CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: The Muddle of a Myopic Focus

Focusing upon a singular aspect of an issue, and failing to comprehend its limited import and relevance within the greater context, is a pitfall which many fall into.  It is tantamount to having a myopic condition — where one’s nearsightedness prevents one from having the capacity to focus upon anything beyond those within one’s easy reach.

In a Federal Disability Retirement application, filed through one’s agency (if one is still a Federal or Postal employee, or if separated, such separation has not occurred more than 31 days) and ultimately forwarded to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (or, if separated from one’s agency for more than 31 days, directly to the Office of Personnel Management in Boyers, PA), whether under FERS or CSRS, it is important to approach the preparation, formulation and filing of one’s Federal Disability Retirement application with a larger view than to discuss issues of limited relevance.

For example, when a Federal or Postal employee is embroiled in an adversarial and contentious process with one’s own agency, or a supervisor, it is often reflected in the Federal Disability Retirement application via a tirade of specific descriptions concerning harassment, workplace hostility, etc.  While such descriptions may be relevant for purposes of an  EEOC claim, it has very little significance for one’s Federal Disability Retirement claim.

Keep the essence of a case at the forefront:  Medical issues; impact upon one’s ability/inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job.

All myopic conditions need correction; properly prescribed glasses to keep one’s focus may be a necessary expense.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Approaching the Entrance to OPM’s Thought Process

The attempt to predict an opponent’s approach in an endeavor — whether in competitive sports; in debate; in an adversarial forum — is a practice which can have favorable results, or one which ends with disastrous consequences.  For the prediction itself must be based upon known factors, such as the applicable standards which the opponent will rely upon, relevant elements which will be utilized, and human, unpredictable quirks which seem to always come into play.

In approaching an opponent, it is always a good idea to study the opposition; but too much reliance upon attempting to out-maneuver the opposition can have the negative impact of taking away from valuable preparation-time one may need in order to prevail.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, many Federal and Postal applicants attempt to analyze the questions posed on the Standard Forms (SF 3107 series for FERS employees; SF 2801 series for CSRS employees; SF 3112 series for both FERS & CSRS employees) perhaps too deeply, in attempting to “understand” the opponent — the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Yes, the questions must be analyzed; yes, there is an implicit trickiness to many of the questions (especially on SF 3112A); and, yes, a cautious approach must be taken in answering the questions.  But such caution should never detract from spending the necessary time in preparing the crux and foundation of one’s Federal Disability Retirement application — that of formulating the logical nexus between one’s medical condition and the positional duties which one can no longer perform.

Ultimately, the substance of one’s Federal Disability Retirement application must be given the greatest of focus and effort:  attempting to approach the opponent’s thought processes — in this case, that of the “collective” efforts of multiple individuals at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management — may be an act of futility; better to spend the needed hours solidifying one’s own case than to try and understand an incomprehensible entity.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Different Approaches

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, there are different approaches which one can take within the limited universe of available time which each Federal and Postal Worker possesses.

One approach is to fight every wording and each action which the agency undertakes or engages in.  A different approach is to ensure that the core and central foundation of one’s case is effective and — whether explicitly or implicitly — answers any of the collateral issues which may be brought up by the agency.

Thus, for example, if a medical narrative report effectively addresses all of the essential questions concerning a Federal Disability Retirement application, then whatever the agency attempts to argue or infer in an argument, concerning accommodations, light duty, or even adverse actions which have previously been imposed, will all become essentially irrelevant and immaterial, precisely because this is fundamentally a medical issue, and not an issue concerning who did what or tried what.

Much of what is within the purview and control of the Federal or Postal employee putting together a Federal Disability Retirement application is lost when the focus is unduly placed upon trying to correct, attack, or explain what the agency is doing.

By creating an excellent firewall of that which is within one’s own control,  the Federal Disability Retirement application that is prepared, formulated and filed by the Federal or Postal employee effectively answers anything and everything which the Agency may attempt to insert with a subversive motive.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Choosing the Medical Conditions

Often, in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the question is asked as to which medical conditions should be included in a Federal Disability Retirement application.  The obvious answer, of course, is to identify the “most serious” of the medical conditions, with a secondary consideration being the ones which impact one’s ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job.  

Whether to list “all of them” is a separate question, and then there are the subtleties which further delve into a more detailed analysis of the creation of an effective nexus between one’s medical conditions, the job description which one is supposed to be doing, and the provability of the medical conditions identified and described.  

Inasmuch as a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is a “paper presentation” to the Office of Personnel Management (and yes, the concept of a “paper presentation” still applies even if and when OPM converts entirely to the technological next-step of a paperless system; the Federal or Postal employee must still present a formatted application), the admixture of legal and medical issues will ultimately come about.  

The conceptual distinction between the diagnosis and the symptomatologies; the extent of willingness of what a treating doctor will state; the concordance between the diagnosis, the symptoms described, and their impact upon the particular elements of one’s position description; the potential impact of being found “disabled” by the Office of Personnel Management based upon a “minor” medical condition which may resolve itself in the future, as opposed to a more serious-listed one; the nebulous areas of “syndromes” (as in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) and the description of symptoms and making sure to relate the symptoms to a particular medical condition — these are all “subtleties” which involve an intersection between the legal standard of proof and the medical “facts”, in formulating a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  But that it were as easy as simply listing one’s medical conditions.  But, alas, OPM is a Federal bureaucracy, and the combination of “the law” and “a bureaucracy” can only lead to one result:  a conundrum.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Shotgun v. Tailored Approach

In filing a Federal Disability Retirement application, there is the “shotgun approach” — of peppering the application with any and all medical conditions which may prevent or otherwise impact one’s ability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  The danger of this approach, of course, is that the Office of Personnel Management can (and does) stop at the first medical condition which they deem disables the applicant from performing any of the essential elements of one’s job. If the basis of such a disability retirement approval is a secondary, or somewhat inconsequential medical condition, then there is the danger in the future that, if you receive a Medical Questionnaire requesting an update on your medical condition, that you may have recovered from such a secondary medical condition and deemed to have been fully recovered.  Now, every now and then, in the approval letter issued by the Office of Personnel Management, it will not specify which medical condition was the basis for the approval which was rendered.  However, this is in a minority of approval letters, and is not worthwhile enough to consider taking a chance on such a shotgun approach.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: Peripheral Issues

The reason why it is important to keep the peripheral issues where they belong — outside of the primary focus of a Federal Disability Retirement application, and not inject such issues, complaints or narratives — is because they can have multiple unintended consequences.

If a Federal or Postal employee is engaged in collateral litigation, complaints, grievances or other outstanding administrative filings, including EEOC Complaints, lawsuits, formal grievances, MSPB appeals, etc., while for the most part such collateral filings will not directly or indirectly impact a Federal Disability Retirement application, they can if you directly inject such issues into the application for Federal Disability Retirement.

In other words, if in the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (SF 3112A) , you refer directly to an outstanding EEOC Complaint, then it may spring forth a red flag that your case is one of “situational disability“.  Just a thought.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Complex Case

It goes without saying that each case of preparing and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is a “complex case”.  There are multiple intervening issues, including peripheral issues encompassing OWCP filings; issues with SSDI and whether to aggressively pursue it even with the offset and the lower cap for earnings; EEOC filings and collateral issues which may or may not have a direct impact upon the issues which must be focused upon in filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  It is the job of an OPM Disability Attorney to tailor the issues, such that the peripheral issues do not overwhelm and dictate the centrality of a case; and to ensure that the central focus remains like a magnifying glass upon those issues which are relevant, not only to the client and to the entire process, but most importantly, to the person reviewing the case at the Office of Personnel Management.  Whenever an inquiry begins with the statement, “Mine is a rather complex case,” I realize that the primary job is to try and simplify the complexities, and that begins with narrowing the issue down to the single focus of the reason why the caller is calling in the first place:  the medical condition, and how that medical condition impacts one’s ability to perform one’s job.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire