Ultimately, Federal Disability Retirement is a benefit which must be fought for, and secured, in order to attain a level of financial security for one’s future. The questions which are asked when first confronted with a medical condition which has begun to interfere with – and which leads to one’s inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job – are varied and many. Where to go for the answers, whom to trust, and then to decide what knowledge is both accurate and useful, are the keys to a successful application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits for Federal and Postal employees under FERS and CSRS.
The Internet has flourished and expanded. Information on any subject is merely a Google search away. However, a distinction must always be made between information and knowledge. The vast amount of information on any subject does not necessarily result in knowledge about the subject. This dictum is true in the field of information and knowledge concerning Federal and Postal Disability Retirement.
At the outset, one must determine the type, extent, and severity of the medical condition. Thus, is the medical condition physical in nature, or psychiatric, or is there a combination of both physical and psychiatric medical conditions? If physical, do the medical conditions impact one’s ability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job? Does the job itself – the Position Description – require physical demands which are impacted by the particular medical conditions? If psychiatric, have the proper treatments been engaged – have psychotropic medications been prescribed? Have psychotherapeutic interventions occurred?
Proper medical documentation is important to the foundation of compiling an effective Federal Disability Retirement application. Note the distinction between proper “medical treatment” and “medical documentation”. Such a distinction is not to be easily overlooked. For, while one’s treating doctor may be the best Orthopedic Specialist in the world, or a top-notch Neurosurgeon, if that same doctor is unwilling to formulate and take the time to write a thorough, proper medical narrative report, then such specialty of knowledge and expertise are ineffective in preparing and submitting a Federal Disability Retirement application.
A Federal Disability Retirement application is a paper submission. Thus, as part of compiling the Federal Disability Retirement application, the two most important components are: (1) Supporting medical documentation and (2) The Applicant’s Statement of Disability (Standard Form 3112A, both for FERS and CSRS employees). As a paper submission, with no clinical examinations by a doctor at the Office of Personnel Management (the Agency which reviews and decides on the approval or denial of all Federal Disability Retirement applications under FERS or CSRS, both for Federal employees and Postal employees), the description of the medical conditions, the impact of the medical conditions upon one’s inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job – all must be effectively conveyed in the medical narrative reports, as well as in the Applicant’s Statement of Disability. Thus, knowledge is the path to success, and such knowledge must be adequately and descriptively conveyed to the Office of Personnel Management.
Note the important distinctions between a Federal Disability Retirement application and applying for OWCP (Worker’s Comp) benefits. Worker’s Comp is not a retirement system; its purpose is to temporarily compensate an injured worker for the purpose of rehabilitation and eventual return to the workplace; causality of the injury can be an important issue; and the person who seeks compensation from Worker’s Comp may be subjected to examination by a doctor who is not your treating doctor – what is often termed as a “Second Opinion” or “Independent Medical Examination”, and further, by a “referee” or Third Opinion doctor. Also, one should not be surprised if OWCP sends a nurse to visit with you during your clinical meetings with your own treating doctor.
One question which is often asked is whether a particular kind or type of medical condition “qualifies” for Federal Disability Retirement benefits. OPM Disability Retirement is not so much concerned with an official diagnosis; rather, what is the greater focus in Federal Disability Retirement cases involves the underlying symptoms of the medical condition (or conditions), and their impact upon one’s ability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job. Thus, some common physical conditions may include (but are not limited to): Cervical, Lumbar or Thoracic disabilities; Shoulder Impingement Syndrome; Carpal Tunnel Syndrome; Plantar Fasciitis; Migraine headaches; Systemic Lupus; various Cardiac problems; Chronic Fatigue Syndrome; Multiple Chemical Sensitivity; Parkinson’s Disease; Fibromyalgia; and many, many more medical conditions. Note that the importance of such medical conditions are not so much the “official” diagnosis; rather, what is important are the symptoms which then impact one’s physical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.
Similarly, in psychiatric medical conditions – from Major Depression, Anxiety, Panic attacks, Agoraphobia, Bipolar Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – to paranoia, ADD, ADHD, Schizophrenia, suicidal or homicidal ideations: the cognitive dysfunction, the inability to focus, concentrate, be able to perform cognitive-intensive work, or work which requires daily and sustained focus and attention, are the important focal emphasis of the medical conditions described and delineated.
Ultimately, it is the cumulative knowledge of multiple factors which will ensure the success of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS submitted to the Office of Personnel Management. Knowledge is obtained through a combined synthesis of knowing the medical conditions, obtaining the proper medical narratives and documentation which will enhance the viability of one’s Statement of Disability, as described in Standard Form 3112A. As knowledge is the path to success, so proper knowledge of the medical issues, the legal tools, and the gathering of effective documentation will provide for greater success in getting an approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application.
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