CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: A Hypothetical

The case-law opinions from the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, as well as from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, upholds the statement added onto Question 4 of Standard Form 3112A, the form which specifically requests the Applicant’s statement of disability, which asserts:  “We consider only the disease and/or injuries you discuss in this application”.

Failure to identify a particular medical condition can have an adverse impact upon one’s application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Take the following hypothetical: a Federal or Postal employee is terminated from Federal Service; he or she files for Federal Disability Retirement benefits within one (1) year of being separated from service.  While the Statute of Limitations has already been met because the filing has occurred within the 1-year timeframe, during the process of awaiting a decision from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the treating doctor has diagnosed with greater specificity the primary and underlying cause of the medical condition.

In his or her haste to file, the (now former) Federal employee quickly noted the diagnosed medical conditions in response to question 4, but nowhere is there an indication of the newly-diagnosed medical condition.  During the wait, it is now more than 1 year from the time of separation.  The quandary:  The Federal Disability Retirement application cannot be withdrawn, because the 1-year Statute of Limitations has already passed, and so he or she is no longer able to re-file.  No additional medical conditions can be added onto the SF 3112A.

Is there a problem? The answer:  Under this hypothetical, potentially yes.

Even if OPM approves the case, there may be future difficulties if OPM approves the Disability Retirement application based upon a medical condition listed, but resolved.  Care in identifying and properly annotating the medical conditions must be taken in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS.

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

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The “Grab-bag” Approach

In preparing, formulating, and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, there is always the question of which medical conditions to include in the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (prepared on SF 3112A).  One approach which many Federal and Postal employees take (which, in my opinion is the wrong one to embrace), is to name every medical condition, symptom and suspected symptom one has suffered from, or is suffering from.  This might be characterized as the “shotgun” or “grab-bag” approach. 

One must be sympathetic to this approach, of course, if only because of the following reason:  OPM regulations and case-law supports the position that once an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits has been filed with the Office of Personnel Management, a Federal or Postal employee cannot amend or add any further medical conditions without withdrawing the application and re-filing. 

Thus, a Federal or Postal employee who prepares and files an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is “locked into” what is stated on one’s SF 3112A.  Because of this, many Federal and Postal employees who prepare the application without the assistance of competent legal representation will take the “grab-bag” approach of listing every possible medical condition known to man. 

While this may seem like a reasonable, “safe” approach to take, remember that such an approach can have unintended consequences:  Upon an approval of the Federal Disability Retirement application, the approval letter may approve the Disability Retirement application based upon a minor medical condition which you no longer suffer from.  This, of course, can have negative consequences down the road.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: The Developing Medical Issue

There is a legitimate concern in preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application, that if an Applicant’s Statement (Standard Form 3112A both for FERS & CSRS employees) is not prepared properly, there may be some unforeseen repercussions down the road, including being barred from “adding” to the list of diagnosed medical conditions, to being found “disabled” based upon a minor, peripheral medical condition which may become “cured” within a short timeperiod.  This is true also of a “developing” medical condition — where symptoms abound, but the doctor is unsure of the specific diagnosis to ascribe to the patient.  That is why much of preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is more of an art form than a strict application of “the law” .  Yes, it is important to understand and apply the law.  Yes, it is important to extract prior experiences and weave the essential elements, both of the law, of facts, of medical descriptions, etc., into a meaningful narrative in bridging the two essential fields of evidentiary substance:  the medical evidence and the type of job which is impacted.  But more than that, one must know how to interconnect all of the necessary elements — the law, the facts, the medical basis, the essential elements of one’s job — into a coherent whole.  As for any developing medical issues, the same methodology can be applied — in an artful way, such that an unnamed diagnosis will have been “covered” by a description of the symptoms.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Don’t Overlist Medical Conditions

The natural inclination, taking all factors into consideration, would be to list all medical conditions, and to take the chance that the Office of Personnel Management will intelligently discern and ascertain such medical conditions in the order of their severity.  This would be a mistake.  For, in filing an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the arbitrary nature in which the medical conditions are selected by OPM, makes it into a dangerous gamble.  What must be decided early on, is to take into consideration all factors and circumstances, looking at the medical conditions in their priority of severity, and assessing the impact of each, or the combination of several, and placing them into a “pool” in which medical conditions comprise a generic designation which would “cover” or “identify” a number of subcategories — then to list them in the order of how they specifically impact one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  This must be done intelligently, with foresight, and with deliberation.  Otherwise, to rely upon a presumed rational methodology by the Office of Personnel Managment will ultimately backfire in an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Which Medical Conditions to List II

If you list all of the medical conditions you suffer from on the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (SF 3112A) in filing an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, then you take the risk that the Office of Personnel Management may approve your disability retirement application based upon a condition which is only marginally serious (which can lead to some future problems, if OPM requests that you respond to an OPM Medical Questionnaire, inquiring about your current status and your disability).  On the other hand, if you fail to mention a medical condition, and you file your Federal Disability Retirement application, once you are assigned a CSA Number, you are precluded from amending or adding to the list of medical conditions described in your Applicant’s Statement of Disability.  Thus, discretionary decisions must be made.  You must strike a proper balance between listing the major medical conditions, and deciding which medical conditions truly impact your ability/inability to perform the essential elements of your job, and discern which conditions and symptoms are likely to remain chronic, or continue to deteriorate.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire