Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: Qualifying

The concept of “qualifying” is both peculiar as well as interesting; for, one questions whether one can “qualify” for a sports event (often, this encompasses issues of age, physical ability, whether gender may disqualify you, etc.); and then there are “qualifying events”, where you must pass certain levels of “test” activities in order to get to the next round, as in golfing events.  In racing events, there is always talk about getting through the “qualifying” stages; and, similarly, in attempting to secure a job, the applicant is often questioned as to whether he or she has the “qualifications” for the position.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, there is also the initial question of whether a Federal or Postal worker “qualifies” for the benefit identified as “Federal Disability Retirement”. Here again, to “qualify” means that a Federal or Postal worker meets certain requirements. Thus, there are automatic dis-qualifiers, such as: If you are not a Federal or Postal worker, but work for the county or state, then you do not qualify for benefits under FERS or CSRS from the Federal system. Similarly, if a FERS individual does not have at least 18 months of Federal Service, or a CSRS Federal employee does not have at least 5 years of Federal Service (which is obviously unlikely), then you cannot “qualify” to even apply for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management.

Those are immediate qualifying “events”.  Then, of course, the main event — the tournament of all competitive activities for Federal Disability Retirement purposes — concerns whether or not a Federal or Postal Worker qualifies for Federal Disability Retirement benefits because of his or her medical condition.  This foundational qualification can only be answered by looking at the medical condition, the support of the treating doctor, and whether and to what extent the medical condition impacts one’s physical or psychological ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job.

For that main event, one must rise to the level akin to the professional athlete.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Treatment, Surgery and Medication Regimens

In contemplating preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, one needs to always bifurcate issues which are “legal”, “employment-related”, and “medical”, etc.  Of course, issues can easily cross over between neatly-construed, artificial boundaries, such that certain issues contains multiple areas.

For example, there is the question of compliance with medical treatment.  First and foremost, whether it concerns or impacts a Federal or Postal employee — or any employee of any organization — the question of whether an individual is complying with the treatment recommendations of a doctor is one which is, and should be, first and foremost a medical one.

In preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application, however, that same question can indeed cross over into becoming a legal issue concurrently, because non-compliance with certain types of treatment regimens can be a basis for a denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application by the Office of Personnel Management.

As to “which” treatment modalities would be a basis for a denial, in general terms, those treatment modalities which one might construe as “minimal” in nature, certainly qualify.  Thus, compliance with a medication regimen is certainly a basis for a denial in a Federal Disability Retirement application; refusing to undergo a prescribed course of physical therapy may be another.  On the other hand, deciding to forego surgery is normally not a basis for a denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application, if only because of the percentages of success even with surgery are tenuous at best, and even with surgery, there is always the question of whether the Federal or Postal employee would be able to perform all of the essential elements of the job anyway.

Questions of medical treatment compliance should first and always be considered a medical question, and only in a secondary sense, a legal question.  One’s health should be the penultimate concern; the legal consequences, an afterthought.

Keeping one’s priorities in order is always the best approach, whether contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS, or not.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

USPS and Federal Disability Claims: Medical Conditions which Predate Federal or Postal Employment

Often, there is a concern about medical conditions which one suffers from, which “predate” employment in the Federal Sector, or with the U.S. Postal Service.  Such conditions are often identified as “preexisting medical conditions” — meaning, thereby, that they exist prior to an event.

In the context of OWCP (Federal Worker’s Compensation), under the aegis of the Department of Labor, such an issue normally involves the assertion and allegation (by the Department of Labor, Office of Worker’s Compensation Programs) that a Medical Condition-X already existed prior to Event-Y — the latter normally constituting the “on-the-job” accident or occurrence, or an occupational disease, etc.  Because causation — the “what caused the injury” issue — is important in OWCP/DOL cases, the concern of preexisting conditions is normally a point of contention between the Federal worker and the Federal Government/Department of Labor.

However, in OPM Disability Retirement cases, because causation is not an “issue” of concern (the “how” or “where” it happened is not a relevant legal criteria of proof), it rarely becomes a point of conflict between the Office of Personnel Management and the Federal or Postal employee.

It can become of interest, however, for the Office of Personnel Management, in a Federal Disability Retirement application, if a Federal or Postal worker has been hired and working in a particular job, with a specific medical condition for many years, successfully, but then files for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  The reason it may become of some interest, however, is not as to the “causation” issue (of the “how” or “where” it happened), but rather, to the question:  Why is it that the Federal or Postal employee who has had a Medical Condition-X all of these years can now claim not to be able to perform Essential Elements Y & Z now?

That is the point where a medical condition existing prior to one’s Federal or Postal employment may be of some interest to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  It is, however, easily addressed; it just needs to be discussed in the right way.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Qualifying Medical Condition

The question is often asked, “Does my medical condition qualify for Federal Disability Retirement?”, or some variation of that question.  

Such a question, of course, in order to “make sense” in the context of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, must be reformulated, precisely because the manner in which it is posed produces multiple sub-questions.  For, ultimately, the laws and regulations governing Federal Disability Retirement do not provide for a calculus of a mathematical correspondence, where medical condition X is considered a “qualifying” one, whereas medical condition Y fails to meet such a qualification criteria.  

The sub-questions which are immediately necessitated by the originating question, involve multiple factors:  Does the medical condition you suffer from impact your ability to perform one or more of the essential elements of your job?  In what way?  Can you describe how the medical condition impacts your ability to perform your job?  Are you being medically treated for your medical condition?  Will the doctor support you in your quest and application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits?

Take, for instance, the following “extreme” hypothetical, used for purposes of expanding upon the previous conceptual paradigm:  Question:  Does my aching right thumb qualify for Federal Disability Retirement benefits?  Answer:  Normally not.  Sub-question:  If my job requires the constant and repetitive use of my right thumb, and such use is an essential element of my job, can my aching right thumb qualify me for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS?  Answer:  In all likelihood, yes.  

Often, it is the right question asked, and not the answer to the original question, which is the important starting point of the process in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, from the Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Spectrum of Medical Requirements

In considering a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, a Federal or Postal employee must ask questions beyond the primacy of obtaining the necessary and proper medical care for treatment of one’s own medical condition.  Thus, evidentiary issues must be considered; issues of obtaining proper medical documentation; seeking the active support of a treating doctor, etc.  These are all “non-medical” considerations, which have little to do with the actual treatment and care of one’s medical condition, but have everything to do with preparing, formulating, and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS.  

There is a distinction between the two (receiving the necessary medical care and preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application), and it is important to recognize the conceptual distinction, because the former can impact the latter.  For instance, on the spectrum of medical care (or refusal thereof) which can impact a Federal Disability Retirement application, refusal to undergo “facially reasonable medical treatment” can defeat a Federal Disability Retirement application.  

The question, of course, is how to interpret what constitutes “facially reasonable medical care”?  There are certain “obvious” ones, and then others which are not so obvious.  Normally, the Merit Systems Protection Board has held that refusal to undergo invasive surgery is not a bar to being eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits; on the other hand, refusing to take prescribed medications can, and often is, a bar to eligibility.  All else fall within the middle of the spectrum of such medical/legal requirements.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability: The Filing

Never be deceptive in your filing. Always be truthful. To be deceptive or untruthful will harm your credibility, your case, and ultimately, may defeat your ability to obtain disability retirement benefits. Now, there is a conceptual distinction between being “truthful” and emphasizing certain issues of your case, while leaving certain other issues as secondary and less prominent in the documents & supportive papers filed. Thus, to take a rather crude example, while everyone in the world spends a great deal of his or her life in the restroom, we rarely — if ever — talk about such events. Is it because we are not being “truthful”? No — instead, while it is an issue which is not emphasized, it is not something which we are also being deceptive about.

Thus, with respect to disability retirement issues, one should never deliberately attempt to mislead, hide, or otherwise “expunge” certain aspects of the disability retirement application. At the same time, however, those aspects which are not very helpful, or which may harm your case, should not be placed in bold-type or underlined in red. Wherever possible, those aspects which will weaken your case, should simply be de-emphasized — but never deliberately hidden.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: an Art Form II

In constructing the narrative of one’s story of the human condition and how it impacts the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal job, it is important to weave the story such that it relates as a story.  Every story has a beginning and an end; every story must contain the elements of an effective narrative:  What has occurred; the symptoms; the diagnosis; how the symptoms impact upon one’s ability to perform one’s job; what are some of the essential elements of one’s job; as well as some impact upon one’s personal life.  Now, the Applicant’s Statement of Disability has appropriate sections to “fill in the blank”; but one’s story should not be merely a matter of filling in the blank; instead, it should be a narrative — a coordination of the story, consistent with the medical narrative report obtained from the doctor; and finally, a legal memorandum arguing the law.  The weaving of these elements, in my experience, constitutes what I consider to be a successful disability retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire