CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: A Hypothetical

The case-law opinions from the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, as well as from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, upholds the statement added onto Question 4 of Standard Form 3112A, the form which specifically requests the Applicant’s statement of disability, which asserts:  “We consider only the disease and/or injuries you discuss in this application”.

Failure to identify a particular medical condition can have an adverse impact upon one’s application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Take the following hypothetical: a Federal or Postal employee is terminated from Federal Service; he or she files for Federal Disability Retirement benefits within one (1) year of being separated from service.  While the Statute of Limitations has already been met because the filing has occurred within the 1-year timeframe, during the process of awaiting a decision from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the treating doctor has diagnosed with greater specificity the primary and underlying cause of the medical condition.

In his or her haste to file, the (now former) Federal employee quickly noted the diagnosed medical conditions in response to question 4, but nowhere is there an indication of the newly-diagnosed medical condition.  During the wait, it is now more than 1 year from the time of separation.  The quandary:  The Federal Disability Retirement application cannot be withdrawn, because the 1-year Statute of Limitations has already passed, and so he or she is no longer able to re-file.  No additional medical conditions can be added onto the SF 3112A.

Is there a problem? The answer:  Under this hypothetical, potentially yes.

Even if OPM approves the case, there may be future difficulties if OPM approves the Disability Retirement application based upon a medical condition listed, but resolved.  Care in identifying and properly annotating the medical conditions must be taken in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Secondary Depression and Other Contingent Medical Conditions

Often, in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, one must selectively choose, based upon the medical reports received from one’s requested doctors, the medical conditions upon which one’s Federal Disability Retirement application will be based.  

Sometimes, there is confusion as to which medical conditions should be listed, how it should be “prioritized” (how can one prioritize multiple medical conditions when any or all of them may have debilitating symptomatologies?) and whether some should be relegated to mere peripheral, ancillary discussion, as opposed to retaining a centrality of focus and prominence.  

For example, “Secondary Depression” is a term which often will accompany chronic and debilitating pain.  It may, over time, become a primary source of debilitating disability, but the reason why it is initially, and for some time thereafter, characterized as “secondary” is precisely because it is contingent upon the existence of the primary medical condition — that which results in the chronic and debilitating pain.  As such, if the secondary depression is listed as the primary basis for a Federal Disability Retirement application, but sometime later the originating medical condition which is the foundational cause of the depression gets better, then there is the potential ramifications that the secondary medical condition (“secondary depression”) will resolve itself.  

Such considerations can be important in determining which medical conditions to list, inasmuch as in a future time, if one is found to be disabled by the Office of Personnel Management for a secondary medical condition and is asked in a future Medical Questionnaire to have one’s doctor determine the disability status at a later time, it may become an important issue.

Linking potential future problems to thoughtful preparation in the present time is important in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Choosing the Medical Conditions

Often, in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the question is asked as to which medical conditions should be included in a Federal Disability Retirement application.  The obvious answer, of course, is to identify the “most serious” of the medical conditions, with a secondary consideration being the ones which impact one’s ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job.  

Whether to list “all of them” is a separate question, and then there are the subtleties which further delve into a more detailed analysis of the creation of an effective nexus between one’s medical conditions, the job description which one is supposed to be doing, and the provability of the medical conditions identified and described.  

Inasmuch as a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is a “paper presentation” to the Office of Personnel Management (and yes, the concept of a “paper presentation” still applies even if and when OPM converts entirely to the technological next-step of a paperless system; the Federal or Postal employee must still present a formatted application), the admixture of legal and medical issues will ultimately come about.  

The conceptual distinction between the diagnosis and the symptomatologies; the extent of willingness of what a treating doctor will state; the concordance between the diagnosis, the symptoms described, and their impact upon the particular elements of one’s position description; the potential impact of being found “disabled” by the Office of Personnel Management based upon a “minor” medical condition which may resolve itself in the future, as opposed to a more serious-listed one; the nebulous areas of “syndromes” (as in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) and the description of symptoms and making sure to relate the symptoms to a particular medical condition — these are all “subtleties” which involve an intersection between the legal standard of proof and the medical “facts”, in formulating a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  But that it were as easy as simply listing one’s medical conditions.  But, alas, OPM is a Federal bureaucracy, and the combination of “the law” and “a bureaucracy” can only lead to one result:  a conundrum.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Shotgun v. Tailored Approach

In filing a Federal Disability Retirement application, there is the “shotgun approach” — of peppering the application with any and all medical conditions which may prevent or otherwise impact one’s ability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  The danger of this approach, of course, is that the Office of Personnel Management can (and does) stop at the first medical condition which they deem disables the applicant from performing any of the essential elements of one’s job. If the basis of such a disability retirement approval is a secondary, or somewhat inconsequential medical condition, then there is the danger in the future that, if you receive a Medical Questionnaire requesting an update on your medical condition, that you may have recovered from such a secondary medical condition and deemed to have been fully recovered.  Now, every now and then, in the approval letter issued by the Office of Personnel Management, it will not specify which medical condition was the basis for the approval which was rendered.  However, this is in a minority of approval letters, and is not worthwhile enough to consider taking a chance on such a shotgun approach.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Which Medical Conditions to List II

If you list all of the medical conditions you suffer from on the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (SF 3112A) in filing an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, then you take the risk that the Office of Personnel Management may approve your disability retirement application based upon a condition which is only marginally serious (which can lead to some future problems, if OPM requests that you respond to an OPM Medical Questionnaire, inquiring about your current status and your disability).  On the other hand, if you fail to mention a medical condition, and you file your Federal Disability Retirement application, once you are assigned a CSA Number, you are precluded from amending or adding to the list of medical conditions described in your Applicant’s Statement of Disability.  Thus, discretionary decisions must be made.  You must strike a proper balance between listing the major medical conditions, and deciding which medical conditions truly impact your ability/inability to perform the essential elements of your job, and discern which conditions and symptoms are likely to remain chronic, or continue to deteriorate.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Are Psychiatric Disabilities Denied More Readily?

I am often asked whether or not it is more difficult to get disability retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS based upon a psychiatric medical condition (e.g., PTSD, Major Depression, Anxiety, panic attacks, Bipolar Disorder, etc.).  Does the Office of Personnel Management deny a disability retirement application which is based solely upon a psychiatric condition?   Should a FERS or CSRS disability retirement application always include a physical condition? The short and simple answer is an unequivocal “No”. 

Let me provide a slightly more expanded answer:  (1)  In my experience, psychiatric disabilities present no greater obstacles than physical disabilities.  So long as we can prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the medical condition — physical or psychiatric — prevents one from performing the essential elements of one’s job, there really is no difference between the two.  (2)  Do not “add” a physical disability because you think that a psychiatric disability is “not enough”.  This would be a foolish approach.  Focus upon the primary medical conditions, whether physical or psychiatric, in proving your case.  (3)  Remember that disability retirement often has other complex factors which come into play — accommodation issues; certain jobs are more easily shown to be “incompatible” with a psychiatric disability (for instance, Law Enforcement Personnel who have psychiatric disabilities obviously must have the mental acuity to perform the inherently dangerous aspects of the position); and remember that psychotropic medications, prescribed and necessary for daily functioning, often have side-effects which impact one’s ability to perform one’s job.  The point in all of this is that there really is no substantive difference between psychiatric disabilities and physical ones, anymore; the societal stigma of “psychiatric medical conditions” has largely disappeared, and the Office of Personnel Management — in my experience — treats both psychiatric disabilities and physical disabilities on an equal par.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire