OPM Disability Retirement: OWCP, EEOC, Grievances & the Comfort Zone

Medical conditions are often accompanied by the necessity to engage in certain forums, to initiate particular legal actions, and to file for alternative means of compensation.  Actions of necessity often come in bundles, and this is natural, as a single event can spawn multiple avenues of legal relief, and reflect various responses by the Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service.

Thus, a medical condition — whether work related or not — can result in Agency retaliation, persecution, adverse actions, subtle changes of attitudes, etc.

It is therefore not a surprise that a Federal or Postal employee who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, also has parallel actions which may include the wide spectrum of a simple Grievance, to an EEO Complaint; a concurrent OWCP/Department of Labor case (for an application of compensation based upon a medical condition or injury resulting from an on-the-job incident or on an occupational disease claim, etc.); a claim of hostile work environment, retaliation; assertion of the whistleblower provision, etc.

As an attorney who specializes in obtaining Federal disability retirement benefits for Federal and Postal employees, one observes the following:  there is often a mistaken belief that being involved in parallel or alternative routes of litigation somehow delays the need — whether practically speaking, or in terms of the 1-year Statute of Limitations — for filing of Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management.

This mistaken belief often stems from a “comfort zone” that arises — whether because OWCP is paying on a regular and monthly basis, and so the financial concern is not presently and immediately existent; or because one is continually engaged in some form of contact with the Federal Government through alternative litigation, that the 1-year requirement to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is automatically delayed.  The Statute of Limitations is not a sympathetic statute.

A personal comfort zone is not a basis to delay what the law requires.  Immediacy of an event should not be the basis of whether to file for a claim or not.  Planning for the future is the important basis to act, and preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is something which every Federal or Postal employee should be considering concurrently with all other forums and avenues of compensation.  A man can do more than one thing at a time, and preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits should be one of those multiple issues to be embraced.

Don’t let a present comfort zone deny you the right of a secured future.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Workplace (Part 2)

In filing for FERS or CSRS Federal Disability Retirement benefits with the Office of Personnel Management, it is important to stay away from issues which may explicitly or implicitly characterize the particular medical condition as being “situational” in nature.  However, this does not mean that the medical condition cannot have originated from, or been exacerbated by, the workplace environment.  Remember that OPM disability retirement is not like OWCP/Worker’s Comp — the issue of causality, or whether the medical condition occurred as a result of your occupation, is not important to prove. 

However, sometimes, it is simply an indisputable fact that the medical condition originated from the workplace, or was exacerbated by conditions in the workplace.  Such origination or exacerbations, once it takes on a “life of its own” and becomes chronic and pervasive such that the medical condition impacts a person both at the workplace as well as outside the workplace, then it has transformed into a medical condition beyond being merely “situational”.  Thus, that which originated as a “situational” medical condition may well no longer be a situational one.  In such cases — and that is normally the case in almost all medical conditions which begin as a situational disability — there would be no problem with filing for OPM disability retirement benefits.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Psychology of the Process

There is, of course, the “psychology” of the process of filing for disability retirement benefits. The term itself (psychology, psychological) is all too often misused. All that is meant in this context is that, at each stage of the process (the initial application stage; the Second, Reconsideration Stage; the Third, Merit Systems Protection Board Stage; the fourth & fifth stages of an appeal, either for a Petition for Full Review or an appeal to the Federal Circuit, or sequentially), the applicant should have a general idea of the level of people the Applicant is dealing with. Thus, for example, at the initial stage of the process, one should not expect the OPM Representative to be fully conversant in the law; whereas, if the case gets to the Merit Systems Protection Board Stage, the OPM representative is fairly well-versed in multiple aspects of the laws governing disability retirement. Additionally, the level of medical knowledge varies from one OPM representative to the next. This is not to say that each stage of the process requires a greater level of intellectual input or information; nor does it mean that each stage should be “tailored” based upon the expected level of competence. Rather, an awareness of what to expect, how to respond, and what level of intellectual responsiveness are all necessary ingredients in preparing and filing a successful disability retirement application. In short, it is important to know the “psychology” of it all.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal OPM Disability Retirement: Preexisting Conditions

There is still some confusion with respect to the relevance of preexisting medical conditions, or medical conditions which were incurred while working, or outside of the workplace, and the impact of such medical disabilities upon one’s right to file for disability retirement under FERS or CSRS. This confusion is evident from some of the questions I have been recently asked.

Remember that preexisting medical conditions are irrelevant to filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, in most cases; the fact that an individual has been able to perform the essential elements of one’s job for many years, but comes to a point in his or her career where the medical condition has been exacerbated, or deteriorated, to the point where it begins to prevent one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, is all that is needed to be shown.

It matters not that the medical condition “preexisted” one’s Federal service; and, indeed, many of my client’s began working with a VA disability rating, but worked successfully for a number of years, until the medical condition(s) underlying the VA disability rating worsened, or came to a point where it began to impact his or her ability to perform the job functions. Similarly, whether or not the injury or medical disability was incurred while working or while on a skiing trip, is irrelevant. The primary point and focus in FERS & CSRS disability retirements cases, is that a person has the minimum years of Federal Service (5 years for CSRS; 18 months for FERS), and during the person’s Federal Service, he or she incurred a medical condition such that it prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire