OPM Disability Retirement: The Complication of Accommodations

The problem with most people is that they come at a conversation with a selective focus — and listen for that which they want to hear, and filter all other information which fails to fit the paradigm of their predetermined perspective.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the question of accommodations via Standard Form 3112D comes to the fore — often because of the selective focus of issues on the part of OPM.

The fact that an agency may have engaged in work-place modifications, or allowed for temporary alleviation of certain elements of one’s job description; or even provided a state-of-the-art ergonomic chair with 3-speed controls with horizontal landing mechanisms — does not mean that the agency was able to, or did, accommodate the Federal or Postal employee under the legal meaning of that which constitutes a viable “accommodation” .

For, that which the agency does must allow for the Federal employee to perform the essential elements of his or her job, and any such attempted “accommodation” which does not meet that standard, is technically not an accommodation at all.  It is merely an artifice and a cosmetic make-over in an effort by the agency which allows for the agency to declare that they have “accommodated” the individual Federal or Postal employee.

Rarely does the question on SF 3112D get accurately responded to; for, the concept of “attempted” accommodations is precisely the point — if it was attempted, and did not work, then the agency has an obligation to concede and describe that point; but from the Agency’s myopic perspective, any “attempt” constitutes an accommodation, and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management will embrace such an assertion with open arms.

What to do about it?  Always focus upon the central point of a Federal Disability Retirement application — it is a medical retirement.  Thus, the doctor’s opinion is sacrosanct, and should be repetitively emphasized.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: Qualifying

The concept of “qualifying” is both peculiar as well as interesting; for, one questions whether one can “qualify” for a sports event (often, this encompasses issues of age, physical ability, whether gender may disqualify you, etc.); and then there are “qualifying events”, where you must pass certain levels of “test” activities in order to get to the next round, as in golfing events.  In racing events, there is always talk about getting through the “qualifying” stages; and, similarly, in attempting to secure a job, the applicant is often questioned as to whether he or she has the “qualifications” for the position.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, there is also the initial question of whether a Federal or Postal worker “qualifies” for the benefit identified as “Federal Disability Retirement”. Here again, to “qualify” means that a Federal or Postal worker meets certain requirements. Thus, there are automatic dis-qualifiers, such as: If you are not a Federal or Postal worker, but work for the county or state, then you do not qualify for benefits under FERS or CSRS from the Federal system. Similarly, if a FERS individual does not have at least 18 months of Federal Service, or a CSRS Federal employee does not have at least 5 years of Federal Service (which is obviously unlikely), then you cannot “qualify” to even apply for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management.

Those are immediate qualifying “events”.  Then, of course, the main event — the tournament of all competitive activities for Federal Disability Retirement purposes — concerns whether or not a Federal or Postal Worker qualifies for Federal Disability Retirement benefits because of his or her medical condition.  This foundational qualification can only be answered by looking at the medical condition, the support of the treating doctor, and whether and to what extent the medical condition impacts one’s physical or psychological ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job.

For that main event, one must rise to the level akin to the professional athlete.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Meticulous Preparation

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is important to take the time, effort and care to prepare each element of the application for Federal Disability Retirement with meticulousness.  The term and conceptual implication of the word, “being meticulous” involves precision and the imagery of a methodical approach, of attending to the details and formulating the various aspects of the packet with thoughtful thoroughness.  

As a watchmaker who must attend to the minute details of his masterpiece (yes, it is a deliberate pun on using the term “minute” to infer both the idea of size as well as a quantity of time, but pronounced in different ways), it is in the very details of a Federal Disability Retirement case where the battle for approval or denial must be fought. It is often pointed out that ease of effort distinguishes between the professional and the amateur; that the professional makes it all look so easy.  Yet, the amount of preparation and practice which the professional undergoes prior to going on stage, or showing his or her abilities before a watchful crowd, is what the audience does not see.  

Similarly, when the Office of Personnel Management reviews a Federal Disability Retirement application and sees how everything logically “fits” together and proves by a preponderance of the evidence that a Federal Disability Retirement application has met all of the legal criteria for an approval, it is the meticulous preparation which has gone into fitting all of the “pieces of the puzzle” together, which provided the foundation for such success.  

Like those automobile commercials where precision driving through difficult obstacles ends with the cautionary statement:  “Beware, do not try this on your own, as the drivers in this ad were all professionals”; so it is a similar statement to the Federal or Postal employee who is attempting to formulate a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS:  it is not an easy matter, and meticulous preparation must be taken to formulate the medical, legal, narrative and multitudinous elements necessary to qualify for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Approvals & Disapprovals

The Office of Personnel Management seems to have recently issued a volume of decisions on Federal Disability Retirement applications on Federal and Postal employees under FERS & CSRS.

From the calls received from non-clients, and from clients, one sometimes wonders whether or not some sort of “quota-system” isn’t being imposed at the top levels.  Yet, statistically, the percentage of disapprovals v. approvals is not noticeably different than before; it is difficult to determine in any given period of time whether or not there is a higher rate of denials/disapprovals than approvals, in comparison to other periods.

What matters is not the general rate of approvals or disapprovals; rather, each individual case must be taken on its own merit, and responded to with the Office of Personnel Management (or, if the denial is at the Reconsideration Stage, then an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board) in a timely fashion, and in a tailored, appropriate manner.

Each case is indeed “different”.  One cannot compare one case with “war stories” about how X filed his or her application and got it approved “within a week”.  Such rumors can never be verified, and even if it could be verified, there are always individual and unique circumstances which must be taken into account.

Comparisons between different time periods, as well as between two or more independent cases, are never helpful; instead, the focus must be to take the uniqueness of any given case, and decide on the best course of action in order to obtain the one and only outcome which is acceptable for any given OPM Disability Retirement case under FERS or CSRS:  an ultimate approval.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire