OPM Disability Retirement: Medical Support, Belief, Documentation and the Diagnosis

Ultimately, in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, one must always remind one’s self that this is a “paper presentation” (regardless of the prevailing and inevitable march towards a paperless society) to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM).  As such, there are certain inextricable components in the presentation itself, which must be reviewed, evaluated, and decided upon before proceeding.

As a “presentation” which is meant to be persuasive — i.e., proving by a preponderance of the evidence that one is entitled to the Federal Disability Retirement benefit, whether under FERS or CSRS — it must obviously have the essence of the proof itself:  Medical Support.  Without the medical support, one need not consider moving forward at all.

Once the Federal or Postal employee has ascertained that he or she has the medical support to proceed, then the question is one of obtaining the documentation which confirms such support.  For, a pat on the back and a wonderful smile from the doctor will not be persuasive to OPM; the doctor must be willing to document, in detailed format, the support which is expressed.

Next, in sequential order, the medical documentation must reveal, convey, and persuasively reflect, a level of belief which will be tested in the event that the Federal Disability Retirement application is denied at the First Stage of the Process, and further tested if it is denied at the Second, or Reconsideration Stage, of the process.  Thus, in short, the treating or supporting doctor must possess a level of belief in one’s case, and be willing to support that belief throughout the entire administrative process.

Finally, the doctor must be able to make a diagnosis, but more than that, to support the diagnosis, and be willing to make the “nexus” between the diagnosis, the patient’s physical, emotional and cognitive capabilities, and to relate them to one’s positional duties of one’s job.  It is through this process of connecting the dots, where the end-goal is achieved:  of obtaining one’s Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Speaking with the Doctor

Communication is the key to a successful outcome:  such a trite truism is certainly applicable in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS & CSRS.  The primary focus when a Federal or Postal employee has a medical condition which is impacting his or her ability to perform all of the essential elements of his or her job, is to take care of the medical condition — i.e., to have the necessary treatments, to undergo the proper prescriptive treatment modalities, including surgery, medication regimens, pain management treatments, psychotherapeutic intervention, etc.

Beyond such treatment modalities, however, there may come a point in the life of a Federal or Postal employee when it is becoming apparent that the medical condition is simply “incompatible” with the useful and efficient retention in the Federal or Postal Service.  Such a determination is best made by the Federal or Postal employee, if possible, as opposed to having the Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service suddenly and unceremoniously make such a determination — in the form of a proposed removal based upon one’s failure to maintain a regular work schedule; or because of taking “excessive leave“; or putting a Federal or Postal employee upon a Performance Improvement Plan.  Such a determination may best be made by the Federal or Postal employee by communicating one’s concerns to the treating doctor, and asking some incisive questions.  Another trite truism:  The only stupid question is the one not asked.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Exaggerated Focus

Often, in preparing and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application, the distractions of collateral issues can be heightened to a level of exaggerated focus, such that it formulates and creates a perception which is beyond the proper perspective which it should be accorded.

Thus, for instance, the issue of whether or not a Supervisor’s support in a Federal Disability Retirement application is important, and to what extent. The issue of whether the Agency can undermine or subvert the Federal Disability Retirement application, etc. — these can be mere distractions which, if allowed to expand in an exaggerated vacuum, can derail a Federal Disability Retirement application unnecessarily.

On the other hand, certain issues and obstacles can indeed be exaggerated, and still maintain a perspective of “reality” — such as the support and importance of one’s treating doctor.

It is important to make the conceptual distinction between the core essentials which make up a Federal Disability Retirement application, and those which are secondary, and further, those which are peripheral to the process.

The ultimate goal is to formulate an approach, prepare an effective presentation to the Office of Personnel Management, and not get distracted from the multiple obstacles and seeming-obstacles which can divert one’s attention, and maintain a reasoned perspective throughout.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: What Ifs

“What Ifs” are hypotheticals which can paralyze a process.  Often, such imaginary road blocks are pragmatic irrelevancies, and are better left alone.  Others, one should affirmatively confront.  

Thus:  “What if my Supervisor says…”  There are things in one’s control, and those which are not.  A Federal Disability Retirement application contains an implicit concept which must not be forgotten:  It is actually a Federal Medical Disability Retirement application. What the Supervisor says or doesn’t say is not ultimately relevant. Can the Supervisor’s Statement have an influence or impact?  Obviously.  But it is not one of those things which should be worried about, because it is beyond anyone’s control — for the most part.  

“What if my doctor won’t support my case?”  This is a hypothetical which one has control over, in filing for Federal Medical Disability Retirement benefits.  As such, one should make an appointment with the doctor before starting the process, or even contemplating starting the process, and have a frank discussion with the doctor.  Bifurcate those issues which one has control over, from those which one does not.  In filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, one needs to confront the reality of today, in preparation for tomorrow’s future.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Understanding the Doctor

A question I often ask the treating doctor at the end of a Hearing before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board (obviously for Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS) is:  Do you have an opinion as to whether Mr. X/Ms. Y is a malingerer? The reason I ask such a question is to establish in the mind of the Administrative Judge, that after all of the clinical examinations, the treatment modalities, the diagnostic testing, etc., does the doctor have a personal opinion about the individual who is seeking to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits

Obviously, there are multiple questions which I ask as a follow-up; and, indeed, the question as to the status of the client/applicant requests a professional opinion about the patient — but implicit in that question is also a rather personal one.  It goes to the heart of who the patient/applicant is, and what the doctor believes about this particular applicant/patient.  For, to resolve any doubts about the underlying motive of the patient is not only important to the Administrative Judge in a Federal Disability Retirement application; it is equally important that the doctor is comfortable in his own mind, as to the clear and honest intention of his patient.  Conveying that comfort from the voice of the treating doctor to the ears of the deciding Judge, is no small matter.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Arming the Doctor after Disarming

It is one thing to provide an explanation of the process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS to the treating doctor; that is simply not enough.  Providing an explanation “disarms” the health professional.  While such explanation and helping the doctor to understand the process is certainly helpful, ultimately the treating doctor needs more than information; he or she needs guidance in order to “arm” one’s self with the tools necessary to help the patient. 

Fortunately, most doctors are professional, compassionate, and eager to help.  Writing medical reports are an administrative aspect of the practice of medicine which is not only a headache, but takes the doctor away from the valuable and limited time for actually treating the patient.  It is therefore important for the Federal or Postal employee who is applying for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS to “arm” the doctor with the necessary tools needed in order to successfully prepare, formulate and construct a sufficient and effective narrative report in order to “pass muster” with the Office of Personnel Management.  The first and primary rule in helping to prepare the doctor is to always protect and maintain the integrity of the doctor.  Truth in every endeavor, and especially in filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, should be the ultimate guiding light.  How that truth is stated, however, is where the guidance, tooling and “arming” comes into play.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Thank the Medical Professionals

If not for the doctors, disability retirement would obviously not be a possibility.  Of course, one may make the self-evident statement that being supportive of a Federal Disability Retirement application is simply part of a doctor’s job; and, to some extent, that would be true.  Doctors should indeed be willing to write up supportive medical narrative reports for their patients. 

Nevertheless, it is because of the doctor, the effort expended, the willingness to testify at a Merit Systems Protection Board Hearing, that the Office of Personnel Management even listens, or reverses a prior denial, and grants a disability retirement application.  Especially when a case gets denied twice by the Office of Personnel Management, it becomes crucial to have the cooperation of the treating doctor to testify in an MSPB Hearing.  This is normally done by telephone, thereby making it a minimal imposition upon the doctor’s time.  Indeed, I often only take a total of 30 minutes of the doctor’s time, including preparation and actual testimony, for an MSPB Hearing.  But the very fact that the doctor is willing to testify — to speak to the Administrative Judge directly to give his or her medical opinion — is often enough to convince OPM to change course, and grant the disability retirement benefits. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill