Federal Disability Retirement Attorney: Qualia & First Person Attribution of Mental States

Private, subjective mental states are unique by self-definition; they become public knowledge only when shared with deliberate intent, revealing the inner thoughts, private conceptual pondering, and narrative voices of the subjective “I”. Pain is similar in form, in that one can mask and keep private the experiential factor of pain, just as one can remain hidden in the private thoughts one engages.

Qualia, in philosophy, has to do with the subjective experience of one’s encounter with the greater world; and the first person attribution of a mental state encompasses the “I” in the midst of that universe of contained subjectivity. The problem always is how one can and should relate the private experience when a public narrative of that subjectivity is required.

For Federal and Postal employees who must file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the problem of conveying in persuasive form and argumentation, of transversing the chasm between the “qualia” of one’s subjective mental state into the foray of medicine, diagnostic testing, clinical encounters with medical professionals, and the entire compendium of what constitutes the “objective” world, is a necessary prerequisite where the incommensurable wall must be overcome.

An effective OPM Disability Retirement application under FERS, CSRS or CSRS Offset, is like watching a gymnast on a balance beam; overstating the subjective may result in loss of that balance.  Federal employees and Postal workers who suffer from those specific medical conditions which are considered “unverifiable” through normal channels of diagnostic methodologies — Fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, chronic and intractable pain, etc. — must find ways where the public description goes beyond the qualia of private mental attributes.

In many ways, we have progressed culturally; and such progressivism is found in the diminishment and near-extinguishment of that dualism between the cognitive and the physical, and this is established by the general acceptance of psychiatric conditions as being just as “valid” as physical maladies. But old haunts and biased perspectives still abound, and during such times of transition, one must still take care in how one approaches subjectivity in the wake of the yearning for objectively verifiable evidentiary components.

Like the public who watches the graceful movements of a gymnast on a balance beam, it is the roar of the crowd in appreciation one seeks, and not the gasp of disappointment when lack of balance results in a sudden and unexpected fall.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Cartesian Bifurcation

Modern philosophy is often considered to have begun with the French philosopher, Descartes; this is perhaps unfortunate, for the resulting inward navel gazing which was precipitated and the subsequent conceptual bifurcation between mind and body, for which we must contend with and pay the price, to this day.

For the longest time, of course, there was a suspicion that psychiatric conditions were somehow less viable and more difficult to prove; this is perhaps as a result of a misconception and misunderstanding of that proof which constitutes “objective” data as opposed to “subjective” interpretations of any factual analysis.

In Federal Disability Retirement cases, the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board has steadfastly rejected any notions of subjective/objective differentiation, especially when it comes to psychiatric medical conditions.  Fortunately for the Federal and Postal Worker who suffers from medical conditions such that the medical disability prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s positional duties, the MSPB has repeatedly rejected OPM’s claim that certain medical evidence (clinical examinations and encounters with a psychiatrist, for instance) is merely “subjective”, as opposed to what they deem to be considered “objective” medical evidence.

Whether anyone at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is aware of Descartes and the French philosopher’s profound influence upon the mind/body bifurcation is a matter of factual irrelevance; the important historical point to be recognized is the trickling down impact from theoretical discourses in academia, to the pragmatic application of concepts in bureaucratic administrative functions.

Descartes lives, and the echoes of his philosophical influence resounds and reverberates down into the hallways of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, in the daily reviews of Federal Disability Retirement applications.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: The Pain Problem

The problem with pain is that, quite simply put, there is only one person who “owns” it — the pain-feeler.  One can describe it, ascribe adjectives which somewhat make it come alive for the listener; and even attempt metaphors and analogies that expand upon the limited universe of words as opposed to the physical sensation which creates havoc and turmoil in a person’s life.

There are numerical designations (“she consistently feels pain on the scale of 7/10 daily”) and words like “chronic”, “intractable”, and “severe” capture a sense of what a person undergoes; but in the end, these are merely word-games in comparison to the agonizing physical trauma which the person experiencing the pain must endure.

In preparing a paper presentation to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in the form of a Federal Disability Retirement packet, whether under FERS or CSRS, chronic pain and the extent of how such pain prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, is often problematic for the Federal or Postal employee who is contemplating such a venture.

It presents a challenge for two primary reasons:  First, because of the difficulty in translating a physical sensation into a clear and effective conceptual modality; and Second, because the audience to whom such a descriptive analysis is conveyed is quite likely attuned to, and therefore somewhat indifferent to, thousands of such descriptions, and thus may have a somewhat calloused view of such statements.

Overcoming the roadblocks and gaining the attention of an OPM case worker requires more than the mere meeting of the law; it demands overcoming the problem of pain — both medically, and administratively.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement (for US Federal Employees): Administering Treatment versus Administrative Functions

Doctors rarely have any problems with administering treatment based upon clinical encounters and subjective narratives from their patients; yet, when it comes to providing a medical report and performing similar administrative functions, the sudden pause, hesitation, and sometimes outright refusal, is rather puzzling, if not disconcerting.

Such trepidation from the doctor can obviously result in a difficult wall for purposes of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS.

For, much of medical evaluation, diagnosis, prognosis and prescribing of treatment encompasses receipt of subjective responses from the patient:  where the pain is present; the nature and extent of the pain; the history and chronicity of manifested symptoms; even functional capacity evaluations must necessarily be an observation of the subjective actions & reactions of the participant.  Of course, there are often distinguishable “objective” factors — swelling; carcinogenic versus benign tumors; broken bones, etc.

On the other hand, even MRIs and other diagnostic tools reveal only that X exists — not that X results in symptom Y.  An example would be a bulging disc — while the abnormality itself may show up on an MRI, whether the individual experiences any pain from the abnormality may differ from subject to subject.

This is why, despite the willingness of a doctor to treat based upon most factors being “subjective” in nature, it becomes a puzzle why the same doctor shows an unwillingness to write a report stating that, because of the medical conditions for which patient M is being treated, one must necessarily conclude that he or she cannot perform essential elements X, Y and Z of his or her job.

It is the jump from treatment-to-disability-determination which is often problematic for the treating doctor.  All of a sudden, the excuses flow:  “I am not trained to make such determinations”; “There is no objective basis for your pain” (then why have you been treating me for over a decade and prescribing high levels of narcotic pain medications?); “I can’t say whether you can or cannot do your job”; and many other excuses.

The switch from administering treatment, to treating administrative matters, is one fraught with potential obstacles.  How one approaches the treating doctor will often determine whether such obstacles can be overcome — and whether one’s Federal Disability Retirement application can be successfully formulated.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Pain and the Fallacy of Objectivity

Pain by definition is “subjective”, if by it one means that the experiential verification of the condition is uniquely possessed by the “I”, or the subject of the experience.  By contrast, that which is deemed “objective” is presumably validated by more than the possessor of the experiential condition — i.e., by third parties; by testing for the validity and verification of an event through means other than the personal narrative of a singular subject.  Yet, if verification of an experience is accepted merely by sheer volume of a collective consensus, then most scientific revolutions in advanced discoveries would never have survived.

In Federal Disability Retirement law, it is often the argument of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management that the Federal or Postal applicant has failed to provide “objective” medical evidence in presenting his or her case.  The narrative of having a condition of “chronic pain”, or “severe pain” — being “subjective” by definition — is not deemed “objective“, and therefore cannot be the valid basis alone for a Federal Disability Retirement case (or so the argument by OPM is often presented).  Even the results of an MRI will not necessarily satisfy the scrutiny of OPM; for, ultimately, an MRI can only reveal an observable abnormality — not that a person experiences “pain”.

Fortunately, there are a number of cases in law which rebut OPM in their attempt to bifurcate between “objective” and “subjective”, and such legal tools should always be cited and applied in any Federal or Postal Disability Retirement application.

While pain may indeed be subjective by definition, the objectivity of a Federal Disability Retirement application should never be based upon what OPM deems as sufficient; rather, it is the law and the long history of legal guidance by the courts which should mandate how OPM acts.  Indeed, if we let OPM’s subjective determinations rule the day, we would all be left in an existential state of pain — one which would then result in a collective consensus which may be deemed objective in nature.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Manufactured Legal Criteria

Even assuming good faith, the application of a manufactured legal criteria can lead to a harm which can be irreversible.  The consequence of a Federal or Postal employee relying upon a mis-stated, non-existent legal criteria can potentially result in simply raising one’s hands in frustration, as a sign of futility, and giving up on the process of attempting to pursue a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  

David Hume’s philosophical argument concerning causality and the fact that, because there is no “necessary connection” between two objects which meet, which result in one object “causing” the movement or sequential effect of the second object, may be a technically ingenious analysis of an intellectual discourse.  In the “real world”, however, when two objects collide, there are causal consequences.  

Similarly, in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, when the Office of Personnel Management requires that one submit “objective evidence” to justify the medical doctor’s conclusions of disability, what the Office of Personnel Management is requiring is a “necessary connection” which does not exist in “the law”.  Years of clinical examinations; notations of progressive deterioration; limited flexion and mobility; consistent complaints of pain; the aggregate of such complaints in and of itself constitutes evidence — but of course OPM ignores such evidence as being merely “subjective“.  

Just as Hume’s requirement of a necessary connection violates the pragmatic standards applicable in the “real world”, so OPM’s requirement of “objective medical evidence” betrays the legal criteria in a Federal Disability Retirement application. Fighting the misapplication of a non-existent legal criteria is like denying a negative, however; it can be done, but you must use the law as a sword, and not merely as a shield.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: The Proper Balance

The Office of Personnel Management has sent out a number of denials in recent weeks, and the undersigned attorney has had multiple opportunities to review many of the cases which have been submitted at the Initial Stage of the process, by Federal and Postal workers who are or were unrepresented by an attorney.  

The spectrum of the quality of the applications vary; some have obviously engaged in some research, and attempted to put together a Federal Disability Retirement application by following some guidelines which have been put forth.  But in most cases, there is still the problem of an “imbalance” — of not reaching the correct median between the subjective and the objective; of an inability to stay away from the workplace issues, of harassment, of complaints about the Agency, etc.  

Remember that this is first and foremost a medical disability retirement application, and the operative term which should always be focused upon and emphasized is the “medical” aspect of the formulation.  While there is ultimately no formulaic Federal Disability Retirement packet (precisely because the particular medical condition which is unique to each individual resists any such attempt to package a Federal Disability Retirement application in a generic sort of way), nevertheless, there are certain key points which should be addressed and emphasized, while other “non-key points” should be avoided.  

Put in a different way, in proving that a medical condition prevents a Federal or Postal employee from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, one must include multiple “essential elements” in meeting the burden of proof.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire