Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Stress & the Workplace

Taking off from work for a few days because of “stress” may be entirely appropriate; basing a Federal Disability Retirement application through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, upon a “stress claim” may not be the most effective way of formulating one’s case.

Stress is a pervasive factor in all employment atmospheres; whether resulting from overly demanding supervisors, or the self-imposition of time and due-dates, stress is a daily occurrence and reality of the modern technological world.  If we ever thought or believed that technology would reduce the burden of stress, we have been sorely mistaken; for, in this world where instantaneous responses are expected, where emails are sent and received within the blink of a button being pushed; where smartphones hound you with texts and emails; where phone calls and faxes are merely afterthoughts in the business world; stress is an inherent aspect and element in all workplaces.

How one deals with stress; the varying tolerance levels particularized to individual personalities; the level of trigger-points which result in tertiary and consequential medical conditions — it is the latter which must be focused upon when preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. For, while stress itself may not be an acceptable basis for a Federal Disability Retirement application, the resulting medical conditions which manifest themselves as a result of stress likely are.

In the end, attempting to create a stress-free environment is in itself a stressful venture; and one which is not likely to succeed.  Similarly, while stress itself may not be a valid basis for a Federal Disability Retirement case, the medical consequences of stress are likely the foundational basis of an effective application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, submitted to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

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 World in Which We Live

Various social commentators have observed the contradiction that, while we live in an increasingly global economy, individuals feel a greater sense of isolation; thus, the conundrum that the world is no longer an expansive, unreachable universe, but in private lives, the uniqueness of the individual is lost and forgotten.

Whether because of the stresses of isolation, or because of the fast-paced, technologically-driven world in which we live, or some organic-based reasons, one may never know; nevertheless, the exponential explosion of psychiatric illnesses erupting in our society cannot be denied.

There was a time, perhaps a decade or so ago, when a stigma was attached to medical conditions and disabilities which were deemed “stress-related“, and which encompassed depression, anxiety, uncontrollable panic attacks, agoraphobia, etc.  One cannot mark a clear demarcation of when the approach and societal attitude, let alone the medical community’s acceptance, of the wide array of psychiatric conditions, changed.

For Federal Disability Retirement purposes, however, the level of approvals versus denials between cases involving psychiatric conditions, as opposed to purely physical medical conditions, has become indistinguishable.  The U.S. Office of Personnel Management does not review or analyze cases based upon psychiatric conditions — so long as one can tell, purely from an “outsider’s” perspective — any differently from “physical” medical conditions.

This is obviously a “good” thing, because psychiatric medical conditions are just as valid, serious, “real”, and devastating, as the most serious of “physical” medical conditions.  The world in which we live has certainly changed; OPM has evolved with the new world, and we are all the better off for it.

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

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: The Uniqueness of Medical Conditions

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS, there are always unique aspects of particular medical conditions which impact upon specific elements of the positional duties of a Federal or Postal employee.

Thus, for example, shoulder problems (rotator cuff tears; shoulder impingement syndrome, etc.) limits the ability to engage in rotational movements, and specifically restricts overhead lifting, or lifting above shoulder-level, and therefore constrains the ability to perform multiple craft-required duties for the U.S. Postal Service.

Similarly, for psychiatric medical conditions, Major Depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Attacks, and similarly oriented psychiatric medical conditions related or on a coordinated spectrum, impact the ability to maintain a sustained analytical perspective and performance of duties.  Thus, for information-based positions (Information Technology Specialist; Budget Analyst; auditors; personnel management duties, etc.), the very cognitive-intensive duties are directly impacted by such uniquely psychiatric conditions.

These examples, however, are merely referential samples, and in no way reflect an exhaustive discussion of how a medical condition impacts a particular kind of job, or the various elements which make up a Federal or Postal job.  

Thus, by way of cross-over example, a person who suffers from shoulder pain can be prevented from performing the essential elements of an information-based administrative job, because of the high distractability of the pain, the inability to take pain medications during work hours because of the sedation it creates, and because of the radiating pain and numbness to one’s extremities, preventing the repetitive type of work on a computer keyboard, etc.

Ultimately, one should never think in terms of a one-to-one ratio or correspondence between a specific medical condition and a particular element of a job.  Crossovers of medical conditions and their impact upon a job are ultimately unique to the individual, and it is the job of the OPM Disability Attorney to properly represent that uniqueness.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Three-Day Weekend

For Federal and Postal employees contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the 3-day weekend is a time of respite, recuperation and intermediate period of temporary time-out, in order to regain the energy and sustained endurance to go back to work.  

Pain is a chronic state of being which results in profound exhaustion and fatigue just to fight against it and to attempt to minimize it on a daily basis.  For psychiatric medical conditions, Major Depression, Anxiety, panic attacks, and a host of other conditions and symptoms, are not something which one can simply “will” to overcome.  

Often, the question still is posed whether or not psychiatric conditions are denied by the Office of Personnel Management at a greater rate of consistency than physical medical conditions.  Fortunately, the stigma of psychiatric conditions has diminished.  Whether for physical medical conditions or psychiatric medical conditions, the standard to be met in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS is the same applicable standards of proof.  

For the 3-day weekender, however, the standard of proof is an irrelevancy, because the time of recuperation is merely temporary, and the cyclical requirement to return to work in a state of exhaustion, pain, or cognitive turmoil must begin anew with another work day.  It might be time to consider filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS if you find yourself in that state.

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