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

Postal and Federal Employees Disability Retirement: Major Depression

Federal and Postal workers who are inquiring about filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS often lack any context as to his or her own particular situation, in relation to the greater Federal and Postal workforce.  Let me elaborate:  a Federal or Postal employee who suffers from chronic and intractable Major Depression, despite being placed on various psychotropic medications, and having undergone psychotherapeutic intervention, and (in more serious cases) hospitalization for intensive treatment — often believe that his or her “situation” is unique, isolated, and rare.  It is not.  

When an individual suffers from Major Depression, it is common to feel isolated, as if the particular psychiatric disorder is unlike other medical conditions (e.g., physical medical conditions which can be ascertained by an MRI or other diagnostic tools).  This is part of the very medical condition itself — of feeling isolated and trapped, and unable to escape from one’s own plight.  

Indeed, Federal and Postal employees who suffer from Major Depression often ask me the “how many” question — how many people do you represent who suffer from Major Depression, as if numbers correlate to security.  While I am very protective of client confidentiality and information related to my clients, it can safely be said that a “great many” Federal and Postal employees suffer from Major Depression, that it is not uncommon, that your co-worker sitting beside you may suffer from it, and that such sufferers work hard to hide it.  

Further, the success in filing for, and obtaining, Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS is no less than any other medical condition.  Thus, for those who suffer from Major Depression and are contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS:  you are definitely not alone.

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

Medical Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: Situational Disability, Revisited

Remember that there is nothing wrong with issues and events in the workplace being the originating factor which instigates or otherwise propels a medical condition — often (though not necessarily always) a psychiatric condition.  The characterization of a “situational disability” (one of the basis upon which the Office of Personnel Management may attempt to deny a Federal Disability Retirement application) only becomes a problem if and when a psychiatric condition prevents a person from performing one or more of the essential elements of his or her job with a particular office, agency or department. 

If the Federal or Postal employee is unable to perform in a particular job in an office or agency, but is able to perform the same basic set of essential elements with another agency, or in the private sector, then it becomes a case of “situational disability”.  However, if the medical condition pervades other aspects of the Federal or Postal employee’s life — personal life; relationships with family & friends; impacts his or her ability to be employable in other sectors; then the medical condition is no longer one of “situational disability” — despite its origins having been formulated in the workplace.  Thus, the issue is not “where the condition came from”, but rather, “where is it now”?  The Office of Personnel Management will often attempt to blur the boundaries between the two questions, and try and characterize the medical disability as not only originating with an agency, but being limited to that particular agency.  And, indeed, the Federal or Postal employee who files a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS does not help matters when he or she wants to persist in focusing upon the events in the workplace which may have contributed to the medical condition.  Beware not to fall into OPM’s trap.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Time to Make the Decision (Part 2)

The medical condition known as “Fibromyalgia” is analogous to the manner in which Federal and Postal employees approach the decision-making process in filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS.  Let me explain:  Fibromyalgia, as the Office of Personnel Management often likes to characterize, often manifests itself with chronic and diffuse pain which “waxes and wanes” — meaning, in simple terms, that there are good days and bad days; days when the pain is unbearable, excruciating and debilitating; and days when one can “manage” the extent of the pain and mental dysfunction and confusion. With that context, the Office of Personnel Management often tries to argue that it is not “so bad” as to qualify for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS. 

By analogy, people with all sorts of medical conditions — from physically debilitating neck and back pain; from Orthopaedic injuries, arthritis, chronic pain, visual impairment, etc.; to psychiatric disabilities of Major Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, PTSD — some days, one can seem to manage the disability; on other days, one cannot get through the day, let alone perform the essential elements of one’s job.  But deep down, one knows that one cannot continue forever on the same course.  To continue is to slowly wither away by a thousand cuts, one cut at a time, one cut per day.  And so, just as the Office of Personnel Management is plainly wrong (for Fibromyalgia is a chronic and debilitating medical condition which clearly qualifies for disability retirement), so the person who procrastinates in making the decision to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS is simply waiting for the inevitable.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire