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

OPM Disability Retirement for Federal and Postal Employees: Defining Terms

In proceeding through the administrative and bureaucratic maze of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS, one of the most frustrating encounters is the lack of an ability to concretely “define terms”, such that any disagreement with the Office of Personnel Management can be narrowly curtailed in order to allow for a proper response.  It is often contended that 99% of arguments and disagreements are non-substantive.  That is, because neither side defines the terms utilized in the argument, each side will argue at cross-purposes, never agreeing because there has been no prefatory attempt at defining the terms which are being used in the first place.  If you can, take the opportunity to sit and listen to two people arguing:  Are each using terms interchangeably and loosely?  Is person A using the terms in the same way and meaning as person B?  It is unfortunate that there is never an opportunity to have a “conversation“, in effect, with the Office of Personnel Management, before an Initial Decision is made. 

When one looks at an OPM denial, denying an initial Federal or Postal Disability Retirement application, the terms used, the criteria declared, the arguments made (if any), there is never a static point of reference in the terms defined.  Ultimately, of course, the point of needing to “define the terms” comes about at the Third Stage of the Process — at the Merit Systems Protection Board, where an Administrative Judge will be an arbiter and (hopefully) finally force a more stable use and definition of terms.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire