CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: The Fallacy of Objective Medical Evidence

The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals has already addressed the issue of the Office of Personnel Management’s unjustified adherence to making a distinction between “objective medical evidence” as opposed to what they deem and declare to be “subjective” evidence.

The distinction has no statutory basis or authority, but OPM continues to make the same, repetitive and tiring arguments concerning such a distinction.  Of course, when there exists a plenitude of “objective” evidence, then OPM will often sidestep such evidence and argue that it wasn’t “compelling” enough.  

The fallacy of “objective” versus “subjective” becomes most apparent, of course, when it addresses the issue of “pain”.  Pain is by definition a subjective state of experiential encounter.  If there is any “objective” evidence of pain, it is a misunderstanding of what constitutes such evidence.  Thus, for instance, one might point to an MRI showing a multi-level disc degeneration from L3-L4, L4-L5, etc., and state, “There, we have objective evidence of pain.”

Not quite.  What you merely have, if one stops and considers it, is simply a parallel set of observable facts:  A:  an image which reveals an abnormality of the spine, combined with B, which has an individual who conveys a sensation of pain.  However, inasmuch as there are many people who have similar or worse states of “A” (multi-level disc degeneration), but go through life without any apparent pain, one cannot therefore argue that A is “objective” evidence of “B”.  There may be a parallel correlation to be made, but no causal connection.  

Regardless, the Federal Circuit Court has already declared OPM to be in error for making such a distinction.  However, despite the law, OPM continues to deny Federal Disability Retirement applications under FERS & CSRS by adhering to the false distinction.  Imagine that.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: Repetitive Stress Injury & Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Stories abound, of course, concerning the worker who claims to suffer from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, or from similar medical conditions which are often generically placed under the rubric of “repetitive stress injuries” — chronic conditions of pain, numbness, tingling, and radiating pain and numbness often emanating from extremities and impacting one’s ability to engage in fine dexterous movement and manipulations — often limiting movement and abilities upon computer work, file handling, but also into areas which require mechanical repair, electronic technician work, Airways Systems work, work which requires the fine manipulative use of fingers, hands, etc.

They are real injuries and medical conditions, and should not be dismissed lightly.  Use and overuse over time, or sometimes resulting from a specific traumatic injury, can result in the devastating impact which prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  For Federal and Postal employees either under FERS or CSRS, Carpal Tunnel Symdrome (CTS) and Repetitive Stress Injuries are a viable basis to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  When CTS surgery (“release”), hand splints, and physical therapy have failed to alleviate the chronic nature of the medical condition, it may be time to consider filing with the Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Chronic Pain

Chronic pain in a Federal Disability Retirement application can result in a “catch-22” (as that famous Joseph Heller novel forever captured that phrase) — on the one hand, the diffuse and radiating, incessant pain results in such a high level of distractability that one is unable to focus and concentrate upon either a sedentary job, or a job which requires physical exertion because of the limitation and restriction of movement which such pain induces; but further, if one ingests pain medications, such medications will often create sedation to the extent that it results in greater lack of focus & concentration, or result in making a Federal or Postal worker into a “workplace hazard” because of the potential for accidents, etc.  

In such a case, “accommodation” in the workplace becomes a moot point in a Federal Disability Retirement case.  Such tripartite connections — between the Federal or Postal Worker and the type of work he or she engages in; the medical condition the Federal or Postal Worker suffers from; and the symptomatologies which manifest themselves which impact one’s ability to perform all of the essential elements of one’s job — are important to explain, delineate, and ultimately narrate effectively in preparing, formulating, and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Thoughts on Specific Disabilities

There is a view that is often proposed that, for certain medical conditions or disabilities, that a different “approach” needs to be undertaken.  Thus, by way of example, certain medical conditions such as (to name just a few, and of course, the list is by no means intended to be exhaustive) Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), various forms of Multiple Chemical/Environmental Sensitivity cases, and even psychiatric conditions such as Bi-polar Disorder, Generalized Anxiety, etc. — are often thought to be somehow in a “different” category from (again, by way of example) more “traditional” medical conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus, Shoulder Impingement Syndrome, Osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, herniated discs (cervical or lumbar), Torn ACL, Failed Back Syndrome, etc.

Thus, the question sometimes posed is:  should the former types of medical conditions somehow be treated “differently” than the latter, more traditional types of medical conditions?  My answer is, generally, “No”.  First, each individual case must be treated based upon the uniqueness of the particular case.  Second, to file a disability retirement application “differently” because you fear that OPM may not accept your particular kind of medical condition approaches the entire process in a defensive, almost defeatist manner.  Third, because Federal Disability Retirement is based upon the symptoms which are manifested, as opposed to a “category” of a medical condition, and further, how those symptoms and manifested symptomatologies impact the essential elements of one’s job, it is the emphasis upon the nexus between the symptoms and the core elements of the job which should always be emphasized, and not what your medical condition is “called” or “named” as.  Thus, as a general point of legal approach, I prepare all of my clients’ disability retirement applications in a similar vein:  that, regardless of what condition you have been diagnosed with, the symptoms exhibited and clinically identified by your treating doctor impact your ability to perform the essential elements of your job.  This is the best approach to take in all cases.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Federal Disability Retirement: Psychiatric Disabilities

I am often asked, on an initial interview/consultation of a potential client, whether or not psychiatric medical disabilities (Major Depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, PTSD, panic attacks, Bi-polar disorder, etc.) are “more difficult” to prove than physical disabilities. This question is similar, of course, to the question often asked of certain other kinds of disabilities, like Fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and other similar (often designated as “auto-immune” disabilities) medical conditions.

In my experience, there is no single generic answer to the question of whether or not a particular medical disability is “more difficult” to prove than another. In my experience, I have gotten approved an application for Major Depression based upon a single-page note from a Psychiatrist; on the converse/inverse experience, I have had cases rejected at the First Stage of the process (but, fortunately, had the same cases approved at the Second, Reconsideration Stage) showing chronic, failed-back syndrome cases where prior surgical discectomies, multiple diagnostic MRIs showing incontrovertible basis for severe and radiating pain, and multiple specialists verifying the client’s clear and irrefutable inability to perform the essential elements of his/her job. In preparing a Federal disability retirement retirement application, my many years of experience has taught me a number of elementary & foundational lessons: First, a clear and concise presentation of providing a direct nexus between the particular medical condition and the type of job that the Federal/Postal employeee performs, is very important; Second, it is very rarely the volume of records which is convincing; rather, it is the quality of the medical report which is paramount; and Third, it often depends upon which OPM Disability Specialist it is assigned to, which sometimes “makes the difference” between approval and denial.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire