Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Corresponding Responsibilities

The problem with being responsible for something, is that the moment there are any consequences which result from the assertion of it, everyone lifts their finger and points it in another direction.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is the responsibility of the Applicant to prove by a preponderance of the evidence, that he or she is eligible and entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  Yet, those who simply go through either the local or district Human Resources (sometimes euphemistically referred to as the “Human Capital” or appended with a conceptually interesting term, “Services”) Office, will be requested to sign SF 3112C, the “Physician’s Statement“, where, at the top of the form, a box for a return address exists.  The address to which the physician’s statement and medical records are sent, is often filled in as the Agency’s H.R. Office.

Thus, the consequence of such a chain of events will often be:  the individual Federal or Postal employee, who has the responsibility to prove by a preponderance of the evidence one’s Federal Disability Retirement application from OPM, will have a doctor, medical facility, psychiatrist, therapist, and any number of medical providers, directed to forward sensitive medical documentation directly to an agency’s Human Resources Office, prior to reviewing such documents for accuracy, effectiveness or requested formulation.  And if the Federal Disability Retirement packet is sent over to OPM, and is then denied based upon information which is either inaccurate or incomplete, to whom will the finger be pointed at?

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: The Legal Standards

Recent decisions issued by the Full Board of the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board — specifically, Henderson v. OPM, decided on January 31, 2012, reestablishes the two general standards of applicable evidentiary approaches in proving a Federal Disability Retirement case, whether under FERS or CSRS.  Whether or not the U.S. Office of Personnel Management will “comply” with the applicable standards as set forth by the MSPB is another question.

Often, the “trickle-down” effect of a legal opinion can take years to accomplish — and by that time, further refinements by the courts and by the MSPB may have made such legal opinions moot, irrelevant or otherwise restrictive in its practical application, anyway.  For the time being, however, the two legal approaches can be generally stated thus:  One must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence in all Federal Disability Retirement cases, either (A)  That certain specific medical conditions prevent one from performing certain specific essential elements of one’s job (somewhat like a 1 – 1 correspondence, or more generally, a medical opinion showing that medical condition X prevents job duties Y because of Z) or (B) as stated previously in Bruner and multiple other cases, there is an “inconsistency” between one’s medical condition (or multiplicity of medical conditions) and the type of positional duties one must engage in to perform the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal job.

The former criteria to satisfy may be deemed “particularized”; the latter may be seen as a more “generalized” approach.  While there is certainly a conceptual distinction between the two, in pragmatic terms, such a distinction may be without too much difference, if only because doctors will often go back and forth between the two approaches, anyway, in writing a medical narrative report.

The conceptual distinction is not as apparent as one between “explicit” and “implicit”, but certainly the former approach encapsulates a greater specificity of detailing a connection between X and Y, whereas the latter requires the reader or reviewer (i.e., OPM or the Administrative Judge) to think through and analyze the entirety of the issue.  But that life would not be so complicated.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Agency Actions Are Merely Persuasive

Whether it is one’s own agency which acts, or some third-party agency, the effect of such actions upon a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is merely persuasive, and not determinative, from the viewpoint of the Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS.  

Such actions may include:  Disqualification based upon a medical condition, whether because of the primary, underlying medical condition, or a secondary condition resulting from a prescription medication; determination by the Agency based upon a fitness for duty review; failure to pass certain physical fitness standards; declarative statement by the Agency that no accommodations can be accorded, whether because of one’s medical condition or other influencing factors; a conclusion reached by an Occupational Nurse or doctor; acceptance of a case by OWCP, Department of Labor; approval by the Social Security Administration, the Veterans Administration, etc. — all of these “third party” determinations can be persuasive for a Federal Disability Retirement application, but are not necessarily determinative in coming to a conclusion of approval by the Office of Personnel Management.  

Why “persuasive” as opposed to “determinative”?  Because of two fundamental reasons:  (1)  The Office of Personnel Management is an independent agency, mandated by statute, regulation and case-laws, to make its own determination of eligibility of each Federal Disability Retirement application, separate and apart from any other agency, and (2) such agencies which make such determinations are not medical facilities (although a doctor or nurse may have some involvement in the decision-making process), and this is ultimately a “medical” disability retirement, and not an agency retirement system mandated by law.  

As such, one must still prove by a preponderance of the evidence that one is eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, based upon the nexus between one’s medical conditions and one’s essential elements of the Federal or Postal job.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire