one’s focus, attention, concentration, and ability to organize and perform executive functions in a coherent and systematic manner.  As such, the issue of accommodation, while one which may have to be addressed in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application, is normally an irrelevant, non-issue.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder is classically characterized by extreme and unpredictable mood swings between depression and manic episodes, and such alternating swings of highs and lows impact upon one’s judgment, perception, orientation, and ability to maintain a rational perspective.  This psychiatric medical condition, with its symptoms of lethargy, racing thoughts, delusional thought processes leading to long periods of excitability, alternating with unrelenting and intractable depressive moods, impacts many different kinds of duties and daily living activities.  It can impact physically-intensive job duties, and not just cognitive-intensive core elements of one’s job. 

For Federal and Postal employees who are contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, it is important to understand the psychiatric medical condition; whether a medication regimen returns one to a sufficient level of functional sufficiency such that one can continue to perform all of the essential elements of one’s job; and, if not, then how best to prepare, formulate, construct and complete a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS.  What is often known as OPM Disability Retirement is a benefit which must be fought for, in order to secure one’s future ability to receive an income — perhaps to reach that level of functionality that one may return to the labor force despite the medical condition.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (often referred to by its acronym, PTSD), is often associated with war-time experiences and specific traumatic incidents.  Often accompanied by other psychiatric conditions (e.g., Major Depression, anxiety, panic attacks), it can be characterized by symptoms of nonrestorative sleep resulting from intrusive thoughts, nightmares, inability to focus and be attentive because of hypervigilance, and multiple other similar correlative symptoms.  

In filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the Office of Personnel Management will often make the spurious and irrelevant argument that the applicant failed to pinpoint a “specific incident” which “triggered” the PTSD.  However, most psychiatric medical reports and narratives which I have reviewed do not necessarily require such a triggering incident.  Indeed, it can often be as a result of a series of stressful events which came to a “boiling point” where the Federal or Postal worker could no longer tolerate the stresses of daily life beyond a certain flash point — and for each individual, that point of “no tolerance” is different and distinct, precisely because each individual is a unique being.  

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD as is commonly known, is a viable basis for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS — but as with all medical conditions, must be conveyed in a narrative which is understandable and linked to one’s inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal job.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: The Origin of Psychiatric Disabilities

When preparing the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (Standard Form 3112A) in preparing to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management, it is important to keep the essence of the statement “on topic”.  By this, is meant that the primary focus of the applicant’s statement should be repetitively twofold:  First, what the medical conditions and their symptomatologies & manifestation of symptoms are, and Second, how those medical conditions and symptoms impact one’s ability/inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  

While history and origin of a medical condition may be somewhat relevant (unlike in an OWCP case, where causality and date of injury and where/how it happened are important elements in establishing that a medical condition was somehow job related), normally in Federal Disability Retirement cases the origin of a medical condition should not be emphasized, if only because OPM does not care about it.  If the origin of one’s psychiatric medical conditions (e.g., Major Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, etc.) find their source from conflicts within a job, such a history may be a red flag which can lead the Office of Personnel Management to conclude that the medical condition constitutes a “situational disability“.  In a final determination as to whether a medical condition can be characterized as “situational”, while it must be looked at in its full context, nevertheless, it is the origin of a psychiatric medical conditions which is the first point of reference in making such a determination.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Those “Second-Class” Medical Conditions

We all know what the “Second-Class” medical conditions are:  Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Diffuse Pain, Chemical Sensitivity issues, etc.  To some extent, such medical conditions have always been a paradigm of a society — at one time, one could argue that all psychiatric conditions were treated in a similar manner:  accepted at some level as a medical condition, but stigmatized as somehow being less than legitimate.

In a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is patently obvious that the Office of Personnel Management treats certain medical conditions as “second-class” conditions.  They often deny such cases at the initial stage of the process, and unless you point out a compendium of established case-law authorities, OPM will often get away with their groundless assertions.

Words matter, and which words and arguments are chosen to rebut the Office of Personnel Management matters much in a Federal Disability Retirement case.  Such medical conditions are not second-class medical conditions, and OPM should not be allowed to treat them as such.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire