Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: The Cold

“Cold” is a word with multiple meanings.  It can refer to the temperature of one’s environment; an infectious malady of common origins; or the emotional unresponsiveness of someone.  It can even be an adverb delineating the complete knowledge or mastery of a subject, as in, “He knew it cold”.

But temperatures can be countered; common colds have multiple remedies (though one wonders if any of them are effective, as opposed to bed rest and drinking fluids); and the adverb form is merely an informal allowance of language in a vernacular left for the younger generation.  We are thus left with the state of emotional paralysis — identified in one’s own being, or in another.

For the injured or ill Federal employee who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, such an appropriate identification of the concept and definition related to the emotional reaction (or lack thereof) by one’s own agency and one’s co-workers should be expected.

While it is a welcome and unexpected surprise if one’s agency and co-workers respond otherwise, it is simply the nature of human beings to respond with a herd mentality, and for the most part, once the Federal or Postal employee reveals the intention to depart from one’s agency, the common response is one which can only be characterized as “cold”.

Why must it be this way?

There is no adequate explanation.  But for the Federal and Postal employee under FERS or CSRS, who has had to endure the often unthinking bureaucracy of the Federal Sector, such lack of warmth merely exacerbates the dire situation of one who suffers from a medical condition which necessitates filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

It is, indeed, a puzzle; for in the harshness of winter, where the cold winds blow, the emotional coldness of one’s workplace is somewhat akin the common cold — a nagging sense that something has gone awry, but most Federal and Postal employees know that cold, anyway.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: The Friendly Supervisor

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the Supervisor — and therefore the Agency itself — will be informed of one’s application for Federal Disability Retirement, because of the requirement of the SF 3112B.

Standard Form 3112B is the “Supervisor’s Statement”; it is a form which needs to be completed by a Supervisor of the Federal or Postal employee who is applying for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  Because the form must be completed by a Supervisor of the applicant, it is therefore presumed that “others” at the agency will come to know that the Federal or Postal employee has filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Often, the question is asked as to “when” the Supervisor should be informed of the employee’s application.  It can be a touchy issue.  Because the Federal or Postal employee contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits often feels a certain sense of loyalty, especially if the Supervisor has been “good” to him or her, the instinctive sense is to inform the Supervisor sooner, rather than later.  But remember that loyalty in the Federal government is almost always a unilateral approach; it runs one way — from the individual to the agency; rarely is it bilateral, where it runs both ways.

Further, once a Federal or Postal employee contemplates filing for Federal Disability Retirement, the loyalty of the Supervisor is normally seen as connected to, and only to, the agency; and the very fact that an employee has mentioned the term “Federal Disability Retirement” is often the turning point of any connective loyalty.

Loyalty is what one is doing now and for the future, not what one has done in the past.  Such words may invoke a sad truth, but one which should be heeded.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Agency Tendency

A Federal or Postal Worker who has worked for any number of years, already knows (intuitively) what the Agency’s response is going to be when he or she files for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS:  Self-protection, minimal cooperation, and a “know nothing” and “do nothing” approach.  This is merely the tendency of most agencies.  Every now and then, there is an exception to this general perception of how a Federal Agency will respond and react; normally, however, any such exception is merely a reflection upon an exceptional individual — a supervisor who is truly looking out both for the best interests of the agency, as well as for a Federal or Postal worker who deserves praise and cooperation as he or she enters into a difficult phase of life. 

Agencies tend to respond in a “self-protective” mode; of covering itself; of being uncooperative, thinking that an individual who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is (A) no longer of any use to the agency, (B) reflects badly upon the overall perception of the agency, or (C) is merely faking the disability.  The truth of the matter is that a Federal or Postal employee who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits has probably exhausted all possible alternatives, and has killed him/herself in trying to continue to work.  However, sympathy and empathy are two emotions which Agencies sorely lack in, both qualitatively and quantitatively; and as with all tendencies, it is good to be aware of them, if only to be on guard.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Supervisors, Agencies and H.R. Personnel

I am sometimes pleasantly surprised at Supervisors — ones who actually recognize that an individual filing for Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS does so out of necessity, and not out of any personal or professional spite against the Supervisor or the Agency, and that the proper response to convey is one of support, empathy, and cooperation, without needing to compromise the goal and mission of the Agency.  Further, I am taken aback by the unprofessional and utterly unhelpful attitude of many Human Resources personnel in the processing of a Federal Disability Retirement application. 

Too often, the H.R. person finds it his or her mission in life to be an obstacle to the smooth processing of a disability retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  Yet, the law is clear (though not to many of the H.R. Departments at various agencies):  it is the Office of Personnel Management which has the sole legal authority to make a positive or negative determination on a Federal Disability Retirement application; at the agency level, the role of the Human Resources person is to try and expedite and efficiently process the disability retirement application.  Hopefully, those who have the positional designation of “Human Resources” will come to realize what it all actually means:  he or she is supposed to be a “resource” (a positive one, for that matter) with a “human” emphasis.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Agency Supervisors

Federal Agencies, and the Postal Service, can act as little fiefdoms, with minimal oversight in the use of power. There is no school which teaches the proper use of power; power is something which is too often misused, misapplied, and abused. And, those who possess power, often exponentially apply it when the focus of such power has become vulnerable. Federal and Postal workers who suffer from a medical condition, who are in the vulnerable position of necessarily filing for disability retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS because of the imposition of an unwanted medical condition which impacts and impedes his or her ability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, are especially in a sensitive position, precisely because they are at the complete mercy of the Supervisor. Supervisors need to understand and appreciate the great power which he or she possesses. The powerful need not misuse such power in order to show how powerful he or she is; indeed, it is in the very act of kindness, empathy, and the ability to show sensitivity and “human-ness” which is the true showing of the powerful. Supervisors should “bend over backwards” to show what it means to truly be a Supervisor — one who recognizes and appreciates the long years of loyal service the disabled employee has shown; empathy for the vulnerable situation the employee now finds him/herself in; kindness in the treatment of the employee. Such kind treatment will go a long way towards encouraging a sense of community and family within an agency, and will foster the other employees in the department, office, and greater agency to work that much harder, knowing that it is not “just a job” — but a career worthy of greater devotion.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal OPM Disability Retirement: Notifying the Agency

Fervent loyalty by the Federal and Postal Employee to want to work for as long as possible, and to do the best job possible, is often taken for granted; what is not as common, however, is a “bilateral loyalty” — meaning, loyalty shown by the Agency back to the Federal or Postal employee, especially when such loyalty is needed, during the long process of filing for, and obtaining, disability retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management.

In representing a client, I am often asked whether or not the Agency should be notified of our intentions immediately, and my response always is: It depends. If there is a strong and positive relationship between the employee and supervisor, where there are strong indicators that the Agency will be supportive during the lengthy process, then I will often advise informing them fairly quickly. More often, however, the Agency has had a long history of acting in a “less than sympathetic” manner — and that is in most cases. In such cases, I normally advise to wait until the disability retirement packet has been prepared and finalized, and it is ready to be submitted to the Personnel or District H.R. Office. Each case must be looked at independently, and there are never any easy answers. Agencies are comprised of individuals; individuals are complex beings, with the potential for compassion and empathy, but just as well with a potential for cold disregard for the plight of an individual. So long as Agencies are comprised of individuals, Agencies themselves act as individuals, and each case must be viewed in that light.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire