Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: How and What

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, “how” one states something is often just as important as the “what” one says.

The latter is relevant for obvious reasons:  the subject of the statement is the “identifier” for purposes of directing the reader (in this case, the person who is handling your Federal Disability Retirement benefit application at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management) to focus upon a particular matter; but just as importantly, “how” it is said — i.e., the tone, tenor and context of the “what”.

How a medical report is stated will often determine the success of a Federal Disability Retirement application, more than what is expected to be said.  For, from the perspective of the Office of Personnel Management, the generic “what” (the subject matter of the application) will almost always contain the obvious:  that there is a medical condition; that the medical condition prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job; that the Federal or Postal worker will make statements and claims of an inability to perform certain key elements of one’s job because of one’s medical conditions, etc.

On the other hand, how it is stated:  Is it persuasive?  Does the doctor follow from a reasonable explanation to an unequivocal conclusion?  Is the doctor convincing?  While the “what” of a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS, may be a necessary condition of a Federal Disability Retirement application, it may not be sufficient; sufficiency may be determined by how a Federal Disability Retirement application is prepared, formulated, and ultimately filed.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Opinions, OPM and Power

In filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, one must always be aware of the distinction between the two — opinions and power — and apply it with that awareness in filing an application for Federal Disability Retirement to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).  

There will be multiple opinions involved in any Federal Disability Retirement packet — the opinion of the medical doctor who is treating the applicant; the opinion of the applicant as to one’s ability or inability to perform some, which or all of the essential elements of one’s job; the opinion of the Supervisor or someone at the Agency on multiple issues, rendered in the Supervisor’s Statement and the Agency’s Certification for Reassignment and Accommodation; and the “opinion” handed out by the Office of Personnel Management as to whether all of the compendium of opinions, collectively gathered to present the evidence for approval in a Federal Disability Retirement application, constitute sufficient evidence such that it meets the preponderance of the evidence in proving one’s case.  It is thus helpful to understand that all of these identifiable propositions are all “opinions”.  

The one distinction, however, is that the opinion of the Office of Personnel Management carries with it the power of approval or disapproval, and so one may designate it as carrying more “weight” because it contains an inherent authority which all other opinions lack — that of the power to say yea or nay.  But remember that such power, fortunately, is not absolute, nor necessarily arbitrary and capricious, and there is ultimately an appeal process to have such raw power reviewed for viability and sufficiency.  That is why the validity and force of the “other” opinions is important to maintain — the medical opinion and the opinion of the Applicant — so that when it is reviewed by an Administrative Judge, the integrity of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS may be properly adjudicated.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: Are all Doctors Necessary?

In a Federal Disability Retirement case under FERS or CSRS, is it necessary to obtain the medical opinion of each and every doctor for each and every medical condition listed on the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (SF 3112A)?  To put the question in another way, Must there be a one-to-one correspondence between the medical condition listed or described, and the doctor who is specifically treating the medical condition

Certainly, in today’s world of medicine, where specialization is the key to treatment because of the complexity of each field of medicine and the successful treatment of diseases and medical conditions, it has become a fact of life that patients are “referred out” to various specialists.  Thus, the Primary Care Physician is often merely the “gate-keeper” of referrals, coordinating the medical treatment of a patient by overseeing the referrals to various specialists who treat various medical conditions. An applicant for Federal or Postal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS who must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, his or her eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, must submit substantiating medical documentation to prove his or her entitlement.  As with all such questions, the answer is, “It depends”.  A one-to-one correspondence is not necessarily required; where helpful, of course, the referral specialist’s medical opinion should be used.  However, one should never underestimate the importance and force of the coordinating physician — the Primary Care Physician himself/herself.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The Time It Takes For the "Process"

Because it is a “process” as opposed to an application to obtain an automatic service, commodity or benefit, a Federal Disability Retirement application necessarily takes time.  It takes time to properly prepare the application; it takes time to have the treating doctors properly address the multiple issues needed in order to meet the legal standards of eligibility; it takes time for the applicant’s statement of disability to be thoughtfully and in a cohesive, coordinated manner be presented in a persuasively descriptive narrative; it takes time for the H.R. office of the Agency, or the H.R. Shared Services in Greensboro, North Carolina, to complete their part; it takes time for the finance office to complete their part; it takes time for Boyers, PA to process and prep the application; then, finally, it takes time once it is sent down to the Office of Personnel Management in Washington, D.C., to receive, review and evaluate the entire packet. 

Further, right now, it just so happens that OPM seems to be “backed up” and, concurrently, has a shortage of personnel, and is taking an inordinate amount of time getting to each case.  As I often tell my clients:  If patience is a virtue, then Federal and Postal employees who file for Federal Disability Retirement must be the most virtuous people in the universe.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Patient/Applicant

Before even thinking about starting the process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS, it is important for the patient/applicant to approach his or her doctor and get an initial commitment of support. For, ultimately, the most essential lynchpin of a disability retirement application hangs on the support of a doctor — from the first and initial stage, all the way to the Merit Systems Protection Board (where live telephone testimony may be necessary).

The “patient” needs to approach the doctor with sensitivity. It is probably not even a good idea to talk about anything beyond the first stage of the process — instead, the focus should be about how “support” for a disability retirement application is actually part of the rehabilitation and healing process of medical treatment. For, ultimately, a disability annuitant under FERS or CSRS is not asking to be “totally disabled” by the doctor (and, indeed, most doctors do not want to release their patients into the retirement “pasture” of full disability); rather, it is simply a medical support of reasoning that a particular patient is no longer a “good fit” for a particular kind of job. Don’t scare the doctor off with a view of the “long process”; rather, the initial commitment is all that is needed — for the first stage of the process.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire