The Basic Question Of “What?” during the Federal Disability Retirement Application and Process

“Why” evinces a quality of curiosity, and perhaps of disbelief; “who” indicates a need to establish an identity and source; “how” demonstrates a pragmatic approach in determining a future course of action; and “what” reveals the yearning to unravel the foundations of basic principles, as in Aristotle’s methodology in his Metaphysics.

Before the first storyteller or shaman put on a mask to enhance the mysteries of healing and divination; long before the wide-eyed children gathered with the adults around the village center where the bonfire roared with flickering shadows of unknown powers beyond the periphery of the fireflies beaming in the distant darkness of dangers beyond; and well preceding the written account of human history, where anthropology and narrative fantasy melded to provide reminiscences of prehistoric days created in the imaginations of youth, the question of “what” was uttered in innocence.

What is the meaning of X? What happened? What makes a thing become itself? What is the essence of being?  Thus for any entrance into a fresh endeavor, the human need for satisfying the “what” of a matter is the prefatory step towards progress.

For the Federal and Postal Worker who is contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the initial question might be: What constitutes a “disability”?  In that question is the key which often opens wide the conventional confinement which so many people are locked into.

For, in the traditional sense, the focus of the answer to such a question is contained in the definition and diagnosis of a medical condition.  For FERS and CSRS Federal Disability Retirement, however, the expansion of the answer goes well beyond the strictures of a diagnosis.  It is the nexus, or the connection, between the medical condition and symptoms, on the one hand, and the positional requirements (whether physical, mental or emotional) of one’s Federal or Postal work, which establishes the answer.

Once the Federal and Postal employee gains an understanding of this differentiating concept, then the doors open wide beyond the confinement of OWCP benefits or Social Security Disability benefits.  Thus does one approach Federal Disability Retirement with trepidation in asking, What qualifies as a disability?  For, contained within the question is the implicit and unspoken answer: such a query already implies a problem, and the problem likely is an impact already being felt upon one’s inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s positional duties of one’s Federal or Postal employment.

As with the first causative rumblings deep in the consciousness of one’s soul, as a child first begins to question the complexity of the universe surrounding the inner self of the “I”, the question uttered alters the relationship between the being of “I” and the objectivity of “others” in a perplexing world of unanswered questions; but in the end, the “what” is a first step, and so it is also for the Federal and Postal employee who is considering filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether you are under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Non-nexus

Meeting an adequacy test may constitute sufficiency for some purposes, but not for others.  Thus, it may be enough in completing an FMLA form to have a diagnosis, along with answers to other questions on WH-380-E.  But mere identification of a medical condition via a diagnosis, along with a description of symptomatologies will not be enough to meet the sufficiency test in a Federal Disability Retirement application.

People often assume that having a medical condition in and of itself sufficiently explains the severity of one’s condition, and any implied “blank spaces” can be filled in by the mere existence of such a medical condition.  But Federal Disability Retirement, whether under FERS or CSRS, filed through, reviewed by, and approved or disapproved by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence that the medical condition itself prevents the Federal or Postal employee from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s positional duties.

As such, the identification and description of a medical condition fails to comply with the adequacy standards in proving eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  One must establish, through the conduit of a medical professional, the “nexus” or “connection” between one’s identified medical condition and the inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.

The weight of the proof is upon the Federal or Postal applicant.

The foundation of such evidence begins with the identified medical condition, but in and of itself, it is a non-nexus — until it is squarely placed in the context of one’s official position and the duties required by one’s duties.  Thus, the non-nexus become the nexus-point when combined with the identification and description of one’s positional duties.

It is this realization of the step-by-step sequence of proof which constitutes adequacy and sufficiency of evidence, and one of which the Federal or Postal applicant for OPM Disability Retirement benefits must be aware.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The Corresponding Bridge

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the Federal or Postal employee must always keep in mind the overriding connection throughout the entire administrative process — the correspondence between the medical condition and one’s positional duties.

Thus, redundancy and reiteration of the impact and connection between the two elements should be seen at every turn — in the medical reports; in the applicant’s statement of disability; in the Supervisor’s Statement (if possible); in the SF 3112D, Agency Efforts for Reassignment and Accommodation, etc.  

As Social Security bases its decision in determining the disability of an applicant upon factors which involve the medical condition itself and its impact upon daily living abilities, so Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS takes a different focus and approach:  it emphasizes and evaluates the necessary connection between the medical condition one suffers from, and the impact upon one’s positional duties in the official slot held by the Federal or Postal employee.  

As the law focuses upon that “necessary connection,” so the evidence which is presented to the Office of Personnel Management, in meeting the legal criteria by a preponderance of the evidence, must emphasize and repetitively, where possible, delineate such a connection.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

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