Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Stress, Anxiety, Depression…

Stress is often the noun which triggers.  As the originating causation, it is often considered the evil cousin who brings about other ailments. It is a state of mental or emotional strain which is encountered under extraordinary circumstances, often hostile in nature, and involving a lack of calm or quietude.

Workplace stress is a reality of the modern technological age; hostile work environments have been identified as causative agents of stress; and demands for overburdened, repetitive work habits contribute exponentially.

Attempts to reduce workplace stress are always welcomed but often ineffective

Attempts to reduce workplace stress are always welcomed but often ineffective

While the goal for a “stress-free environment” is generally unattainable and a mythological state existing only in one’s imagination, it is thought from a medical perspective that engaging in stress-reducing activities, whether incrementally throughout the day, or during one’s leisure time, remains an important facet of healthy living.

The noun which triggers — stress — is that which, if left unchecked, can result in the debilitating effects of an explosion of psychiatric (and physical) medical conditions, including (but not limited to) anxiety, depression, suicidal ideations, homicidal thoughts, intrusive nightmares, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, gastric and abdominal dysfunctions, chronic and profound fatigue, general malaise, chronic pain, debilitating migraine headaches, and a host of other medical conditions.

At some point, when the seriousness of a medical condition brought about by stress cannot be relieved or reduced through pragmatic means of altering key components which cause the stress, then complete removal from the stressful environment must be considered.

Generalized anxiety disorders appear in physical and psychological ways. Headaches are a possible physical symptom. So are muscle aches, sweating, and hot flashes.

Federal Disability Retirement, available for all Federal and Postal employees who have the minimum number of years of service, whether one is under FERS or CSRS, and filed through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, must always be considered when one’s medical condition — whether triggered by stress or some other causative agent — begins to impact and prevent the Federal or Postal employee from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal position.

Sometimes, when the visiting cousin who carelessly and thoughtlessly spreads germs and destructive diseases comes for a short visit, subtle hints as to the unwelcome nature of the visit may simply fail to move.  In such cases, it is time to move out, leaving behind the unwanted cousin to drown in the misery of his own making.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The Anxiety of the Unknown

It is a testament to the complexity of human intelligence which brings about unsolvable medical mysteries such as panic-induced physical manifestations and chronic, progressively deteriorating somatic illnesses which reveal no clear organic orientation.

Anxiety is a permanent feature of our culture, now; for, with so much uncertainty pervading our lives, with the growing complexities of changing economic circumstances, greater intrusion of technology and violations of basic privacy issues, the onslaught of stimuli for which Man has had little time to adapt, portends of a response both by one’s psyche as well as the body, to react to the unknown and unknowable.

The contradiction is inherent in our nature; on the one hand, human frailty is the basis for a community’s sympathy and empathy; but as we become more and more removed from our communities and disjointed by the medium of technology and the virtual world, those who can withstand the coldness of the world are “fit” for survival in the new world.

For Federal and Postal employees who suffer from a medical condition such that the illness or chronic, progressively deteriorating disability prevents the Federal and Postal employee from performing all of the essential elements of one’s job, it is often the anxiety of the unknown for one’s future which further exacerbates the medical condition itself.  Filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, is often a first step in attaining a level of stability in one’s life; for, with a Federal Disability Retirement approved, it allows for some semblance of certainty for the future.

Unfortunately, the anxiety of the unknown is a characteristic of our society which will remain, and the Federal and Postal employee who suffers from a medical condition must contend with that feature as best they can, and it is often the benefit of Federal Disability Retirement which is the first positive step in response to the frightful uncertainty of our times.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Patience & Frustration

Stories now abound concerning the backlog at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management; and as has been often stated by the undersigned attorney, if the old adage that “patience is a virtue” is truly a truism, then Federal and Postal employees must indeed be the most virtuous of individuals in any given society, because the long wait in order to obtain a decision — favorable or otherwise (and, if the latter, then at least the Federal or Postal worker can assert his or his reconsideration or appeal rights in the matter) — on a Federal Disability Retirement application certainly tests the outer limits of one’s moral character.

The inverse emotional reaction to the moral character of virtue, is the expression of frustration.  Such an expression is the release of irritation, anger, and an overwhelming sense of angst at a system and administrative procedure which follows no rules, acknowledges no time lines, and concedes no boundaries of what a “reasonable” length of time would be defined as.

Then, of course, one always hears of “stories” about individual X who filed and got a decision within a month of a case being assigned; or that individual Y went into bankruptcy while waiting for OPM to make a decision.  It is best to refrain from comparative analyses; such stories, in whatever form and to what extent of truth is contained, will only increase the level of frustration, and further test the moral fibre of virtue.

While there is no single answer to the long waiting period which OPM has imposed upon the process, this much is true:  Approvals are being issued; decisions are being made on a daily basis; it is simply a matter of time.  In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, this period of waiting must be “factored in”.  But when such factoring has occurred, the actual period of waiting is indeed a frustrating part of the administrative process.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Added Stresses

It is a long, bureaucratic process.  Such is the state of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits with the Office of Personnel Management.  The funny thing about stress is that we all recognize that we are the “gatekeepers” of stress, to a great extent.  Unless a catastrophic external force is about to immediately impact our lives, the majority of stressful issues invade the essence of our conscious world only when we allow it in, and to that extent, the old adage of “ignorance is bliss” is a simplistic, but profoundly uncomplicated truism.  

Federal and Postal workers who are constantly being criticized and bombarded with the stresses of completing their daily positional duties, and now under greater stress because of the economic and political megaphonic voices shouting about the excesses of benefits for Federal and Postal employees; that, combined with the daily criticism that Federal and Postal employees constitute waste, fraud and overcompensation; that they receive excessive benefits, and undeservedly so; and, additionally, when one is medically disabled and in need of Federal Disability Retirement benefits, to be forced to wait for longer periods of time because of the bureaucratic backlog of Federal Disability Retirement cases at the Office of Personnel Management — this is, indeed, a time of stress, whether through activity or the enormous stress of inactivity.  

Waiting is a stressful activity; don’t think that inactivity is merely the art of doing nothing; if it impacts one’s conscious state, it is a stressful time.  But patience is a virtue precisely because it is one of the ultimate tests — and the conundrum is this:  to deal effectively with the stress of inactivity, it is sometimes best to engage in an alternate form of activity, whether mental or physical, such that the activity will satisfy the emotional needs of the individual.  

Preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS is a long and arduous process, whether defined by activity or inactivity, and how best to deal with the stress of the latter is often defined by the character of the former.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: Waiting

Waiting for a decision to be rendered by the Office of Personnel Management for a submitted Federal Disability Retirement application, either at the Initial Stage of the Process, or after filing additional medical documentation and legal arguments at the Reconsideration Stage of the process, can be an agonizing time.  It is easy to say, “Patience is the key“, when each day passes without a word.  A call to the Office of Personnel Management will rarely yield any positive results.  Yes, there are some supervisors and contacts which can be helpful in the process, but ultimately too much undue pressure can sometime backfire.  Is there a statutorily mandated time-frame within which OPM must respond and make a decision?  Normally, they will inform you that they try and make a decision within 90 days of whatever the beginning of the time-frame they ascribe, but it can take much longer.  The key to the entire process is to survive the time of waiting, however long that may take.  Survival is best endured if one recognizes at the beginning of the process, that this is one process which can take a long, long time.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Patience and the Attorney

Attorneys have limitations.  This may be a surprise to some people; many believe that because an attorney is involved, mountains can be moved and cases can be immediately resolved.  There are always “war stories” about the worker that X knows who filed a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS and got it approved within a couple of weeks, and got paid immediately the day after.  One should always be suspicious of such stories; they may or may not be true, but there is never a way to verify the truth, falsity or exaggeration of such stories without directly contacting the individual. 

What is “known” for certainty is that the Office of Personnel Management is a large governmental entity; it moves slowly; “demanding” that something must get done immediately, merely because one is represented by an attorney, will not necessarily make it so.  If a client hires an OPM Disability Attorney because he or she thinks that the OPM Disability Retirement application will go to the front of the line and bypass all administrative obstacles, then there must be some misunderstanding.  A Federal Disability Attorney should be hired to represent a disabled Federal or Postal employee based upon the following criteria:  (1)  The application stands a better chance of approval at the first stage, and (2) in the event of a federal disability denial, a responsive rebuttal will continue to increase the chances of ultimate approval.  For, that is the point of legal representation — ultimate approval.  The “fight” may have many rounds; it is the ultimate round of success which the attorney is most concerned with, in order to secure the long-term future of the client. Yes, the immediate pain of waiting, of financial uncertainty, etc., is very trying, and hardships abound.  That is where patience must come in.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Knowledge

It has often been noted that “knowledge is power”, which necessarily and logically implies, of course, that lack of knowledge leaves one with weakness.  Preparing a Federal Disability retirement application under FERS or CSRS requires a vast amount of knowledge.

After practicing in this area of law for over twenty (20) years (with my first 10 years involving not only Federal Disability Retirement law, but also including a heavy trial practice, appellate practice and employment law and general practice — with the last 10 years devoted exclusively to disability retirement law), the consistent and persistent need to keep updated on any changes; on case-law updates; on nuances of cases which I may have previously missed — one might think that the practice of law in a specialized field might get easier over the years.

I find that, to remain on top of the constant changes and shifts in the law is an ever-present, all-encompassing endeavor.  One cannot, and must not, put a “generic” case before a Merit Systems Protection Board Judge.  To do so becomes transparent and phony.  The same goes with submitting a generic application to the Office of Personnel Management.  There is no such thing — all Federal Disability Retirement applications must be tailored to fit the individual, and knowledge — and more importantly, greater knowledge — allows for such tailoring.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: OPM and a Delicate Balance

The Office of Personnel Management, as a Federal Agency, always maintains a “public face” of stating that they welcome inquiries and telephone calls to check on the status of a pending Disability Retirement application.  Yet, we all know that Agencies, Departments and the personnel and offices which comprise all Federal entities, are made up of “people”, and people are complex bundles made up of different and differing personalities.  There is a fine and delicate balance to be maintained between an “inquiry” and a “bugging”, and further, between an acceptable level of “bugging” and one which crosses the line into annoyance.  It is good to recognize and know when and if the lines are crossed.  A power struggle is a fine thing to get into, where there are two camps of equal power.  Where there is an imbalance of power, however, it is often unwise to insist upon the tug-and-pull of such a struggle. A word to the wise:  in dealing with any Federal Agency, be it the Office of Personnel Management or a Supervisor at a given Agency X, maintain a voice and tone of professionalism; the person on the other end of the telephone, no matter how friendly, is not your next-of-kin; be courteous, always, even if you want to insist upon something.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Developing a Case

In most cases, the normal process of disability retirement for the First Stage of the process is anywhere from 6 – 8 months; some fall towards the 6-month range; some take longer than the 8-month range.  The difficulty in most cases is that the potential disability applicant/annuitant obviously wants to get through the process as quickly as possible, most often in order to get a sense of security for the future, that he or she will have the certainty of the Federal Disability Retirement annuity.  All of this is understandable. 

The process — of preparing; of submitting; of waiting as it winds through the various Agency channels and finally to Boyers, PA and then to OPM in D.C. — is a process of high anxiety and anticipation.  Sometimes, however, cases must be patiently developed.  By “developed”, I merely mean that, at times, the doctor is not ready to provide the proper medical narrative report, or to state in explicit terms that a person is no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of his or her job, and that the medical condition will last for at least one (1) year.  Patience with the doctor as different modalities of treatments are applied, is often crucial in the development of a case.  My involvement in a case, even before it is fully developed, is preferred, only if to guide the client as the medical case develops, or — as is often the case — on issues involving how to respond to an Agency which is just as anxious for the whole process to begin and end, as is the client.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: OPM May Say So, But…

I often wonder how many unrepresented disability retirement applicants there are who, having received a denial letter at the First Stage of the process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS, never file a Request for Reconsideration because they believe what the Office of Personnel Management stated in the Denial Letter.  Sometimes, I will get telephone calls from people who want to file, and during the course of the conversation, it will come out that they had filed a few years previously, and had been denied.  “Did you file a Request for Reconsideration, at the time?” I ask.  “No,” is the answer.  “Why not?” I ask.  The typical answer?  “Because I just thought there was no way to fight them on it.” 

I used to be amazed at such answers, but after some thought, it makes sense.  As an attorney, my first instinct (both trained and natural) is to always take something to the next level, with the firm belief that I will prevail just by pure persistence, and by using the law as “a sword” in the process of fighting for my clients.  But most people are not lawyers (some would say, thank goodness for that, we have enough lawyers in the world), and when the Office of Personnel Management writes up a denial letter, then allegedly cites “the law”, and makes bold conclusions such as, “You do not meet the eligibility criteria under the laws governing disability retirement…”  It all sounds convincing.  It all sounds like any further action will be an act of futility.  But just because OPM “says so” doesn’t make it true, doesn’t make it right, and certainly doesn’t make it unwinnable.  They may say you don’t meet the eligbility criteria; I would argue otherwise.

Sincerely,
Robert R. McGill, Esquire