Federal Disability Retirement and the Inescapable Bureaucracies

The gargantuan of Leviathans is the Federal entity with a bureaucracy so expansive that identities of Federal employees are not merely never recognized, but to a great extent, irrelevant. Certain agencies fall into that category: The Department of Defense; The Department of Homeland Security; the Department of Veterans Affairs; The Department of Agriculture, with all of their subsidiary services, including the U.S. Forest Service; The U.S. Department of Justice; and, further, the U.S. Postal Service probably qualifies in that category of large, subsuming organizations where one’s identity of any sense of “self”is lost within the overwhelming size of the bureaucracy.

For the Federal employee or the Postal worker who is employed by such organizations, or any of the lesser ones (i.e., U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration; Department of Commerce; NOAA; Department of Energy; Department of — and one may almost be able to simply insert any pragmatic noun or adjective, and there is a department or agency which fits the bill), the intersection of a medical condition which begins to impede one’s ability and capacity to perform the full positional duties of one’s job, becomes a double-edged sword: On the one side of the equation, being an employee of a large organization can mean that one can, with some success of anonymity, continue to work without much notice, so long as the immediate supervisor or other coworkers do not take note; on the other side of the sharpened sword, is the reality that if such an organization begins to take punitive and adverse actions, it is difficult to fight against the compendium of agency tactics.

Whether the agency notices or not, the Federal employee and the U.S. Postal worker has an absolute right to file for CSRS or FERS Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, so long as certain prefatory legal criteria are met.  For the Federal employee or Postal worker under FERS, a minimum of 18 months of Federal Service is required. For the quickly-fading dinosaur of CSRS employees, the minimum requirement of 5 years of Federal Service is required. In either case, if a Federal employee or Postal worker begins to suffer from a medical condition, such that the medical condition prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, then it is time to consider filing for Federal OPM Disability Retirement benefits, especially if it becomes fairly evident that the medical condition is going to last a minimum of 12 months.

Then comes the next hurdle and realization: While the ill Federal employee or the injured Postal worker is employed by one of those gargantuan entities, the filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application must ultimately be submitted to another Leviathan of sorts: The U.S. Office of Personnel Management. C’est la vie.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

OPM Disability Retirement: Different Agencies

The question is sometimes asked as to whether, in filing for a Medical Retirement from the Office of Personnel Management, it makes a difference whether the Attorney has previously dealt with a particular Agency of the Federal Government.  

Ultimately, whether it is the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration, Customs & Border Protection, Department of Agriculture, Department of the Army, Navy, Air Force, etc., or the multitudinous variety of other departments, including the U.S. Postal Service, Department of State, Securities & Exchange Commission, Social Security Administration, NASA, NOAA, NIH, etc., it matters not. Agencies are made up of individuals.

Whether individual supervisors or Human Resources Departments are “helpful” or not, depends not upon an Agency, but upon the very individuals who comprise the corporate culture of the agency.  Certainly, the tone and tenor of the Department head, and the deliberate compilation of an unpleasant group of supervisors can make a difference in the cumulative culture which conducts business, but for purposes of a medical retirement under FERS or CSRS, the focus needs to be upon the medical conditions, the impact of the medical conditions upon one’s positional requirements, and obtaining the proper documentation to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that one is eligible and entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  

Having prior experience with a multitude of different agencies, over many years, is helpful in recognizing those issues which are central to a Federal Disability Retirement case, and those issues which are and should remain peripheral to a case.  Whether a particular agency or department has been specifically encountered in the past is of far less relevance.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability: The Filing

Never be deceptive in your filing. Always be truthful. To be deceptive or untruthful will harm your credibility, your case, and ultimately, may defeat your ability to obtain disability retirement benefits. Now, there is a conceptual distinction between being “truthful” and emphasizing certain issues of your case, while leaving certain other issues as secondary and less prominent in the documents & supportive papers filed. Thus, to take a rather crude example, while everyone in the world spends a great deal of his or her life in the restroom, we rarely — if ever — talk about such events. Is it because we are not being “truthful”? No — instead, while it is an issue which is not emphasized, it is not something which we are also being deceptive about.

Thus, with respect to disability retirement issues, one should never deliberately attempt to mislead, hide, or otherwise “expunge” certain aspects of the disability retirement application. At the same time, however, those aspects which are not very helpful, or which may harm your case, should not be placed in bold-type or underlined in red. Wherever possible, those aspects which will weaken your case, should simply be de-emphasized — but never deliberately hidden.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Accommodations

While I am often asked about the intersecting connection between the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and Disability Retirement laws under FERS & CSRS, and the issue of accommodations, my short answer is that the two areas of law rarely directly intersect. “Accommodation issues” under disability retirement law rarely present a problem in a practical sense. 

The term itself is rarely applied properly; the best way that I can describe what the term “accommodation” means, in its technical application, is by giving the classic example:  A secretary who suffers from a chronic back condition is unable to perform her secretarial duties because of the high level of distractability from her chronic pain.  The agency purchases an expensive, ergonomic chair, which relieves the chronic pain; she is able to perform the essential elements of her job.  She has thus been “accommodated”. Thus, the definition of “accommodation” is essentially where the Agency does X such that X allows for employee Y to continue to perform the essential elements of Y’s job.  Further, an accommodation cannot be a temporary or modified assignment; in fact, it is not an “assignment” at all — it is something which the Agency does for you such that you can continue to perform your job. 

Thus, as a practical matter, it is rare that an Agency will be able to accommodate an individual. Further, when it comes to psychiatric disabilities, it will be rarer still -especially when the essential elements of one’s job requires the cognitive capabilities which are precisely that which is impacted by the psychiatric medical conditions.  As such, the issue of accommodations is rarely a real issue, and further, people who are attempting to enforce the provisions of the ADA are not those who are truly seeking disability retirement, anyway.  It is the very opposite — they are trying to preserve their jobs, and to force the Agency to provide an “accommodation” under the law.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire