Federal and Postal employees either fall into one of two possible retirement systems: FERS (an acronym for Federal Employee Retirement System) or CSRS (Civil Service Retirement System). Whichever system the Federal or Postal employee falls under, the benefit of Federal Disability Retirement is an option which is available, in the event that a Federal Government worker is no longer able to perform at least one of the essential elements of one’s job. Remember that, in order to qualify for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, the medical condition or injury does not have to be job-related. Indeed, one could have incurred a career-ending spinal injury while on a skiing trip, and still qualify for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under either FERS or CSRS.
The Agency which determines that a Federal or Postal Employee is entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits is the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). They are empowered by statutory authority to scrutinize each application for approval or disapproval. In order to be eligible for the benefit of Federal Disability Retirement, one must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, three basic components:
(A) a Federal or Postal employee under FERS or CSRS has a medical condition;
(B) the medical condition prevents him or her from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job; and
(C) that the Agency is unable to accommodate the individual or, alternatively, to reassign the individual to a position in the same pay or grade.
In order to successfully prepare and submit an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, two overarching elements should always be kept in mind: Coherence and Consistency. “Coherence” has to do with the form of the application, while “consistency” has to do with the content, or substance of the application. Both elements are important in preparing an effective Federal Disability Retirement application. Thus, an effective Federal Disability Retirement application will make logical sense and “fit together” with everything (coherence), as well as have an internal structure of information which agrees with one another (consistency).
How does one prove that he or she is eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits? Is there a table or schedule of accepted medical conditions? As to the latter question, the general answer is “No”. Qualifying medical conditions have more to do with the symptoms of a medical condition, rather than the formal diagnosis. Thus, physical conditions can range from Cervical & Lumbar diseases, Degenerative Disc Disease, Spondylolisthesis, Ankylosing Spondylitis, Failed Back Syndrome, Chronic Pain; Fibromyalgia; to total hip replacements which limit and restrict flexion and mobility; cardiac issues; migraine headaches; Chronic Fatigue Syndrome; Chemical Sensitivity issues; Asthma; Hypothyroidism; Plantar Fasciitis; Carpal Tunnel Syndrome; shoulder problems, often referred to as bursitis or shoulder impingement syndrome; trochanteric bursitis; lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, as well as a great many other conditions which are not named here, and which are too numerous to catalogue. As for Psychiatric conditions, the list can be just as long: Major Depression, Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Bipolar Disorder, Agoraphobia, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, ADD & ADHD; Paranoia; Schizophrenia; Asperger’s Syndrome; and multiple other psychiatric conditions. Whether attempting to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits based upon a physical medical condition or a psychiatric medical condition, it is important to prove that one is eligible for the benefit.
Which brings us to the first question: How does one prove that he or she is eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, either under FERS or CSRS? In any application for Federal or Postal Disability Retirement benefits, one must make sure that the application is both coherent, as well as consistent. Coherence of an application results when all of the various components of the application “fit” together. Thus, for example, in preparing the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (SF 3112A), Block 4 asks the applicant to “Fully Describe Your Disease or Injury”. If the disease or injury is a physical one, then the focus of the narrative should be to describe the pain, the physical restrictions and limitations, etc. Then, when one comes to Block 5, where it asks how your disease or injury interferes with the performance of “your duties, your attendance, or your conduct,” the focus should have a coherence with the previous answer – meaning that, if the narrative described physical issues, the impact upon one’s job should therefore focus upon the physical aspect of the job. Thus, by way of example, to say that you “cannot concentrate or focus” upon a certain aspect of the job, would only be coherent if either (A) the job required cognitive-intensive work and the severity of the pain impacted one’s cognitive faculties, or (B) the medications prescribed to alleviate the physical condition impacts one’s focus or concentration. Conversely, if the narrative concerning one’s medical condition entails primarily psychiatric issues, then the impact upon one’s job should encapsulate cognitive issues (i.e., focus, concentration, ability to analyze, evaluate, etc.). As you can see, coherence in an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is an important component.
Furthermore, an effective application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS should be consistent. Each element of the application should “agree”, wherever possible, with all of the other components. Where inconsistencies occur – for example, between what the treating doctor says and what the applicant states in his or her explanation on SF 3112A – a red flag may arise, providing an opportunity for a denial from the Office of Personnel Management. Thus, don’t try to “oversell” the description of the medical condition. Remember how, when you were deathly ill but your voice sounded perfectly normal over the telephone? You had to call in sick, and you had to “sound like” you were sick, even though you were in fact deathly ill. In preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application, this is not the time to “sound like” something more than what the treating doctor states.
Ultimately, the success or failure of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS as submitted to the Office of Personnel Management will depend upon the coherence and consistency of the application. Preparation is the key to success, and it is important to always remember that coherence and consistency are two elements which must always guide the formulation, preparation and submission of a successful Federal Disability Retirement application.