Postal & Federal Employee Disability Retirement Benefits: When Curiosity Fades

It is that compelling feature for animals and humans alike (if one is to make a distinction between the two); of an innate sense for the extraordinary, and a need to figure out change, reveal the hidden vortex of anomalies, and uncover the mystery behind the curtain.  Shakespeare made reference to the known proverb in Much Ado about Nothing, and it was originally meant as a forewarning for those who meddle in other’s affairs; but it is curiosity, indeed, which maintains an evolutionary compulsion to strive forth, to manifest life and liveliness in the face of dull acceptance and loss of inherent inquisitiveness.

When other concerns begin to intersect and overtake, is when such features meant to enhance survivability and adaption begin to diminish.  Life and its exhaustive characteristics, especially in modernity, can result in the uncharacteristic feature of disinterest and dismay.  Whether the medical condition portends first, or the sense of abandonment in prefatory congealment, the fact is that life and its inherent stresses can be like a weight of seemingly insurmountable burdens crushing in its suffocating pervasiveness.

For Federal employees and U.S. Postal workers, the heightened stress imposed by increasing steps of adverse actions, punitive measures and letters threatening discipline and termination, can be daunting and devastating.  Dealing with a medical condition itself can be a full-time endeavor, and can sap the life, energy and reserve of vitality for even the strongest of individuals.

When the medical condition begins to prevent the Federal or Postal worker from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s positional duties, it is time to take stock and inventory of one’s choices, which are normally limited to three:  (A)  Stay with the agency or the U.S. Postal Service, and allow for the progressive diminution of that peculiar trait called curiosity for life, (B) Wait for the adverse actions to increase in systematic advancement of punitive impositions, or (C) Begin the process of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal or Postal Medical Retirement.

The shell of a man did not become so in one fell swoop; rather, by incremental destruction, like a child taking apart a completed puzzle piece by piece.

Filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether the Federal or Postal employee is under FERS, CSRS or CSRS Offset, is often the first step towards regaining a piece of one’s sanity, one’s physical well-being, and one’s “wholeness” of being a human being; and contrary to the common perspective that curiosity killed the cat, it is almost always the exact opposite:  it is the Federal agency or the U.S. Postal Service which kills curiosity, which is the underlying force and beauty of a life worth living.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Future Reviews

I have had a number of inquiries concerning events which may or may not occur post-approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application, including a Medical Questionnaire or the extent to which Federal authorities may inspect or otherwise monitor a Federal Disability Retirement annuitant.  

First, let me state the obvious:  one should never engage in fraud.  That being said, remember that the benefit of a Federal Disability Retirement annuity under FERS or CSRS overtly encourages that one should remain productive and engaged in the workforce.  Disability Retirement under FERS & CSRS is designed to compensate an individual because of a specific disability from a specific type of job.  It pays less than other forms of compensation (i.e., Worker’s Comp) precisely because it encourages you to go out and find another job in another field, one which may be part-time (and therefore would qualify you because you could not perform a similar job on a full-time basis), or one which may utilize a different set of physical requirements; or one which may be “less intense” than your former Federal or Postal work.  

Sensational stories about Federal or Postal workers who have been arrested because of video-taped evidence of engaging in high-impact sports and recreational activities, or of individuals seen performing physical exertions beyond their “stated medical limitations“, almost always involve OWCP/Worker’s Comp violations.  Under OWCP rules, an individual is receiving “temporary total disability” benefits — and the emphasis must be focused upon the middle word — “Total” — as opposed to a FERS or CSRS Federal Disability Retirement annuitant, who is receiving a retirement benefit based upon his or her medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, and is encouraged and allowed to go out and get another job making up to 80% of what one’s former Federal or Postal Job paid.  There is a vast difference between the two.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Paradigms for the Future

In attempting to decide to file for Federal Disability Retirement Benefits, it is often the case that Social Security disability benefits must be considered (not just “considered”, obviously, for FERS employees, because it is a requirement to file for it), and how seriously and vigorously; and further, whether to pursue, or to continue on, OWCP temporary total disability benefits.  These are “paradigms” that must be considered for the future.  By “paradigm”, I mean that they represent “models” of how a person wants his or her future to be based upon. 

For instance, let’s take the paradigm of Social Security disability benefits.  Because FERS employees who file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits must also file for Social Security disability benefits (to see if they qualify; and, if qualified, the offsetting features will apply), one must take into consideration whether or not a Federal or Postal employee will actually want Social Security disability benefits.  This question arises because Social Security has a “cap” in which a person who receives Social Security disability benefits can make ancillary earned income (roughly no more than $10,000 per year).  Because of this, one must think of the future paradigm of one’s life:  If a person on FERS disability retirement wants to go out and get a part-time job, or start on a path for another career, where he or she makes 15, 20, 25,000 per year or more (because remember, a person can make up to 80% of what a person’s former Federal or Postal job currently pays), then he or she may not want to get Social Security disability benefits.  Most people who are on Federal disability retirement are simply disabled from performing one or more of the essential elements of the particular job; they are not “totally disabled”, and therefore are able to go out and start a second career.  This is the “paradigm” for the future which must be considered, and such a model for the future must be carefully thought through.  Next:  the OWCP paradigm.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Do Psychiatric Disabilities Still Carry a Stigma?

Do Psychiatric Conditions still carry a stigma?  Does the Office of Personnel Management, or the Merit Systems Protection Board, treat Psychiatric medical conditions any differently than, say, bulging discs, degenerative disc disease, or carpal tunnel syndrome, etc.?  Is there a greater need to explain the symptoms of psychiatric conditions, in preparing an Applicant’s Statement of Disability, than conditions which can be “verified” by diagnostic testing?  Obviously, the answer should be: There is no difference of review of the medical condition by OPM or the MSPB. 

Certainly, this should be the case in light of Vanieken-Ryals v. OPM.  Neither OPM nor an MSPB Judge should be able to impose a requirement in disability retirement cases involving psychiatric disabilities, that there needs to be “objective medical evidence,” precisely because there is no statute or regulation governing disability retirement which imposes such a requirement that “objective” medical evidence is required to prove disability.  As I stated in previous articles, as long as the treating doctor of the disability retirement applicant utilizes “established diagnostic criteria” and applies modalities of treatment which are “consistent with generally accepted professional standards,” the evidence presented concerning psychiatric disabilities should not be treated any differently than that of physical disabilities.  As the Court in Vanieken-Ryals stated, OPM’s adherence to a rule which systematically demands medical evidence of an “objective” nature and refuses to consider “subjective” medical evidence, is “arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law.”  Yet, when preparing the Applicant’s Statement of Disability, it is always wise to utilize greater descriptive terms.  For, when dealing with medical conditions such as Bipolar disorder, Major Depression, panic attacks, anxiety, etc., one must use appropriate adjectives and “triggering”, emotional terms — if only to help the OPM representative or the Administrative Judge understand the human side of the story.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: Remember the Details

At each state of attempting to get a Federal disability retirement application approved, it is important to “remember the details”. For example, at the Merit Systems Protection Board level, in conducting a Hearing, remember that if the best medical evidence/testimony you are able to provide is through a health professional other than an “M.D.” (e.g., a therapist, a Nurse Practitioner, a Chiropractor, etc.), always point out the unique credentials of the provider, to include whether in the particular state in which he/she practices, if greater latitude and responsibilities are given to the practitioner.

Thus, it may be that in one state a Nurse Practitioner can exam, diagnose, and prescribe a medication regimen without the direct oversight of a medical doctor, whereas in other states such latitude may not be allowed. This should be pointed out to the Judge, to emphasize greater credibility of the testimony of the practitioner. Further, remember that in Vanieken-Ryals v. OPM (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, November, 2007), the Court therein reiterated that the medical documentation/evidence required must come from a ‘licensed physician or other appropriate practitioner’, and so long as that medical practitioner utilizes “established diagnostic criteria” and that which is “consistent with generally accepted professional standards”, the testimony cannot be undermined. Use the strengths of the case you have, and emphasize the little details that matter.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire