Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Confirming the Relationship

After undergoing all of the those diagnostic tests; after allowing the doctor to clinically examine, prescribe multiple medications based merely upon the say-so of the doctor; after allowing for invasive surgery; sending you to physical therapy; if the time then comes to prepare and file a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is important to confirm the strength of that “patient-doctor” relationship that has apparently been ongoing and fostered for those many months, years, and sometimes, decades.  

It is not enough to get a nebulous “pat-on-the-back-sure-I’ll-support-you” sort of response, and with that, you receive a thick packet from the medical office, you open it, and inside is merely a copy of your medical records.  No — “support” must be concrete and definitive. It must mean, specifically, that the doctor is willing to write an excellent medical report outlining his or her opinion in connecting your medical condition with you inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of your job.  If it is time to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, it is time to have a heart-to-heart talk with the treating doctor, and see how committed he or she really was and is to this “patient-doctor” relationship.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal & Postal Disability Retirement: Credibility (Part II)

Ultimately, then, credibility of a FERS or CSRS Disability Retirement application will often come about based upon an initial perusal and superficial, “first-time” look at a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  That is why it is often important to thoughtfully and sequentially place information in a methodological, coherent manner. That is why superfluous, peripheral material, opinions, statements from non-medical third parties, etc., should be kept to a minimum, at least in any initial attachment.  Now, if it is thought to be necessary and if it is determined to be helpful additional information, then an addendum attachment, or perhaps an attachment chronologically listed as “additional helpful information” can be part of the packet.  However, it should be clearly identified as such, and even the “additional information” should be streamlined, coherently structured and qualitatively and selectively utilized.  Remember that the essence of a Federal Disability Retirement case is the interconnection between a person’s medical condition and the type of work which one engages in.  As such, aside from the personal “I” statement, the medical reports and records should be the central focus.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Preempting OPM’s Arguments

It is important at all stages of a Federal Disability Retirement application for FERS & CSRS employees to predict, anticipate, and preempt the arguments which the Office of Personnel Management may make, will make, and can be expected to make.  Obviously, the three main areas of such concern are:  Sufficiency of medical documentation; Agency efforts for accommodation and reassignment; the impact and interconnection between one’s medical condition(s) and the positional duties of one’s job. 

However, there are multiple other areas, and it is the job of an applicant filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, or his/her attorney, to anticipate the areas of OPM’s concerns, and to address them both factually and legally — the latter, by pointing out statutory authorities and case-law holdings directly or implicitly touching upon those very areas of concern.  Further, one should never be fooled if, in an initial denial of an OPM Disability Retirement application, the substance of a denial is fairly short or if it is detailed and lengthy; the content of a denial letter should not determine the extent of a response by an applicant at the Reconsideration Stage.  Instead, whether short, of “middle length”, or extremely detailed, a response should anticipate all areas of concern, and the applicant who is attempting to secure an approval for his or her Federal Disability Retirement benefits should always preempt any potential areas for a further denial.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Decision-Making

It is interesting how individuals make decisions, especially on important matters.  In coming to a decision to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the process itself is often an admixture of rational lists, emotional reactions, and a keen sense of realization.  While we often like to think that the “decision-making process” involves a reasoned, deliberative methodology of thought-processes, the reality of it is that most decisions are made more upon a reliance on instinctive feelings.  There is actually nothing wrong with that.  When an individual is suffering from one or more medical conditions, and those conditions are clearly impacting one’s ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job, it is often the rationalization which impedes the necessary decision to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  Thus, economic and other reasons come into play, which often prolong the gut-instinct of the need to file.  This tension — between what the body is telling one, and what the mind is attempting to prevent — is a natural part of the entire process.

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

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: The Family Doctor and the Surgeon

I am often asked whether or not a medical report from the “specialist” will have a greater impact than a family doctor.  Implied in such a question, of course, is a perspective which tends to see the family doctor as somehow “less qualified”, sort of like comparing the technical deficiencies of a “country doctor” as opposed to a “real doctor” — one who works in an emergency room in a large metropolitan hospital.  Perspectives and prejudices have a way of defining judgments, and assumptions, presumptions and long-held beliefs, whether valid or not, often rule our lives. 

How can I answer such questions?  In the course of a Hearing before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board, I have had family doctors testify who were unbeatable, and certainly overwhelming in his or her expertise and medical knowledge.  The years of experience in having to deal with thousands of patients, and confronting and treating medical conditions of every imaginable sort — and making decisions (including referring patients to “specialists” for concurring or confirming diagnoses and opinions) involving the “whole” patient’s medical condition and treatment — came through with such persuasive force and overwhelming confidence, that it was indeed the “family doctor” or the “country doctor” who ruled the day. 

Similarly, I have had the “specialist” testify in cases, who barely were able to coherently describe the connection between the medical condition and the essential elements of the job.  And, of course, sometimes the opposite is true — good surgeon, mediocre family doctor; mediocre specialist, great country doctor.  As in all things, in Federal Disability Retirement applications under FERS or CSRS, it is not so much that the credentials matter, as the character, experience, and “heart” of the doctor who treats the patient.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire