Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The Danger of Malleable Concepts

Concepts which retain the ability to alter in chameleon-like fashion, switching from subject to object, from noun to adjective, is one which must be used with care and loathing.  For, as the old adage goes, that which can be used as a shield, may also be applied as a sword, and such malleability and changeability can both protect, as well as be used against one.  So it is with stress.

The word itself can be applied in various language games and conceptual constructs, as in:  “I am under a lot of stress”; “The stress is killing me”; “The place where I work is very stressful“; “I suffer from stress”; “The stress I am under is literally killing me”; and many other linguistically transformational usages.  But when it comes to applying the term and concept in a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS, one must take care in usage, applicability, and appropriate insertion both as a medical term as well as in everyday common verbiage.  For, stress itself is rarely a valid basis, standing alone, for a Federal Disability Retirement application; and if used wrongly, can be deemed as implying a situational medical condition unique to the individual’s workplace — something which OPM will pounce upon in order to deny such a claim.

Malleability can be a positive force; but that which stands with you, it can also switch sides and suddenly turn against you.  Better to have a steadfast friend than one who seeks greener pastures in a wink of the eye.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: The Danger of Assuming Terms

Assuming knowledge is generally a dangerous endeavor to begin with; in a legal forum, assuming the meaning of a term can have dire consequences.  “Accommodation”, of course, is a particular term in the field of Federal Disability Retirement law which has a specific, narrow definition.  

Thus, for instance, on SF 3112A, there is a “loaded” question where the applicant for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is asked to choose the various options of one’s current status, and one of the choices provided is, “In pay status, and working with accommodation“.  Such a status is rarely the case, and in all likelihood, does not properly, technically or otherwise apply to anyone who is preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Indeed, if that box is checked, the Office of Personnel Management would have every right to deny a Federal Disability Retirement application on that basis alone, precisely because (A) A Federal or Postal employee who has been accommodated, according to that term of art, is therefore assumed to be able to perform all of the essential elements of his or her job in accordance with the terms of the accommodated position, and (B) Since the Federal or Postal employee who has filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits has been accommodated and can perform all of the essential elements of the positional duties, therefore it implicitly acknowledges that the medical condition complained of no longer prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  

Terms can have various conceptual meanings depending upon context and circumstances; particular terms may have very narrow definitions; in the field of law, terms of art must be interpreted in the greater context of statutes, regulations, and case-law expansion of meanings and import.  As the commercials often admonish:  don’t try this on your own; leave it to the professionals.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Consequence of Confusion

Often, in a Federal Disability Retirement case, there are “indicators” which are telltale signs as to whether or not something was done or not.  Federal and Postal workers who call in to inquire about the feasibility of filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS are often vague about certain facts and issues, and understandably so, because things have never been explained properly, or as is more often the case, explained but with mistaken information.  For example:  Federal and Postal workers often confuse OWCP & Department of Labor issues, with issues concerning OPM Disability Retirement.  Such statements as:  “I already filed for Department of Labor disability benefits”, or “I filed a CA ___”, or “I’ve been separated for X number of months” (when in fact he or she has merely been on LWOP with the Agency).  

The problem with confusing the concepts between OWCP benefits and OPM Disability Retirement (and to make it even more confusing, to mix those two with SSDI issues) is that a person may be on OWCP or SSDI for over a year after being separated from Federal Service, and fail to file for OPM Disability Retirement — and forever be foreclosed from doing so because he or she never realized that you must file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, independently and separately from OWCP or SSDI.  Read up and study the conceptual distinctions; for, there may be some long-term consequences from such confusions.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Overlooking an Essential Element

Potential applicants who are considering filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS will sometimes ask the question, What are the essential elements of one’s job?

Sometimes, the answer to the question is often easy to identify, especially if there are unique and distinct features to a particular type of Federal or Postal job.  Other elements are sometimes so obvious that they are overlooked — such as the fact that one must be able to work full time at a job.

Thus, the fact that a Federal or Postal worker is able to work 4 hours a day, or 6 hours a day, and be able to perform all of the other essential elements of his or her job, does not preclude one from being eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Further, if the Agency is being “nice” and “accommodating” by allowing for the remainder of the hours to be covered by sick leave or even LWOP, does not preclude the Federal or Postal employee from filing for, and being eligible for, Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Being able to work full time in a full time position is an essential element of the job.  Don’t overlook the obvious; the obvious is often the gateway to success.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

OPM Disability Retirement: A Different Language Game

Wittgenstein was a philosopher who is well-known for his discussion about different “language games”.  In preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is well to understand that, indeed, there is a different type of language game when formulating and submitting a Federal Disability Retirement application, distinct from preparing a Social Security Disability application, or an OWCP case, or a VA disability case.  

Often, when people first contact me for an initial consultation for filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application, he or she will still be “stuck” in the language game of some other process, and will continue to use inapplicable terms such as, “I have a rating of..”; “it was caused on the job”; “I haven’t yet reached MMI”; and other such similar terms, phrases and concepts which, in a different process, a different context — a different language game — may be perfectly meaningful, but in the preparation and formulation of a Federal Disability Retirement application, are either partially or wholly inapplicable, and sometime distracting from the essence of what is needed in approaching a Federal Disability Retirement application.  Remember, not all processes are the same, and a switch in conceptual paradigms, and the use of a proper language game, is necessary in order to be successful in preparing and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire