Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: The Bridge

The “bridge to nowhere” has become a metaphor for wastefulness and needless expenditure, both in terms of effort and resources.  It is a phrase in politics which has become overused and bandied about for political gain, attack ads and undermining of an opponent’s credibility.  As a political tool, in its very repetitiveness of its incessant utilization and reactive assignation against opponents, it has lost its efficacy.  Yet, in a very real sense — while the phrase itself may have become conceptually emptied of meaning — the foundation of what it represents still applies, and is relevant in all walks of life.

Thus, in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the Federal or Postal employee contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits must create a “bridge”, or a “nexus”, between one’s medical condition(s) and the positional duties of one’s job.

The underlying and inherent self-contradiction in the phrase itself is fascinating, if one pauses to reflect:  a “bridge” by definition” is intended to connect two or more points — from A to B, to perhaps other destinations. Yet, because a “bridge to nowhere” fails in its very definitional inception by only going from point A to … (?), as such, it undermines its own definition and purpose.  It is not a bridge.  The “nowhere” destroys the conceptual integrity of the “bridge“, and therefore the phrase itself is a conceptual conundrum of nonsense.  In order to regain its conceptual identity, one must go back to the foundational purpose of what a thing “is”, in order to regain what it must become and why it has lost its identity.  As in most things in life, we must go back to Aristotle’s “first principles”.

In Federal Disability Retirement, one needs to go back to what the question is that is being asked on Standard Form 3112A, its purpose, its directive focus, and why it is that the Office of Personnel Management is asking the question.  Only then can one begin to effectively formulate the bridge between one’s medical conditions, and the impact upon one’s positional duties, whether as a Federal employee or a Postal worker.

In a Federal Disability Retirement case, the “bridge to nowhere” will result in a denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  The bridge must begin from a point of relevance, and end in its intended destination.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The Corresponding Bridge

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the Federal or Postal employee must always keep in mind the overriding connection throughout the entire administrative process — the correspondence between the medical condition and one’s positional duties.

Thus, redundancy and reiteration of the impact and connection between the two elements should be seen at every turn — in the medical reports; in the applicant’s statement of disability; in the Supervisor’s Statement (if possible); in the SF 3112D, Agency Efforts for Reassignment and Accommodation, etc.  

As Social Security bases its decision in determining the disability of an applicant upon factors which involve the medical condition itself and its impact upon daily living abilities, so Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS takes a different focus and approach:  it emphasizes and evaluates the necessary connection between the medical condition one suffers from, and the impact upon one’s positional duties in the official slot held by the Federal or Postal employee.  

As the law focuses upon that “necessary connection,” so the evidence which is presented to the Office of Personnel Management, in meeting the legal criteria by a preponderance of the evidence, must emphasize and repetitively, where possible, delineate such a connection.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: The Essential Points

Becoming embroiled in the minutiae and complexities in the preparation, formulation and filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application is important and necessary; however, in doing so, it is important to make sure that the foundation — the “essentials” — are not overlooked in the process.

Thus, while preparing and formulating the Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, for submission to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, always go back to the three (3) essential elements of a Federal Disability Retirement case:  First, the medical condition itself.  Preparation by the treating doctor of a sufficient medical narrative report is essential to the successful outcome of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  Guidance as to the elements which must and should be contained in the medical narrative report is crucial to the endeavor.  

Second, the position description.  Always remember that it is not only what one is actually doing in a Federal or Postal position (although that is also a part of it), but also what the official position description states that one should be doing, or may be asked to do at any moment (this can become an important part of the argument later against OPM if OPM decides to bring up any issues concerning Agency Accommodations).

Third, the Bridge or Nexus between the Medical Condition and the Position.  This is the important “third rail” of the entire process, which should be delineated first in the medical narrative report prepared by the doctor, as well as described effectively in the Applicant’s Statement of Disability.  Of course, throughout the process, it is important to attend to the details; but never let the complexities of the details sidetrack you from the important essentials in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits whether under FERS or CSRS, from the Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Extending the Bridge

In formulating a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is always important to think of the “nexus”, or the bridge which one constructs between the positional duties of one’s job with the Agency, and the medical conditions which prevent the Federal or Postal Worker from performing one or more of the essential elements of those positional duties, as a continuum, as opposed to a singular event.

Thus, during the waiting period once the Office of Personnel Management assigns a CSA Number, and the issuance of a decision (whether an initial approval or a denial; if the latter, then one should obviously file a Request for Reconsideration within the allotted 30-day time period), there is always an opportunity to file additional and supplemental medical and other supporting documentation, in order to “extend” or reinforce that bridge.

Such documentation could include continuing treatment & office notes; any updated diagnostic testing results; any actions by the agency which would imply or otherwise reveal an increasing severity of the medical condition and the acknowledgment by the agency of the medical conditions, including the results of “Fitness for Duty” examinations, letter of proposed removal, withdrawing of medical certification, etc.; and other supporting documentation.

Of course, the general rule is that one cannot “add” to the identified medical conditions which one has established in the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (SF 3112A); however, one can reinforce and extend the strength of the bridge.

Remembering this distinction can help to solidify and exponentially increase the chances of an initial approval from the Office of Personnel Management, in the period of waiting for that decision.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Describing One’s Medical Conditions

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management, the conundrum which one faces immediately is to attempt to overcome the seeming inability of third parties (OPM Personnel included) to understand, comprehend, relate to, and ultimately “feel” a sense of empathy and compassion for the particular genre of medical conditions a Federal or Postal worker suffers from.  

While the entire administrative process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is based upon a legal criteria, with a standard of proof set by law — that of “preponderance of the evidence” (which, simply put, means that one must prove that something is “more likely” the case than not — a relatively low standard of proof in the potential options of applying various legal standards) — it nevertheless comes down to having a fellow human being review, analyze, assess and evaluate one’s Federal Disability Retirement application at the Office of Personnel Management.  

Yes, there is an applicable legal criteria which is applied by the Office of Personnel Management.  Yes, there is a set of conforming documentation which must be submitted.  Yes, there are Standard Forms to be completed.  Yet, as with all processes of review, no evaluative process can be merely characterized as an objective calculus; otherwise, the eligibility requirement of a Federal Disability Retirement application should be able to be determined by a computer program.  

While such a possibility may well occur in the not-too-distant future, for the present, an actual person (although this is sometimes questioned, also, based upon the unresponsiveness of OPM and the voicemail messages one encounters) at the Office of Personnel Management must review, evaluate, and determine the viability of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  As such, part of the key to the success of the administrative process must be in the descriptive narrative of one’s medical conditions, their impact upon one’s ability/inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, and the qualitative and quantitative impact, direct or otherwise, upon one’s life.  

Here again, a cold, objective calculus should not be the only approach.  The “human factor” should be included — and to do so, one must extrapolate and apply all of the descriptive tools available in the English language.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Focusing upon the Bridge

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the multitude of aspects in preparing the application will often lend itself to detracting and distracting from the primary elements of an effective application and presentation.

Thus, worries about what the Supervisor will or will not say; whether the Agency will mis-characterize a supposed “good deed” they performed by declaring it to be an “accommodation”, with the danger that such declaration and characterization will be accepted by the Clerk at the Office of Personnel Management as true, etc. — all of these take away from the essence of creating that important bridge between one’s medical conditions and the essential elements of one’s positional duties.

Because the vast majority of denials issued by the Office of Personnel Management are based upon “insufficient medical documentation”, an undue focus upon other elements of a Federal Disability Retirement application would not be an intelligent utilization of one’s time and effort.

While OPM will certainly argue that the Agency has “accommodated” the Federal or Postal employee (and use that term improperly 9 times out of 10); and while OPM will point to elements in a Supervisor’s Statement as a further basis for a denial; each such supplemental argument by the Office of Personnel Management is nevertheless based upon the centrality of a primary argument, in most cases:  Insufficient Medical Documentation.

As such, it is prudent to focus one’s efforts upon the primary basis which provides the foundation for an effective Federal Disability Retirement application:  The bridge between one’s medical conditions, and the essential elements of one’s job.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The Quantitative Approach

The problem with submitting a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS based upon the “quantitative approach” (submitting a voluminous medical file which, by the sheer weight, extent and thickness of the file, reveals the severity of the multiple medical conditions) is that it often fails to provide the proper bridge between the particular medical condition a Federal or Postal employee suffers from, and the impact upon the essential elements of one’s job.

Certainly, medical records, notes, diagnostic test results, etc., can provide a narrative delineation of one’s continuing medical conditions — but the question becomes, a narrative to what end?  The Office of Personnel Management will often review a large stack of medical documentation and simply conclude that there has been insufficient medical documentation, and further, that the medical documentation submitted fails to show that such conditions are severe enough to prevent one from perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job. That is because the mere existence of a medical condition — no matter how extensive such medical conditions have required in terms of hospitalizations, testing, surgical or other procedures, etc. — is not enough to satisfy, by a preponderance of the evidence, the criteria applicable for eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  

Remember, always use the golden rule:  quality over quantity.  And in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, quality means the bridging of that conceptual gap between the medical condition, and the essential elements of one’s job.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Early Retirement for Disabled Federal Workers: The “Almost” Medical Inability to Perform Termination

Often, Agencies will proceed to propose a removal of a Federal or Postal employee based upon reasons which clearly “imply” one’s medical inability to perform one or more of the essential functions of one’s job, but explicitly, based upon other stated reasons — e.g., “Failure to Maintain a regular work schedule” or “Being Absent Without Official Leave (AWOL)“.

Then, the frustrating scenario is when the Agency — in the body of the proposed removal letter — refers to and acknowledges the existence of multiple medical conditions which form the foundation, reason and justification for being unable to maintain a regular work schedule or being absent from the job (whether with or without official sanction or approval).

The key in such circumstances, of course, is to try and attempt to make the “implicit” (references to one’s medical conditions and their impact upon one’s inability to perform one’s job) “explicit” (having the Agency change or amend the reasons to instead state:  “Removal based upon the employee’s Medical Inability to Perform his or her job”).

Such a change, of course, would be helpful in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, precisely because it would invoke the Bruner Presumption, which would then make it that much more difficult for the Office of Personnel Management to deny a Federal Disability Retirement application.  For, that is the ultimate goal:  to obtain an approval of the Federal Disability Retirement application; and any such advantage gained brings the Federal or Postal employee one step closer to that ultimate goal.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement Application: Starting with Basics

The complexities inherent in preparing, formulating, and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application with the Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, are well-documented.  It can indeed be a daunting, intimidating encounter — for, while the Standard Forms themselves (SF 3107 series for FERS; SF 2801 series for CSRS; SF 3112 series — 3112A, 3112B, 3112C & 3112D for both FERS and CSRS) are rather simple in their outlook, it is the questions which are posed, and how one answers them, which will determine the success or failure of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  

Further, the laws themselves have evolved over time into a complex compendium of technical modifications and adjustments, as various legal issues have arisen in response to different determinations and decisions rendered by the Office of Personnel Management.  

When one first approaches the possibility of preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application, a view of the entire process and procedure is helpful, but then to step back and ultimately start the meticulous formulation of a Federal Disability Retirement packet with the “basics” in mind.  What are the basics?  Proper and compelling medical documentation; a description of the essential elements of one’s job; then the proper bridge between the two.  Without the proper bridge, it will lead to nowhere.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Beyond the Diagnosis

The diagnosis of the medical condition in a Federal Disability Retirement case, either under FERS or CSRS, is merely the beginning point in preparing a case. As the Office of Personnel Management in Washington, D.C., is fond of repetitively pointing out, “The mere existence of a medical condition is not a basis for approval under Federal Disability Retirement laws.” While there may be some exceptions for certain severe medical conditions, the statement itself contains a truism which needs to be kept in mind throughout the process.  

Ultimately, in preparing a Federal Disability Retirement case, one must approach the entire process (a process, by the way, which is taking longer and longer to complete, as the backlog at the Office of Personnel Management is increasingly extending the wait-time) with a view towards bridging the two critical elements in any successful filing:  (A) the medical condition and (B) its impact upon one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  It is that “connective tissue” between the two which must be the focus, and that is why the symptoms which manifest themselves from the origin (the diagnosis) is what must be discussed.  For, ultimately, while the diagnosis of a medical condition provides the basis for which a medical specialist may begin treatment on a patient, it is the symptoms/symptomatologies which provide the answer to the question in all Federal Disability Retirement applications under FERS or CSRS:  In what way does one’s medical condition prevent a Federal or Postal Employee from performing the essential elements of one’s job?  That is the critical question which must be answered, in order to have a chance at having one’s Federal Disability Retirement application approved by the Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire