Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Creating a Meaningful Bridge

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is obviously important to construct an effective bridge, or nexus, between one’s identified medical conditions and the type of positional duties which one performs at the Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service.  

In doing so, one should keep in mind certain essential points, each from the perspective of the Office of Personnel Management (which is the agency which will determine whether the Federal or Postal employee/applicant’s Federal Disability Retirement application will be approved or denied).  

For instance, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will only consider those medical conditions which are identified in the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (SF 3112A).  Once a CSA Number (an administrative identifier which is assigned by OPM — an eight-digit number beginning with “4” for CSRS employees and ending with a “0”; and for FERS employees, beginning with an “8” and ending with a “0”) is assigned to an application, the Federal or Postal employee is no longer able to add any further medical conditions without withdrawing the application completely, and re-submitting it anew.

Further, while the Office of Personnel Management will consider specific duties and descriptions of duties which are delineated and expanded upon in the narrative portion of SF 3112A, it is the “official” position description which will ultimately be controlling. Thus, a logical variance from the official position description as to what a Federal or Postal employee does, will not make any difference.  However, if what the Federal or Postal employee states that he or she is doing, is completely at odds with what the positional description states that he or she should be doing, then the controlling default will be the official position description.  

It is wise to keep these two perspectives in mind, in creating an effective bridge for a Federal Disability Retirement application.  For, ultimately, it is the perspective from the “other side” which matters, and as such, OPM’s perspective of how a Federal Disability Retirement application is reviewed and considered, is an important aspect in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: A Bridge Too Far

The step-by-step process which the Federal or Postal employee must engage in for purposes of formulating an effective Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, is defined by the bridge, or “nexus”, which one must formulate, connecting the two separate entities:  on the one side are the medical issues; on the other, one’s positional duties which one has been engaging in and successfully performing all these many years for one’s agency or the U.S. Postal Service.  

The job of the potential Federal Disability Retirement applicant is to bring the two separate and distinct entities together, by preparing and formulating a connecting “bridge” or “nexus” between the two.  This is because one of the most important evidentiary showings that one must prove, by meeting the legal standard of “preponderance of the evidence“, is that the Federal or Postal employee is no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s official positional duties.  

The problem with any such bridge which must be constructed and carefully formulated, however, is that many Federal Disability Retirement applicants put forth too much information, to the extent that some information may in fact defeat or otherwise damage the connection, by providing information which may be irrelevant (less damaging, but creates peripheral problems and confusion), of ancillary legal issues (may be more damaging, depending upon whether the Federal Disability Retirement applicant has brought in work-related issues which may point to a description of “situational disability”); or, provide information on certain medical conditions which contradict other information provided (again, often more damaging to a case).  

It is always important to provide enough information to the Office of Personnel Management to meet the burden of proof, of a preponderance of the evidence, in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application; too much information will sometimes be damaging; too much of the wrong kind of information may be very damaging.  As the title of the well-known book implies, one must be careful not to construct a “bridge too far”.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: Basic Approaches

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is always best to begin the formulation and preparation of a case by attending to the basic approaches.

Complexity of a case should not be inherently obvious.  The ease with which the professional in any field of activity makes such an activity appear to the spectator, is merely an attestation of the time and preparation expended.  

If a case is so complex that the Federal or Postal employee is unable to convey the interactive bridge between the symptoms and diagnosed medical conditions, and the type of positional duties which one must be able to function at, then how is the Claims Representative at the Office of Personnel Management going to be able to comprehend such complexity which the Applicant himself/herself is unable to effectively delineate and describe?  

Extraneous complexities, outside issues, peripheral concerns, and intra-agency squabbles, including allegations of discrimination, unequal treatment, etc., are normally irrelevancies which must be forced from the center of a Federal Disability Retirement case, to a mere passing footnote, if that.

Remember that one does not want to be pigeonholed into asserting a “situational disability” claim, which is a valid basis to be denied in a Federal Disability Retirement application.  Keep things simple. Approach the case with the basics in mind.  Formulate the nexus between one’s medical conditions and one’s positional duties.  Always keep in mind the essence of a case.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: The Uniqueness of Medical Conditions

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS, there are always unique aspects of particular medical conditions which impact upon specific elements of the positional duties of a Federal or Postal employee.

Thus, for example, shoulder problems (rotator cuff tears; shoulder impingement syndrome, etc.) limits the ability to engage in rotational movements, and specifically restricts overhead lifting, or lifting above shoulder-level, and therefore constrains the ability to perform multiple craft-required duties for the U.S. Postal Service.

Similarly, for psychiatric medical conditions, Major Depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Attacks, and similarly oriented psychiatric medical conditions related or on a coordinated spectrum, impact the ability to maintain a sustained analytical perspective and performance of duties.  Thus, for information-based positions (Information Technology Specialist; Budget Analyst; auditors; personnel management duties, etc.), the very cognitive-intensive duties are directly impacted by such uniquely psychiatric conditions.

These examples, however, are merely referential samples, and in no way reflect an exhaustive discussion of how a medical condition impacts a particular kind of job, or the various elements which make up a Federal or Postal job.

Thus, by way of cross-over example, a person who suffers from shoulder pain can be prevented from performing the essential elements of an information-based administrative job, because of the high distractability of the pain, the inability to take pain medications during work hours because of the sedation it creates, and because of the radiating pain and numbness to one’s extremities, preventing the repetitive type of work on a computer keyboard, etc.

Ultimately, one should never think in terms of a one-to-one ratio or correspondence between a specific medical condition and a particular element of a job.  Crossovers of medical conditions and their impact upon a job are ultimately unique to the individual, and it is the job of the OPM Disability Attorney to properly represent that uniqueness.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Focusing upon the Bridge

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the multitude of aspects in preparing the application will often lend itself to detracting and distracting from the primary elements of an effective application and presentation.

Thus, worries about what the Supervisor will or will not say; whether the Agency will mis-characterize a supposed “good deed” they performed by declaring it to be an “accommodation”, with the danger that such declaration and characterization will be accepted by the Clerk at the Office of Personnel Management as true, etc. — all of these take away from the essence of creating that important bridge between one’s medical conditions and the essential elements of one’s positional duties.

Because the vast majority of denials issued by the Office of Personnel Management are based upon “insufficient medical documentation”, an undue focus upon other elements of a Federal Disability Retirement application would not be an intelligent utilization of one’s time and effort.

While OPM will certainly argue that the Agency has “accommodated” the Federal or Postal employee (and use that term improperly 9 times out of 10); and while OPM will point to elements in a Supervisor’s Statement as a further basis for a denial; each such supplemental argument by the Office of Personnel Management is nevertheless based upon the centrality of a primary argument, in most cases:  Insufficient Medical Documentation.

As such, it is prudent to focus one’s efforts upon the primary basis which provides the foundation for an effective Federal Disability Retirement application:  The bridge between one’s medical conditions, and the essential elements of one’s job.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Distinguishing between Diagnoses and Symptomatologies

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application with the Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS (Federal Employee’s Retirement System) or CSRS (Civil Service Retirement System), in preparing and formulating the Applicant’s Statement of Disability on Standard Form 3112A, it is important to distinguish between the medical conditions which are diagnosed, from the symptoms which are experienced by the Federal or Postal employee.  The focus is often upon the latter (the symptoms) as opposed to the former (the officially diagnosed medical conditions), as it should be because of the nature of the requirements in proving a Federal Disability Retirement case with the Office of Personnel Management.

By that is meant the following: Because one must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that one is eligible and entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits from OPM, by exhibiting a nexus between one’s medical conditions and one’s medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, the descriptive analysis of such bridging between one’s medical condition and the impact upon one’s ability/inability to perform the essential elements of one’s particular job, is quite naturally focused upon the symptomatologies which one experiences.

The blurring of the lines between the “official” medical condition as itemized in a list of diagnoses, as opposed to the descriptive delineation of the exhibited symptoms, or the symptoms which are subjectively experienced and (often) correlated by objective radiological reports, is a natural occurrence. Often, the two are (and should be) deliberately intermingled in the narrative description of the Applicant’s Statement of Disability. However, one should always write the narrative portion of the SF 3112A with the view towards the future potential issues which may arise: that of being “disabled” for a specifically-identified medical condition.

Sometimes the OPM Representative will specifically identify a medical condition; sometimes, no such identification will occur. Then, there are times when the lines between “diagnosis” and “symptoms” naturally crosses — as in, “Chronic Pain Syndrome” as distinguished from “chronic pain”. Blurring the lines in a discussion is expected and should be applied in formulating one’s Applicant’s Statement of Disability; but such blurring should occur with deliberation and purpose, and not just because one does not recognize the distinction between the two.

As with everything in life, the consequences of doing something by accident are quite different from that which results from a purposive and deliberate action.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Applicant’s Statement — from the Generic to the Specific

In preparing, formulating, finalizing and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, one must (of course) describe and delineate the “bridge” between one’s medical condition(s) and how it impacts or prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  This is done on the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (Standard Form 3112A, both for Federal and Postal employees under FERS or CSRS).

In formulating and describing the impact upon the essential elements, or core job duties, of one’s position, it is often an intelligent approach to begin with the generic, then to provide some specific examples.  This is more of an issue of “form” over “substance”, of course, but is often effective, nonetheless.

By way of this approach in describing one’s medical conditions and their impact upon the essential elements of one’s job, it provides a clarity of understanding for the clerk at the Office of Personnel Management — of first being provided with an “overview” of what the job entails, then to be given specific examples within the context of the overview.

Ease of understanding and a compelling force in telling a narrative story of one’s personal experience in having a medical condition, and its impact upon one’s professional life, will enhance the chances of an approval at the First Stage of the process in fling a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, at the Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire