OPM Disability Retirement: Sometimes, It is the Wrong Question

If the question is asked, “Is it difficult to get Federal Disability Retirement benefits based upon a Stress Claim?” — within the context of the poorly-worded question, you may get a wrong answer.  This is because it is the wrong question to begin with.  

The concept and term “stress claim” is more appropriately formulated in the context of an OWCP claim.  It implies that one is claiming for compensation based upon a situation — a hostile work environment, a harassing supervisor, etc. — because the origin and inception of the medical condition generically characterized as “stress” implies that it is the workplace which is the originating responsibility for the very medical condition claimed.  

Such a question would thus imply a multitude of irrelevant considerations for purposes of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, such as the causality of the claim, whether the cause is merely situational (is it the supervisor causing the stress?  If so, if a Federal or Postal worker moved to another office or agency, could he or she work in the same job?), or contained within the context of the workplace. The problem with using the term “stress” in a question is that, whether as a noun or a verb, it implies too much while revealing too little.  If expanded upon (e.g., while stress may be the origin, is the medical condition Major Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, etc.), then the entire question takes on a new form.  Sometimes, the problem begins with the question asked which is poorly worded; and to a poorly worded question, a wrong answer might be given.

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

OPM Disability Retirement: Situational Disability II

To reiterate: Situational disability can be an issue which can defeat a disability retirement application, precisely because OPM (and if it gets to the MSPB level, the Administrative Judge) can conclude that the Psychiatric disability in question originates and results in response to the hostile workplace environment.

These three concepts are important to understand — originate, result in, and result “in response to”. A psychiatric condition can originate from a hostile work environment, but as long as the medical condition then pervades beyond the work environment and impacts a person’s life through and through, then that alone does not constitute situational disability, because while it may have originated from A, it is not limited to A.

The second concept — results in — must be seen in the context of the condition of the psychiatric disability. Thus, does the (for example) Major Depression or anxiety result solely from the work environment, or does one experience the symptoms while at home, even while away from the work environment?

And thirdly, does the individual experience the symptoms of the psychiatric condition “in response to” his or her exposure to the work environment, or are the symptoms all-pervasive: i.e., throughout all aspects of the person’s life?

To differentiate these three concepts is important in avoiding the pitfalls of situational disability, and in helping to prepare a Psychiatrist in either preparing a medical narrative report, or in his or her testimony before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire