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

Federal Disability Retirement: Doctors and the Peculiarities of Treatment

Efficacy of treatment is the goal for a doctor; and upon information that such efficacy has failed to render improvement or incremental signs of progress, many doctors lose interest, or become suspicious.

Social Security Disability, of course, requires a higher standard of proof — one of essentially “total disability”, where one is no longer able to engage in “substantially gainful activity” — and, as such, is an implicit admission of medical failure.

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement, however, is merely an acknowledgement that there are certain medical conditions which, limited in their scope and impact, prevent a person from performing one or more of the essential elements of a particular kind of job.  Such a person who goes out on Federal Disability Retirement benefits can still remain productive in the work-world, by pursuing another, different kind of vocation.

As such, from a medical point of view, conveying the distinction between the two is like the difference between identifying a hill as opposed to a mountain:  both may have some elevation, but the extent and scope between the two goes well beyond a linguistic peculiarity.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Solutions

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, it is important to focus upon the solutions to the multiple obstacles which necessarily accompany the preparation of a Federal Disability Retirement packet.

Part of the inherent problem for the Federal or Postal worker who is contemplating filing for the Federal Disability Retirement benefit, is of course the medical condition itself.  It is difficult enough to maneuver through the potholes, valleys and pitfalls of life which one must face on a daily basis; it is exponentially pronounced when one must do so with the hindrance of a physical, mental, or emotional (or often all three) medical condition.

Thus, if the problem at the outset is to secure the support of a doctor, because the doctor is unwilling to provide a medical narrative report, then the solution is to find another doctor.  This often happens if the originating injury occurred as a job-related incident and the doctor’s services were obtained through OWCP; or, sometimes, one’s own lifelong treating doctor simply becomes weary of all of the administrative paperwork which is entailed by the process itself.

To “find another doctor”, of course, is an easy enough statement to make; to actually do so may entail energy, effort and a level of focus which involves much beyond what one wants to expend.  But what choice does one have?  Repetitively reviewing one’s obstacles contributes little to the advancement of one’s cause; focus upon the solution, not the problem, for it is the former whichjavascript:; leads one on a path of recovery, not the latter.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: The Supportive Physician

Perspectives vary; varying perspectives often lead to conflict; and conflict represents the divergent paths which pursue different directions, or follow a parallel route.

Physicians who have been practicing medicine for a number of years quite often see the therapeutic benefit of employment, and the negative impact of being identified as “disabled”, with progressive physical manifestations of deterioration, and psychological destruction of futility and hopelessness.  It is not mere coincidence that the high rate of mortality is correlated to two primary life events:  birth (where the infant’s susceptibility to being exposed to an expansive and threatening environment brings with it inherent dangers), and retirement (where the propelling teleological motivation of man suddenly comes to an end).

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is obvious that one must have supportive medical documentation in order to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the Federal or Postal employee is eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  Part of that medical evidence should include a narrative report from one’s treating doctor, or a doctor who can properly and thoroughly assess, evaluate, and conclude that the Federal or Postal employee  can no longer perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.

What constitutes “support”, however, can sometimes lead to divergent paths.  Doctors are trained to treat patients, not to perform administrative duties.  The divergence which potentially leads to conflict often involves the differing perspective of what will “help” the patient.  Federal Disability Retirement is a benefits which allows the Federal or Postal employee to remain productive in the workforce, by encouraging the Federal or Postal employee to seek outside employment.  This is the key component and concept which often lends persuasive effect upon a suspicious and cautious medical practitioner.

Explaining the process will hopefully allow for parallel paths, and not a route which results in different directions.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Professionals & Saving Time

In many areas of law, it is often the case that “professionals” prefer dealing with other professionals.  Thus, doctors will often encourage their patients to obtain the services of a lawyer when it has come time to consider medical retirement.  

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, submitted to the Office of Personnel Management, there are multiple factors to consider when engaging in the preparatory stages of the administrative process.  The reason why doctors often prefer to deal with attorneys when the patient is compiling the “paperwork” for Federal Disability Retirement is that it saves time.  

Time is a commodity which is scarce and valuable.  Doctors do not want to have to engage in multiple revisions or rewriting of medical reports.  Doctors are professionals who believe that their time is best spent in treating patients — and while such “paperwork” is a necessary part of a doctor’s practice, and one which ultimately assists the patient in furthering his or her medical condition and future well-being; nevertheless, if an administrative issue needs to be addressed, doctors will often prefer to accomplish such administrative tasks in the most efficient, expeditious manner possible.  

The same concept holds true for the Federal or Postal worker who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  While there is never a guarantee that a “professional” will present a compelling enough case to the Office of Personnel Management such that an approval of one’s Federal Disability Retirement application will be a certainty; nevertheless, it is normally the most effective road to success.  

As time is a valuable and scarce commodity, so such scarcity and value should be considered at the beginning of the process of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: Listening to the Doctor

It is amazing how unaware we often are of our very surroundings, even when the circumstances and scenario directly impact us.  Doctors see dozens of patients per day, and the administrative aspects of their medical practice rarely engender excitement; for, while being a proponent of a patient to assist in the entirety of the recuperative process, writing a medical narrative report is not the crux (for most doctors) of that process.

However, when a doctor makes statements which clearly reveal the extent of administrative support that they are willing to provide, it is time to listen.  For example, if your treating doctor says something to the effect of, “Your job is clearly killing you,” or “you shouldn’t be doing this line of work,” or sometimes even the non-subtle approach of:  “You need to medically retire” — the response for the Federal or Postal employee who is seeking to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits should not be one of remaining silent, unaware, smiling distractedly, or even responding with, “Yes, I know, but…” with a trail of silence.  

That scenario is precisely the moment to seize, and to say to the doctor, “Doctor, I think that you are right.  Will you be willing to write a medical narrative report which would support me in my quest to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits, which would then allow me to recuperate from my medical condition?”  Such a conversation must have the cooperative participation of both the doctor and the patient.  For, if the doctor does not bring the subject up, and the Federal or Postal employee begins the process of seeking to prepare, formulate and file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the type of conversation-opener described herein will have to take place, anyway.  

If the doctor brings up the subject during any clinical examination or encounter, the pursuance of such a conversation should be taken advantage of.  The old saying that the doctor knows best is certainly illustrated when one’s treating doctor has opened the door to supporting the Federal or Postal employee in the quest to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Tendencies

There are certain tendencies which seem to exhibit themselves on a spectrum of behaviors, and the pattern is fairly common.  As such, it is important to be aware of the natural tendencies of all parties involved when filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  For instance, it is a common tendency for the doctorFamily Doctor, Orthopaedic Surgeon, Neurologist, Psychiatrist, etc. — to avoid having to write a medical narrative report for a Federal Disability Retirement application.

What to do about it?  To try and place the doctor at ease by explaining the process in as direct, simple and concise manner as possible; then to tie the importance of the request for a Medical Narrative Report to the overall treatment plan for the patient — you.  To have an attorney involved can further ease the natural anxiety of a doctor — but it helps to have the client/patient forewarn the doctor as to the role and involvement of the attorney.

Attorneys and doctors are “natural enemies” (i.e., attorneys sue doctors; doctors hate to be sued; ergo, doctors have a natural tendency to dislike lawyers).  If the patient/client, however, approaches the doctor and explains that the lawyer who is representing him or her is there to explain the process, to guide the doctor in the preparation of the entire packet, including giving guidance to the doctor in formulating a medical narrative report, then the tendency towards anxiety and reluctance to assist in a Federal Disability Retirement application can be lessened and overcome.  Tendencies are there to be recognized, then to be adjusted in order to achieve a positive outcome.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire