Misnomers and the OPM’s Disability, Reconsideration & Appeals Division

The problem with misnomers is not just the inaccuracy of designation which is either explicitly or implicitly conveyed, but the unintended consequences of the string of reactions and responses which can occur as a result thereof.  Sometimes, interpretive mistakes occur purely on a subjective basis; in which case it is not truly a case of a misnomer, but rather merely the misunderstanding by the recipient of the information.  Other times, a word or designation can be open to multiple meanings, where reasonable people can differ on the inferences to be made.

For Federal and Postal employees who have filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether the Federal or Postal Service employee is under FERS or CSRS (such acronyms have specific, esoteric meanings only to Federal or Postal employees, and as such, cannot constitute an objective misnomer, but rather a potentially subjective one), the complexity of the administrative and bureaucratic process can result in the failure to recognize and properly respond to various misnomers throughout the process.

For example, when a Federal Disability Retirement case is assigned to an Administrative Specialist at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and one receives a letter informing the Federal or Postal Disability Retirement applicant that X is further needed — the identification of the OPM Representative that he or she is from the “Disability, Reconsideration & Appeals Division” is both confusing and a misnomer.

For, the recipient of the letter (and just to receive any correspondence from OPM other than an approval letter or a denial letter is an amazing fact in and of itself) can well infer from the designation that his or her Federal Disability Retirement application has already been denied without notification (i.e., because it is in the “Reconsideration & Appeals Division”). In fact, all cases fall under the aegis of “Disability, Reconsideration & Appeals” section of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Misnomers may be unintended. It is the recipient and the responder who must, unfortunately, live with the consequences.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

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

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