Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Situational Disability

In filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, one must always attempt to shy away from any characterization which might portray one’s medical condition as one of “situational disability“, because the Office of Personnel Management will not only immediately embrace such characterization and regurgitate it to your detriment; moreover, they will deny the disability retirement case based upon such grounds.  

A determination that one’s medical condition is merely “situational” will be the downfall of any Federal Disability Retirement application.  One can counter it, of course, with amended and updated medical reports, but it is always best to refrain from any such characterization from the outset.  To be deemed and portrayed as a “situational disability” can occur as a result of an inadvertent statement by a treating doctor, or by an attempt by the Applicant to provide some “historical context” of how one’s “medical conditions” arose, by relating stories about the stresses in the workplace, how the supervisor “caused” a hostile work environment, which then precipitated and exacerbated one’s medical conditions.  Don’t.  Go and file an EEO Complaint; file a grievance; do other things.  Leave it out of a Federal Disability Retirement application.


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.


Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The (non) Problem of Causality & Causation

In a Worker’s Comp (DOL/OWCP/FECA) case, causation and causality often loom as significant issues, and doctors often have to walk a difficult line in making unequivocal statements, or somewhat equivocating statements, as to the “cause” of a medical condition or injury.  Such statements can sometimes be the singular focus as to the success or failure of an OWCP case.  Why?  Because OWCP compensable injuries and medical conditions must be related to the job — either as something caused by an accident while on the job, or in some way occupationally related. 

In Federal Disability Retirement cases under FERS or CSRS, one can be on a skiing vacation and incur a medical condition or disability, and so long as that person is unable to, because of the medical condition, perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, one is thereby eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS. 

Sometimes, however, the issue of causation comes into the picture, but can work in a detrimental way, but need not.  Let me clarify:  In a chemical sensitivity case, or a psychiatric condition which finds its originating “causation” from the workplace, the doctor may want to relate the “cause” of the medical condition directly to the workplace.  This is fine, so far as it goes — and, ironically, most doctors (because they have no idea about FERS or CSRS disability retirement) think they are doing their patients a favor by relating it as “causally related” to the workplace.  More often than not, however, it can open up a “can of worms” — of being characterized by the Office of Personnel Management as a “situational disability”, which must be avoided like the plague.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Workplace (Part 2)

In filing for FERS or CSRS Federal Disability Retirement benefits with the Office of Personnel Management, it is important to stay away from issues which may explicitly or implicitly characterize the particular medical condition as being “situational” in nature.  However, this does not mean that the medical condition cannot have originated from, or been exacerbated by, the workplace environment.  Remember that OPM disability retirement is not like OWCP/Worker’s Comp — the issue of causality, or whether the medical condition occurred as a result of your occupation, is not important to prove. 

However, sometimes, it is simply an indisputable fact that the medical condition originated from the workplace, or was exacerbated by conditions in the workplace.  Such origination or exacerbations, once it takes on a “life of its own” and becomes chronic and pervasive such that the medical condition impacts a person both at the workplace as well as outside the workplace, then it has transformed into a medical condition beyond being merely “situational”.  Thus, that which originated as a “situational” medical condition may well no longer be a situational one.  In such cases — and that is normally the case in almost all medical conditions which begin as a situational disability — there would be no problem with filing for OPM disability retirement benefits.


Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Situational Disability II

To reiterate: Situational disability can be an issue which can defeat a disability retirement application, precisely because OPM (and if it gets to the MSPB level, the Administrative Judge) can conclude that the Psychiatric disability in question originates and results in response to the hostile workplace environment.

These three concepts are important to understand — originate, result in, and result “in response to”. A psychiatric condition can originate from a hostile work environment, but as long as the medical condition then pervades beyond the work environment and impacts a person’s life through and through, then that alone does not constitute situational disability, because while it may have originated from A, it is not limited to A.

The second concept — results in — must be seen in the context of the condition of the psychiatric disability. Thus, does the (for example) Major Depression or anxiety result solely from the work environment, or does one experience the symptoms while at home, even while away from the work environment?

And thirdly, does the individual experience the symptoms of the psychiatric condition “in response to” his or her exposure to the work environment, or are the symptoms all-pervasive: i.e., throughout all aspects of the person’s life?

To differentiate these three concepts is important in avoiding the pitfalls of situational disability, and in helping to prepare a Psychiatrist in either preparing a medical narrative report, or in his or her testimony before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board.


Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Federal Disability Retirement: The Danger of Situational Disability

The danger of falling into the trap of situational disability, which is one of a number of reasons for denying a disability retirement application, can come about quite regularly. Especially because, in the face of contending with a medical disability that is serious enough to warrant changing one’s career, of filing for medical disability retirement — there is often the Agency’s contentious response, of needing to have the continuity of the work accomplished, of being insensitive and lacking compassion for the applicant; in such a context, the applicant views the Agency’s response as hostile.

The employee/applicant, then, in filing for disability retirement, will often make the mistake of focusing upon the hostile work environment, or the lack of compassion and empathy on the part of the Agency — and this will often warrant a denial of disability retirement based upon the medical condition of the applicant as being “situational disability” — meaning that the medical condition of the employee/applicant is limited to the work situation of that particular office or agency. This is a completely wrong-headed approach for the applicant.

That is why, when I represent my clients, I am singularly focused upon the 2 or 3 main issues that form the essence of a disability retirement case, and insist upon focusing my clients upon those very same issues, while setting aside those tangential issues which can ultimately defeat a disability retirement application. Understand that these peripheral, tangential issues may well be “important” to my client — but I would not be doing my job in representing my clients if I allowed the peripheral issues to become “front and center” — for that would be a disaster for my clients. I represent people to obtain disability retirement benefits. That is my job. That is my focus. If I allow my focus to waiver, then I am not representing my clients properly.


Robert R. McGill, Esquire