OPM Accepted Disabling Conditions: Suicidal Ideations

It is perhaps the final vestige of societal taboo; for, at what point the human animal realized that self-destruction became an option is open for debate.  In the Animal Kingdom, it is rare to find species openly seeking to end life; the struggle to survive and the Darwinian inherency for self-preservation and survival remains as vibrant as ever.

Being diagnosed with “suicidal ideation” is normally associated with psychiatric conditions of Major Depression and Generalized Anxiety, where the acceptable level of stress-tolerance exceeds the capacity to withstand.  Each individual is a unique creature; in this cookie-cutting mold of society where people get lost in the importance of position, fame, accolades and a false sense of admiration, it becomes commonplace to question one’s sense of worth and value.

Psychiatry has never been a perfect science; some even question the validity of its approach, as it has now become overwhelmingly a pharmacological event, with some semblance of therapeutic intervention thrown in as an afterthought.

For Federal employees and U.S. Postal Service workers who are contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether the Federal or Postal employee is under FERS, CSRS or even CSRS Offset, the existence of suicidal ideations (or otherwise simply known as “having suicidal thoughts”) is often lost in the compendium of diagnosed psychiatric conditions, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), where a significant event has intervened which has resulted in traumatic reverberations in one’s life; Anxiety (or more officially identified as Generalized Anxiety Disorder); Major Depression; Bipolar Disorder, with spectrum symptoms of manic phases and depressive states; as well as schizophrenia and paranoia.

For relevance to filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through OPM, the existence of suicidal ideations is often one more indicia of the seriousness of the diagnosed psychiatric conditions, but should never be determinative in whether one’s psychiatric condition is “serious enough” in order to be eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  Indeed, there are many, many Federal and Postal employees who file for OPM Disability Retirement benefits, who suffer from Major Depression, Anxiety, PTSD and other forms of psychiatric conditions, without ever suffering from suicidal ideations, and yet are fully qualified for, and become entitled to, Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Further, as Federal Disability Retirement is based upon the algorithm of showing the nexus between one’s medical condition and the positional requirements of one’s Federal or Postal job, the impeding aspect of suicidal ideations may be negligible.  Rather, from a medical standpoint, it is one more factor of concern and consternation within a long list of diagnoses and symptoms which cumulatively form the basis for an effective Federal Disability Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

OPM Disability Retirement: Staying within the Acceptable Construct

Perspectives are funny matters:  everyone has them; some are more valid than others; in certain circumstances, the wrong perspective, however, can result in negative unintended consequences.

Thus, in a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS, the Federal or Postal employee who insists upon filing collateral actions against the Agency, while concurrently filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, can have different and differing perspectives for each legal venue filed.  

In an EEOC action, the Federal or Postal employee can allege the multiple incidents of the workplace environment and the hostility, discriminatory actions perpetrated, etc., and the resulting damages incurred (including medical conditions suffered); in a grievance procedure, the Federal or Postal employee can assert the wrongful actions of the agency; and in a Federal Court case, claims of Agency and Supervisor misconduct and their deleterious impact upon one’s career — all of these can be filed, asserted and claimed for, while at the same time have a pending Federal Disability Retirement application with the Office of Personnel Management.  

Each can have its own unique perspective; each can assert a different quadrant of one’s mouth.  However, be aware of the danger that, if a Federal Disability Retirement application is denied at the initial stage of the process, and again at the Reconsideration Stage of the process, and is appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board, the Office of Personnel Management is entitled to “Discovery” of such collateral procedures.  

Such evidence of collateral procedures may well lead to a potential conclusion that one’s medical condition can be characterized as “situational” — and that is a perspective which may well defeat a Federal Disability Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: A Bridge Too Far

The step-by-step process which the Federal or Postal employee must engage in for purposes of formulating an effective Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, is defined by the bridge, or “nexus”, which one must formulate, connecting the two separate entities:  on the one side are the medical issues; on the other, one’s positional duties which one has been engaging in and successfully performing all these many years for one’s agency or the U.S. Postal Service.  

The job of the potential Federal Disability Retirement applicant is to bring the two separate and distinct entities together, by preparing and formulating a connecting “bridge” or “nexus” between the two.  This is because one of the most important evidentiary showings that one must prove, by meeting the legal standard of “preponderance of the evidence“, is that the Federal or Postal employee is no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s official positional duties.  

The problem with any such bridge which must be constructed and carefully formulated, however, is that many Federal Disability Retirement applicants put forth too much information, to the extent that some information may in fact defeat or otherwise damage the connection, by providing information which may be irrelevant (less damaging, but creates peripheral problems and confusion), of ancillary legal issues (may be more damaging, depending upon whether the Federal Disability Retirement applicant has brought in work-related issues which may point to a description of “situational disability”); or, provide information on certain medical conditions which contradict other information provided (again, often more damaging to a case).  

It is always important to provide enough information to the Office of Personnel Management to meet the burden of proof, of a preponderance of the evidence, in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application; too much information will sometimes be damaging; too much of the wrong kind of information may be very damaging.  As the title of the well-known book implies, one must be careful not to construct a “bridge too far”.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Early Retirement for Disabled Federal Workers: Generalized Anxiety Disorder

It may seem antithetical to talk about the psychiatric condition of Generalized Anxiety Disorder in filing for Federal Disability Retirements benefit under FERS or CSRS, especially during the Holidays — but, in fact, the analogy with the high stress which many Federal and Postal workers feel because of Christmas, New Years & other holidays is especially relevant.  

Let me elaborate.  Such a time period as “The Holidays” in fact often brings greater stresses in a person’s life — for it is precisely a time when one is “supposed” to feel joyous, when in fact an individual’s internal, personal turmoil may contradict the outward appearance which one manifests.  Such a combination — of the high level of stress one is experiencing, at a particular time (the Holidays), may be considered a “situational” psychiatric condition, because (hopefully) it will subside once the time-period passes.

This is a good way to understand what distinguishes between a “situational disability” (which is disallowed in Federal Disability Retirement applications under either FERS or CSRS) and “non-situational disabilities” (which are viable medical conditions pervading all aspects of one’s life, regardless of time or situation).  

The Office of Personnel Management will often attempt to characterize the psychiatric condition of Generalize Anxiety Disorder as one of merely “situational occurrence” — i.e., of being particularized and categorized as occurring only within the confines of a particular department, a particular workplace situation, or a period of time when a specific supervisor or coworker is present (sort of like occurring during the Holidays).  But Generalized Anxiety Disorder, properly diagnosed by a treating physician, is rarely, if ever, situational, and in fact is a serious psychiatric condition which qualifies for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  

Do not let the Office of Personnel Management fool you; Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a viable psychiatric medical condition, especially if it pervades all aspects of your life, and it prevents you from performing one or more of the essential elements of your job as a Federal or Postal employee under either FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Anxiety

Anxiety is a special form of a psychiatric disability — one which must be approached with thoughtful care in preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  While often accompanied by Major Depression, and sometimes panic attacks, Generalized Anxiety Disorder will often have corollary discussions in medical treatment and office notes of references to employment issues involving workplace harassment, discrimination, hostile work environments, etc.  Such references to workplace issues can lead to the Office of Personnel Management denying a Federal Disability Retirement application based upon “Situational Disability” — a medical disability which is self-contained within a particular workplace situation, but which may not necessarily extend to a different office environment with the same job requirements.  

To make moot a claim of situational disability, one would have to show that the medical condition — Anxiety — pervades all aspects of one’s life, and is not just circumscribed by the particular harassing environment of a specific workplace, or a Supervisor, or a hostile workplace, etc.  The more one focuses upon the workplace as the instigating causal force behind one’s anxiety, the more it will compound the problem of being deemed a “situational disability” in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  Ultimately, it is irrelevant what “causes” the anxiety; the important thing is that a person suffers from a medical disability, and the primary focus should be upon treatment of that condition.

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

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: The Origin of Psychiatric Disabilities

When preparing the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (Standard Form 3112A) in preparing to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management, it is important to keep the essence of the statement “on topic”.  By this, is meant that the primary focus of the applicant’s statement should be repetitively twofold:  First, what the medical conditions and their symptomatologies & manifestation of symptoms are, and Second, how those medical conditions and symptoms impact one’s ability/inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  

While history and origin of a medical condition may be somewhat relevant (unlike in an OWCP case, where causality and date of injury and where/how it happened are important elements in establishing that a medical condition was somehow job related), normally in Federal Disability Retirement cases the origin of a medical condition should not be emphasized, if only because OPM does not care about it.  If the origin of one’s psychiatric medical conditions (e.g., Major Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, etc.) find their source from conflicts within a job, such a history may be a red flag which can lead the Office of Personnel Management to conclude that the medical condition constitutes a “situational disability“.  In a final determination as to whether a medical condition can be characterized as “situational”, while it must be looked at in its full context, nevertheless, it is the origin of a psychiatric medical conditions which is the first point of reference in making such a determination.  

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

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Situational Disability

In filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, one must always attempt to shy away from any characterization which might portray one’s medical condition as one of “situational disability“, because the Office of Personnel Management will not only immediately embrace such characterization and regurgitate it to your detriment; moreover, they will deny the disability retirement case based upon such grounds.

A determination that one’s medical condition is merely “situational” will be the downfall of any Federal Disability Retirement application.  One can counter it, of course, with amended and updated medical reports, but it is always best to refrain from any such characterization from the outset.  To be deemed and portrayed as a “situational disability” can occur as a result of an inadvertent statement by a treating doctor, or by an attempt by the Applicant to provide some “historical context” of how one’s “medical conditions” arose, by relating stories about the stresses in the workplace, how the supervisor “caused” a hostile work environment, which then precipitated and exacerbated one’s medical conditions.  Don’t.  Go and file an EEO Complaint; file a grievance; do other things.  Leave it out of a Federal Disability Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The (non) Problem of Causality & Causation

In a Worker’s Comp (DOL/OWCP/FECA) case, causation and causality often loom as significant issues, and doctors often have to walk a difficult line in making unequivocal statements, or somewhat equivocating statements, as to the “cause” of a medical condition or injury.  Such statements can sometimes be the singular focus as to the success or failure of an OWCP case.  Why?  Because OWCP compensable injuries and medical conditions must be related to the job — either as something caused by an accident while on the job, or in some way occupationally related. 

In Federal Disability Retirement cases under FERS or CSRS, one can be on a skiing vacation and incur a medical condition or disability, and so long as that person is unable to, because of the medical condition, perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, one is thereby eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS. 

Sometimes, however, the issue of causation comes into the picture, but can work in a detrimental way, but need not.  Let me clarify:  In a chemical sensitivity case, or a psychiatric condition which finds its originating “causation” from the workplace, the doctor may want to relate the “cause” of the medical condition directly to the workplace.  This is fine, so far as it goes — and, ironically, most doctors (because they have no idea about FERS or CSRS disability retirement) think they are doing their patients a favor by relating it as “causally related” to the workplace.  More often than not, however, it can open up a “can of worms” — of being characterized by the Office of Personnel Management as a “situational disability”, which must be avoided like the plague.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire