OPM Disability Retirement: Secondary Depression and Other Contingent Medical Conditions

Often, in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, one must selectively choose, based upon the medical reports received from one’s requested doctors, the medical conditions upon which one’s Federal Disability Retirement application will be based.  

Sometimes, there is confusion as to which medical conditions should be listed, how it should be “prioritized” (how can one prioritize multiple medical conditions when any or all of them may have debilitating symptomatologies?) and whether some should be relegated to mere peripheral, ancillary discussion, as opposed to retaining a centrality of focus and prominence.  

For example, “Secondary Depression” is a term which often will accompany chronic and debilitating pain.  It may, over time, become a primary source of debilitating disability, but the reason why it is initially, and for some time thereafter, characterized as “secondary” is precisely because it is contingent upon the existence of the primary medical condition — that which results in the chronic and debilitating pain.  As such, if the secondary depression is listed as the primary basis for a Federal Disability Retirement application, but sometime later the originating medical condition which is the foundational cause of the depression gets better, then there is the potential ramifications that the secondary medical condition (“secondary depression”) will resolve itself.  

Such considerations can be important in determining which medical conditions to list, inasmuch as in a future time, if one is found to be disabled by the Office of Personnel Management for a secondary medical condition and is asked in a future Medical Questionnaire to have one’s doctor determine the disability status at a later time, it may become an important issue.

Linking potential future problems to thoughtful preparation in the present time is important in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Stress

“Stress” is always the “problem child” in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  If a Federal or Postal employee is no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job because of an intolerance to a certain level of stress, then certainly it should be considered as a basis for preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application, either under FERS or CSRS.  However, treatment modalities must be engaged — normally, via a psychiatrist or psychotherapy.

Further, there are always issues which will come about in basing the primary medical condition as “stress” — aside from the fact that it is a generic designation which will often have corollary designations, such as Major Depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, etc.  For example, can one define “tolerance to stress” as an essential element of one’s job?  It is certainly an inherent element, implicit in many multi-tasking jobs and ones which require a high level of responsibilities or is subject to timeliness in quotas and work production.  But when issues concerning stresses which arise as a result of “personnel issues” (i.e., interaction with supervisors, coworkers, etc.), then it becomes a “problem-child” which is best avoided, for numerous reasons, including the possibility and danger of having one’s Federal Disability Retirement application denied based upon a “situational disability“.  Concepts and thoughts to ponder, when preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Stress & Exacerbated Medical Conditions

Often, the generic designation of “stress” is the underlying medical condition; other medical conditions can exist, and perhaps are exacerbated by the underlying condition of “stress” — or, at least that is the suspicion, both by the Federal or Postal worker who is suffering from such conditions, and (hopefully) understood by the treating medical doctor

While failing to have direct causal linkage, the situation often arises where the chronic medical condition may have periods of remission, followed by severe episodes of unrelenting exacerbations.  The problem with such medical conditions in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, is that the medical condition must prevent one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, and such a condition must last for a period of 12 months or more. 

Medical conditions which “wax and wane” (OPM’s favorite description of Fibromyalgia) and are “not severe enough to preclude an individual from the workplace altogether” (another of OPM’s favorite descriptive rationalizations for denying a Federal Disability Retirement application — which is legally inconsequential and a mis-statement of the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement) — present a special challenge in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application.  However, even a challenge such as “stress” and a secondary medical condition which is exacerbated for episodic periods, is one which can be overcome, and successfully overcome. 

The fact is that the focus is often misplaced.  Instead of asking the doctor to focus upon each individual medical condition, it is the wiser route to have the doctor discuss all medical conditions in their totality, and show that the complex interaction of the primary and secondary medical conditions together prevent the Federal or Postal employee from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Employees Disability Retirement: Major Depression

Federal and Postal workers who are inquiring about filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS often lack any context as to his or her own particular situation, in relation to the greater Federal and Postal workforce.  Let me elaborate:  a Federal or Postal employee who suffers from chronic and intractable Major Depression, despite being placed on various psychotropic medications, and having undergone psychotherapeutic intervention, and (in more serious cases) hospitalization for intensive treatment — often believe that his or her “situation” is unique, isolated, and rare.  It is not.  

When an individual suffers from Major Depression, it is common to feel isolated, as if the particular psychiatric disorder is unlike other medical conditions (e.g., physical medical conditions which can be ascertained by an MRI or other diagnostic tools).  This is part of the very medical condition itself — of feeling isolated and trapped, and unable to escape from one’s own plight.  

Indeed, Federal and Postal employees who suffer from Major Depression often ask me the “how many” question — how many people do you represent who suffer from Major Depression, as if numbers correlate to security.  While I am very protective of client confidentiality and information related to my clients, it can safely be said that a “great many” Federal and Postal employees suffer from Major Depression, that it is not uncommon, that your co-worker sitting beside you may suffer from it, and that such sufferers work hard to hide it.  

Further, the success in filing for, and obtaining, Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS is no less than any other medical condition.  Thus, for those who suffer from Major Depression and are contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS:  you are definitely not alone.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: A Hostile Work Environment

Unfortunately, reality often outperforms and upstages any attempt at fictional characterization of the workplace.  Often, the meanness and temperamental behavior of a supervisor in the “real” workplace can never be properly represented by an actor’s attempt in a sitcom or a drama; the persistent, irrational, capricious and outright cruel behavior and acts of “the boss” or one of his/her underlings can never be accurately depicted in fiction.  Further, the reality of the consequences of such behavior can be devastating.  Workplace stress resulting from demeaning behavior, intentional acts to undermine, cruel and arbitrary acts against a specific employee, can all result in serious medical consequences.  

It is all well and good to talk about internal procedures — of filing an EEOC Complaint; filing a grievance; filing a complaint based upon discrimination, etc.  But beyond such agency procedures to protect one’s self, there is the problem of the eruption of a medical condition, be it Major Depression, Anxiety, panic attacks, physical symptoms of IBS, chronic pain, headaches —  some or all of which may result from such stresses in the workplace.  There is no diagnostic tool to establish the link between the medical condition and the workplace stress.  

For Federal and Postal employees thinking about filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, there is the context of harassment & stress in the workplace, and then the medical condition which prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job. Sometimes, it is difficult to bifurcate the two.  That which is difficult, however, must sometimes be accomplished in order to be successful.  The origin of the medical condition may have to be set aside, because it “complicates” the proving of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  If one is contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, the story — however real — of the workplace harassment, may have to be left behind.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Psychiatric Disabilities — Origin versus Situational

While the issue concerning “situational disability” has been previously discussed and written about in my various blogs and articles, it is helpful to keep in mind certain conceptual distinctions when preparing to file for Federal or Postal Disability retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  

The concept normally applies to psychiatric disabilities, and specifically to two major areas:  Major Depression and Anxiety.  The paradigm of such a case often involves a Federal or Postal worker who has had some difficulties, conflict with, harassment by, etc., a supervisor or coworker within the agency. The Federal or Postal worker begins to manifest symptoms of anxiety, depression, panic attacks, etc.  An EEO Complaint is filed; a grievance is filed; perhaps, several such alternative venues of legal processes are utilized.  Despite fighting back, the hostile work situation fails to resolve itself.  More importantly, the psychiatric medical condition continues to worsen.  

Does this simple hypothetical constitute a basis for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, or is it precluded by the legal preclusion of “situational disability”?  As with all generic paradigms, the answer is:  It all depends.  

One must look at the chronicity of the psychiatric medical condition; whether the symptoms pervade all aspects of the life of the Federal or Postal Worker; to what extent the psychiatric medical conditions impact his or her ability to perform the essential elements of the job; and to what extent the Federal or Postal worker can perform such a job in a different environment.  It is in the details of the conceptual distinctions made, which determine the course of viability in filing for Federal or Postal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Psychiatric Issues

For Federal and Postal workers who are filing, or contemplating filing, for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the distinction between “physical” medical conditions and “psychiatric” medical conditions are not always so clear and distinct.  While cases can be bifurcated for many clients (where the medical basis upon which a Federal Disability Retirement is based is wholly physical, or entirely psychiatric), often, cases have a “mixed” character to them, where depression, anxiety, panic attacks, etc., arise or become “secondary” to a chronic medical condition.  

The complex interaction between physical pain, chronic medical conditions which impact one’s job, physical abilities, etc., can at their inception be “secondary” in the sense that they have arisen and manifested the symptomatologies “after” or “second to” the original medical conditions.  However, after some time (and this is being stated from a legal perspective reviewing many such instances in filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS), such secondary Major Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and even other psychiatric medical conditions, can become the central or prominent medical condition which forms the basis of a OPM Disability Retirement application.  Thus, that which was once “secondary” does not always remain so; it can become the primary basis.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Attorney

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Psychiatric Disabilities

Perhaps there will always be a suspicion that a distinction is made by a governmental entity/bureaucracy, between physical medical conditions and those which are deemed “psychological“.  For Federal and Postal workers who are considering filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, there are ample legal tools to point out to the Office of Personnel Management that such a distinction is not only improper, but moreover, contrary to the “law of the land“.  

The Federal Circuit Court has pointed out clearly and unequivocally that the law does not allow for OPM to make a distinction between that which is “objective” medical evidence and that which is “subjective“.  Further, beyond the conceptual distinction applying to the medical evidence, this means that the categories encompassing the two should not be distinguishable when applying the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement.  Thus, rational conclusions based upon clinical examinations, a long history with the patient, consistent symptoms as related to by the patient to the doctor — all are valid, and “as valid”, as the “objective” medical evidence purportedly revealed by an MRI or other diagnostic tools.  

Thus, the credence and credibility of Major Depression, Anxiety, Panic Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and a host of other psychiatric disabilities, hold an equal level of legal validity as the long list of physical disabilities.  Don’t ever let OPM go down an argumentation route where no law exists to support it; they may often try, but it is up to the Federal or Postal Worker who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS to meet them at every juncture of such sophistry.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: Situational Disability, Revisited

Remember that there is nothing wrong with issues and events in the workplace being the originating factor which instigates or otherwise propels a medical condition — often (though not necessarily always) a psychiatric condition.  The characterization of a “situational disability” (one of the basis upon which the Office of Personnel Management may attempt to deny a Federal Disability Retirement application) only becomes a problem if and when a psychiatric condition prevents a person from performing one or more of the essential elements of his or her job with a particular office, agency or department. 

If the Federal or Postal employee is unable to perform in a particular job in an office or agency, but is able to perform the same basic set of essential elements with another agency, or in the private sector, then it becomes a case of “situational disability”.  However, if the medical condition pervades other aspects of the Federal or Postal employee’s life — personal life; relationships with family & friends; impacts his or her ability to be employable in other sectors; then the medical condition is no longer one of “situational disability” — despite its origins having been formulated in the workplace.  Thus, the issue is not “where the condition came from”, but rather, “where is it now”?  The Office of Personnel Management will often attempt to blur the boundaries between the two questions, and try and characterize the medical disability as not only originating with an agency, but being limited to that particular agency.  And, indeed, the Federal or Postal employee who files a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS does not help matters when he or she wants to persist in focusing upon the events in the workplace which may have contributed to the medical condition.  Beware not to fall into OPM’s trap.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal & Postal Service Disability Retirement: Experience & the Medical Condition

Often, when a client receives the finalized disability retirement packet, I receive a response that goes something like:  “I didn’t realize I was so bad off, until I read through the prepared packet.”  While I have not personally experienced the medical conditions of my many clients over the years, I have the experience of having spoken to them, and have learned about the symptoms, the words which best describe the pain, the impact, and the symptoms which are experienced on a daily basis. 

That is why it is an absurdity for the Office of Personnel Management, for example, to continually and redundantly refer to Fibromyalgia cases as ones with symptoms which “wax and wane”.  Or, with severe Major Depression, Anxiety and panic attacks, the Office of Personnel Management will systematically deny many such claims by stating that there is no “objective medical evidence” to show that the individual is unable to continue to provide efficient service in a cognitive-intensive job.  It is the job of the attorney, in a Federal Disability Retirement case, to be the one who projects the experience of the disabled Federal or Postal employee.  The attorney does not have to personally experience the medical condition in order to properly and descriptively convey the impact of the symptoms and debilitating conditions; however, it is helpful if the attorney has had a wide range of experience — by having spoken to multiple individuals over the years who have personally experienced such conditions.  In this way, the attorney can obtain the experience to express the medical experience of the applicant.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire