Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Use of Collateral Sources

Context is important.  Identifying the relevance of importance, however, is discretionary, and requires some insight into the impact which a differentiated distinction might require.

Allow for some expansive explanation:  In attempting to obtain OWCP/DOL benefits, one may want to argue against the validity of a medical evaluation — i.e., by attacking the claimed “independence” of the medical evaluation (argument:  the doctor is being compensated by the Department of Labor; 25% of his practice is devoted to such evaluations, and out of that, 95% of his evaluations are found to be in favor of the Department of Labor, etc.).  But the fact that one may want to attack the relevance and validity of an  independent medical examination within the context of the Office of Worker’s Compensation, does not mean that when one files for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, that one should necessarily and unequivocally discard the received report from OWCP.

There may well be statements contained in such a report which may be useful in arguing to OPM that one’s Federal Disability Retirement application should be approved.  Can one argue positively that it is an “independent” medical examination?  Absolutely.  In fact, the contrary argument should be made:  that because the doctor was selected by another government agency (Department of Labor), it is all the more so that the medical opinions of the particular doctor are relevant and of significant impact.  One must be careful, of course, in using such collateral sources for support of one’s Federal Disability Retirement application, but so long as the proper context is identified and understood, one should always consider the use of such “other” sources of support — but never to replace the primary importance of one’s treating doctor.  Context, properly understood, can result in substantive argumentation of relevant and significant import.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: How to Use Percentage Designations

Carefully.  With discretion.  With an intelligent approach.  Not indiscriminately (a double-negative which, in common parlance, means “discriminately”).  Quantification of pain, of a medical condition, of a loss of use of one’s body functions, ability to have the manual dexterity of the use of one’s fingers, hands, arms; of the flexion and range of motion of shoulders, etc., includes a level of subjectivity at best, and at worst, possibly misrepresents the extent and severity of a disability.

Further, when quantification of the disability of a particular body part is further interpreted to represent a part of a greater whole — as in OWCP/FECA’s attempt to assign a percentage disability of the “whole person”, or when the Department of Veteran’s Affairs calculates a combined percentage rating which is not merely the addition of all lesser individual ratings — it needs some explaining.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, one should obviously utilize all of the available tools, evidence, compilation of documentary evidence, etc., all of which, in their combined entirety, could help to provide persuasive evidence in obtaining an approval from OPM in a Federal Disability Retirement application.  But use of those tools, how it is used, what is used, how it is explained, and whether the explanation is adequate, are all important keys to keep in mind.

OPM is an independent agency.  When you attempt to dictate an outcome based upon a decision of another agency, such an attempt will often appear to be a threat to the very independence of an agency; something which needs to be kept in mind.  What should be submitted is rarely an issue; how it is stated is always a concern.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: OWCP Doctors, and Others, Etc.

Can a doctor with whom one has been treating, but one which was obtained through the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act, Department of Labor (FECA/DOL), Office of Workers’ Compensation Program (OWCP), be an effective advocate for one’s Disability Retirement application?  Of course.

Often, however, there is a complaint that the “OWCP doctor” is not very responsive to a Federal or Postal employee’s attempt to approach the question of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS.  As FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement is based upon proving by a preponderance of the evidence one’s medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, it is crucial that the Federal or Postal employee contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits have a supportive doctor.

While the Merit Systems Protection Board’s expanding case-law holdings continue to reinforce the idea that the most effective advocate in a Federal Disability Retirement case is a “treating doctor”, as such, medical reports obtained through 2nd opinion or “referee” consultations, or via filing for Social Security Disability benefits, may have some limitations on their usage; nevertheless, the weapons of arguing that an “independent” source of medical review also found that one could not perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, can be an effective substantive argument.

As for the OWCP-treating doctor, sometimes those forms completed by such a doctor will be enough to meet the eligibility requirements for OPM Disability Retirement — but that is an individual assessment based upon the uniqueness of each case.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Is the Doctor in, Please?

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the support of one’s treating doctor is essential in putting together an effective presentation to the Office of Personnel Management.  Sometimes, even doctors have to be reminded of his or her “obligation” to a patient.  When, how, and in what manner of approaching the doctor, is a discretionary element of the process best left up to the patient.  

The reason why the “treating doctor”, as delineated by cases and opinions rendered by Administrative Judges at the Merit Systems Protection Board and by Judges at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, is the best one to provide a clinical assessment and evaluation of one’s ability or inability, and the extent thereof, of performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, is that the long-term relationship that has been (or should have been) established over these many years of treatment, is a foundational basis of being able to ascertain the abilities, capabilities, and limitations of the patient’s physical, emotional and mental condition. 

If a treating doctor hides behind the excuse of saying that he or she is not “equipped” to make a disability determination, or that there are doctors “out there” who specialize in disability determinations, and he/she is not one of them, an explanatory discussion should be engaged in with the doctor, which should include at least the following three (3) elements:  (1)  A reminder of the history of the doctor-patient relationship, (2) that your particular doctor is the one who knows the intimate details of your medical conditions and the history of treatment engaged in, and (3) that such administrative headaches resulting in obtaining Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management is a vital part of the long and recuperative process that the doctor has been trying to attain.  

Ultimately, it is the treating doctor who is the best one to render an opinion as to whether a Federal or Postal employee whom the doctor is treating, can continue to perform all of the essential elements of one’s particular job.  The question then is, Is the doctor in?  Meaning:  Is the doctor still going to “be there” when it really counts?

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: The Office of Personnel Management

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) , located in Washington, D.C., is the agency which makes the decision on all Federal Disability Retirement applications, whether under FERS, CSRS or CSRS-Offset.  They are the responsible agency for the first two “stages” of the process of attempting to show eligibility and entitlement to a Federal Disability Retirement annuity.  By “stages” is merely meant the initial application stage of the process, as well as the second, “Reconsideration” stage of the process — where a Federal or Postal employee has the right to, within 30 days of an initial denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application, request that his or her case be “reconsidered”, and further have the right to submit any additional medical or other supporting documentation for review and consideration. 

If the case is denied a second time by the Office of Personnel Management, then the Federal or Postal employee who has filed the Federal Disability Retirement application, or the attorney representing the Federal or Postal employee, has a right to file an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board.  The Office of Personnel Management is taking quite a long time in making a decision on a Federal Disability Retirement application, and although they are attempting to get caught up with their workload, the volume of cases filed and received by OPM on a weekly basis has made such an attempt difficult.  As has been stated by this author many times, Patience is a virtue, and as such, Federal and Postal employees must be the most virtuous of all, because patience is what is needed to endure and survive the process.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Early Retirement for Disabled Federal Workers: Collateral Disability Determinations

The key to effectively using collateral sources of disability determinations in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is to tailor its relevance in each individual circumstance.  Thus, for example, because the focus upon percentages of disability, or the issue of causal connection to the workplace, is a focal point of importance in an OWCP/Department of Labor case, but not in cases of Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS, such issues should be left alone.  However, the fact that there may be an “independent medical examination” by a Second-Opinion doctor, or a referee doctor in a Worker’s Comp case, can be used to one’s advantage.  

Often, a person who has been under the agonizing scrutiny and torture of the Worker’s Comp process will miss the point, and complain that the OWCP-appointed doctor “didn’t even exam me for 2 minutes”, or “didn’t listen to a thing I said,” but all the while missing the key ingredients in the doctor’s report:  (1) that the doctor can be effectively characterized as “independent” — not from an OWCP standpoint, but certainly from a FERS or CSRS Disability Retirement standpoint, because that particular doctor has no self-interest from OPM’s viewpoint, and (2) if the doctor’s opinion is that, while the causal connection (for example) may not have been established, does he nevertheless express an opinion that the Federal or Postal employee is unable to return to perform the essential functions of his or her job?  Often, the emotional uproar in an OWCP case, or in other similar cases (SSDI & Veteran’s Department disability determinations) causes the Federal or Postal employee to miss the primary point of the process:  to use the tools effectively in getting a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS approved.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire