Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Keeping it Simple

In almost all instances, stating the obvious when filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS is the rule to follow.  Another simple rule to follow:  Keep it Simple.  Except in special circumstances (e.g., where there is a nebulous diagnosis and one must interweave multiple symptmatologies in order to bypass the possibility that you may be later precluded from “adding” a “new” medical condition, etc.), it is best to stick to a paradigm of a 1-to-1 ratio or correspondence of medical conditions, symptoms, impact upon work, etc.  

Such a template can be dangerous to follow, however, because any Applicant’s Statement of one’s disability should never appear mechanical or stilted in its tone and tenor.  Emotionalism should not be stripped from an applicant’s statement of one’s disability in a Federal Disability Retirement application and, indeed, sterility should not be a goal to be sought.  

That goal should be from the treating doctor, where technical medical terms present a sense of diagnostic objectivity and scientific validity.  But such simple rules as presenting the correspondence between specific physical conditions with the physical requirements of one’s job, and similarly, between specific psychiatric symptoms with the cognitive requirements of one’s job, is an important “rule” to follow.  Remember, however, that filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is not a “perfect science”; in fact, it is not a science at all, but a mix between law, personal input, and medical facts, with the creative force of persuasion.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: If all Roads Lead to …

If all roads lead to Point A, then it is obviously Point A which is of importance; the multiple roads which lead to it, while supportive and secondarily of importance, it is that critical point which must be taken care of.  This principle is important to keep in mind in preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  What is the critical “Point A” of the process?  What is that essential centrality around which everything else coalesces and points back to?  That which is determined to be the foundational center of any process is that which must be thoughtfully formulated and constructed. 

In a Federal Disability Retirement case, for Federal and Postal workers under FERS & CSRS, that critical “Point A” is the Standard Form 3112A — the Applicant’s Statement of Disability.  Think about it for a moment.  That is the form — and the opportunity — to discuss the medical conditions; how the medical conditions impact one’s inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job; whether or not your medical condition can be accommodated, etc.  What is the relevance of a medical report?  Its relevance surfaces only when it is explained in relation to one’s job.  What is the relevance of a job description?  Its relevance emerges only in relation to the explained medical condition.  What is the relevance of how a medical condition impacts one’s life outside of work?  Its relevance becomes apparent only in relation to its pervasiveness and described impact.  All of these issues become relevant because they point back to Point A — the Applicant’s Statement of Disability.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: Knowing your own Case

In preparing and submitting an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS, it is important to know your own case.  This will often take some time and effort, but it is worthwhile, for many reasons:  Knowing and understanding the extent to which your doctor will support you; understanding fully the medical terminology which your doctor has used; knowing that what you say in your Applicant’s Statement of Disability (SF 3112A) does not contradict or otherwise invalidate what your doctor states in his or her medical report — these are all important aspects of a Federal Disability Retirement case.

Often, doctors use medical terminology which, read in the context in which it is written, can be misunderstood and mininterpreted.  Such misreading then leads to a misstatement by the applicant in his or her Applicant’s Statement of Disability, thinking that it is supported by the medical documentation which is submitted. Even if it is an honest error, such a self-contained contradiction can harm a case, as when the Office of Personnel Management is able to point to a doctor’s report and is able to state:  While you claim X, your own doctor states Y…

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Coordinate the Supporting Documentation

An Applicant’s Statement of Disability in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS must always attempt to coordinate the statement with the supporting medical (and other) documentation, taking care that the statement does not undermine the supporting documentation, and conversely, to deliberately and with purposeful intent to make sure that the supporting documentation does just that — “supports” and complements what the Statement of Disability states.  Thus, the Statement of Disability must find a careful balance between overwhelming the supporting documentation and undermining the supporting documentation.  It must do neither; it must, instead, strike the middle ground, allowing for the supporting documentation to provide the focal emphasis of the substance and content of the claims inherent in the Statement of Disability, and at the same time, must validate the Statement of Disability.  In this way, an applicant’s Statement of Disability in an OPM Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS conveys the validity of a submission.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Using the Legal Tool

A word of wisdom:  generally, it is not a wise endeavor for applicants who are not lawyers, who file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, to make legal arguments.  I have seen the end-product of such results, and have concluded that they are more-often-than-not, harmful to the case.  Most legal arguments are formulated through years of discretionary application based upon extensive research and experience in a given area of law; and the discretion that must be used is not always intuitively obvious.

As an example, there are cases where it is entirely appropriate to submit the VA disability rating as part of the Federal Disability Retirement application, as supplemental documentation in support thereof.  However, determination concerning the importance, impact and significance of relying upon such information must be discreetly assessed.

Yes, there is “case-law” concerning the persuasive authority of VA Disability ratings.  However, the practical legal aspect of utilizing such ratings must be carefully considered, based upon numerous factors:  while the combined rating may be higher, what are the individual percentages?  Are each high enough to warrant persuasive argumentation?  Could closer scrutiny of the individually ascribed ratings be more harmful to one’s case?  Is the rating (and each individualized break-down) discussed in medical terms in the VA records?

Ultimately, the individual who files for Federal Disability Retirement benefits without an attorney must rely upon himself or herself, and the wisdom of one’s own counsel.  Whether that is wise or not, I leave to each individual.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Selective Reality

The problem with an unrepresented Federal or Postal employee who files for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management, is that because this is the one and only encounter with OPM, any response from them will be a narrow, one-dimensional perspective.

Thus, if the Office of Personnel Management denies the Federal or Postal disability retirement application, such a denial, the manner in which it is written, the content, the apparent delineation of “the law”, and the loosely-stated declarative statement while vaguely referring to the insufficiency of one’s medical documentation, will result in a narrow perspective, in a vacuum of reality created by OPM.

OPM’s denial letters are notorious for its selective reality.  Such selective reality will completely ignore all medical statements which seem to support the OPM disability retirement application, while selectively focusing upon every tidbit of medical notations which favor the denial.

Thus, be careful if on any given day, you arrive at the doctor’s office and the doctor asks you how you are feeling, and you respond with, “I’m feeling pretty good, today.”  Such a conversational statement may nullify the fact that, in its proper context, what the reality of your statement meant to convey was:  “I’m feeling better today in comparison with yesterday and the entire month before, but in no way could I perform my job even today.”  But OPM will selectively pick upon that one statement, and run with it — to a complete and total basis in denying your Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal & Postal Service Disability Retirement: How Many Should Be Listed (Part 2)?

The listing of the medical conditions in a Federal Disability Retirement application, as it is descriptively written on the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (SF 3112A) for FERS & CSRS disability retirement, to be submitted to the Office of Personnel Management, is a separate issue from the creative description of the symptoms which the applicant experiences as a result of the identified listing of the medical conditions.  Thus, a distinction should be made between the “official” diagnosed medical conditions (which should be limited in number, for reasons previously delineated) and the multiple and varied “symptoms” which result from the listed medical conditions.  Thus, while one may suffer from the medical condition termed as “Fibromyalgia”, the symptoms can be multiple:  chronic and diffuse pain; impact upon cognitive abilities, inability to focus and concentrate, symptoms which are often termed as “fibro-fog”, etc. 

When the Office of Personnel Management approves a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS & CSRS and identifies the specific medical condition by which it is approved, it will identify the medical condition, and not the symptoms.  This distinction is important because, when an applicant prepares the narrative to show the Office of Personnel Management what he or she suffers from, the differentiation between conditions and symptoms is important to recognize when creatively and descriptively writing the narrative of one’s medical conditions.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: How Many Should Be Listed?

I am often asked the question:  How many health conditions or disabilities should I list in my Applicant’s Statement of Disability (SF 3112A)?  This question is often preceded by another question and answer:  What are your medical disabilities (me to the caller)?  Answer:  I have about ten of them (caller to me).  Let me start out by giving some free advice:  Don’t list ten medical conditions.  Don’t list nine.  Don’t list eight.

When the Office of Personnel Management reviews a Federal Disability Retirement submission under FERS or CSRS, the OPM Representative will review your disability retirement packet until it is approved — and no further.  Approval comes about upon a finding that one of your listed medical conditions disables you from performing one or more of the essential elements of your job.  Now, sometimes OPM will find that a combination of 2 or 3 medical conditions disables you together:  meaning that OPM perhaps found that while a single one did not disable you under their criteria, a combination of two or three did.

Furthermore, it is important to understand that, because the medical conditions and disabilities upon which OPM makes their decision on will be the basis for future continuation of your disability retirement annuity (in the event that you receive a Medical Questionnaire in the future), it is important to limit the listing of one’s medical disabilities on the SF 3112A to those conditions which will likely last for more than 12 months.

Conclusion:  It is important to sequentially prioritize the medical disabilities, in the order of severity, chronicity and duration.  Further, it is important to NOT list the minor medical conditions which, while they may be aggravating, and have impacting symptoms, may not necessarily prevent one from performing the essential elements of your job.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Standard Forms Do Not Mean “Standard Responses”

The problem with “Standard Forms” is that they often appear to solicit “standard responses”, and in a Federal Disability Retirement case under the Federal Employees Retirement Systems (FERS) or the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), nothing could be further from the truth.  Indeed, it is often because a Federal or Postal employee/applicant who confronts and begins to fill out SF 3112A, Applicant’s Statement of Disability, the very “blocked” appearance of the form, and the constricting questions themselves, makes it appear as if a “standard response” is required.  Don’t be fooled.

By way of example, take a “special animal” — that of a Federal Aviation Administration Air Traffic Controller who must take a disqualifying medication, loses his or her medical certification from the Flight Surgeon, and thinks that filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is a “slam dunk”.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Or, a Customs & Border Patrol Agent who goes out on stress leave, or suffers from chronic back pain.  Are there “standard responses” in filling out an Applicant’s Statement of Disability?  There are certain standard “elements” which should be considered in responding to the questions, but don’t be constricted by an appearance of “standard responses” to a “standard form”.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire