The Confluence of Factors During the OPM Disability Retirement Process

Is there is a sensible approach in preparing, formulating and filing for OPM Disability Retirement benefits? The author offers some details about the application process.

How does it all work?

When one enters into a factory, a research and development department, a strange arena where the inner workings of a company are exposed to a novice and a fresh pair of eyes – a stranger in a strange land – the questioning perspective enlivened by puzzlement, daunting intimidation, and confusion in the face of a mass of corrugated compendium of complex confluences of information.

There is so much information “out there” – from the “5-step process” in filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, to the “10 dos and don’ts” to obtain an OPM Disability Retirement; to the requirement of filing for SSDI; to multiple other acronyms which require a Ph.D. in a second, foreign language:  FERS or CSRS; OPM; SSDI; CSRS-Offset; SF 3107; SF 2801; SF 3112A; the Supervisor’s Statement; the Agency’s efforts for reassignment and accommodation; the legal standard of Preponderance of the Evidence; the MSPB; and those strange concepts of “accommodations”, “reassignment”, “Worker’s Comp” and the collective confusions of information overload.

Fortunately, that “second language” of acronyms is something which, either by osmosis through the permeable membrane of the Federal and Postal Worker, or just by being part of the Federal system, most Federal and Postal employees are somewhat familiar with the bureaucratic process, if only because over the years, they have “experienced it all”.  But when a medical condition hits the Federal or Postal employee unexpectedly, somehow the orientation of life’s experiences becomes an irrelevant, secondary priority.  Instead, the focus becomes:  How does one get through the progressively worsening medical condition, and what does it bode for the future?

Preceding the question of, “How does it all work?” is the more important issue of:  Does it have to be so complicated?

Unfortunately, the short answer is an unequivocal:  Yes.

From the complex cauldron of confusion, is there is a sensible approach in preparing, formulating and filing for OPM Disability Retirement benefits, which can provide a simple guide for the ordinary layperson?  Let the wish of the reader be the command (or a valiant attempt thereof) for the Federal or Postal employee who is contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

In logical, but not necessarily sequential, order of preparing an effective OPM Disability Retirement application:

  1. Forms:  For those under the FERS system (which includes most Federal and Postal employees, at this point), which stands for the Federal Employees Retirement System, as opposed to the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS):  Standard Forms 3107, along with Schedules A, B & C need to be completed.  The Spousal Waiver Form (SF 3107-2) can be completed if your spouse agrees to waive any post-mortem (what a rather ghoulish, unsympathetic way of putting things) annuity benefits; and the agency needs to complete SF 3107-1 (Certified Summary of Federal Service), along with the checklist.  These constitute the “informational” side of the application.  For CSRS employees (are you still around?  Are you not extinct, yet?  Are you lording it over the rest of Federal employees and snickering at those who opted for FERS or voted for those who passed legislation to switch over to FERS?), the series of standard forms comprise the SF 2801 series, which asks for essentially the same information as the SF 3107.
  2. For all three – FERS, CSRS and CSRS-Offset (aha – the “offset” individuals thought that they would be ignored, overlooked and shunned as irrelevant afterthoughts of insignificant microcosms of extinct irrelevancies – not so!) – SF 3112 series of forms must be completed.  Be cautious; be aware; be fully cognizant that there is a long and complex history behind each question asked (including precedential legal opinions from the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, as well as from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit) from issues concerning accommodations, to what medical conditions you identify as being the basis for your OPM Disability Retirement application, whether you are under FERS or CSRS (or CSRS-Offset – refer to the previous parenthetical exposition).  A hint:  SF 3112A, Question 4, states:  “Fully describe your disease or injury.  We consider only the diseases or injuries you discuss in this application.”  The operative concept in that entire duality of the statements is contained in the word, “this”.  What you put into “this” application, once a CSA number is assigned from Boyers, Pennsylvania, is forever etched in stone.  Is there any wiggle room?  Can flexibility be made to move the earthenware on a sinking ship?  Be wary; be cautious; how one engages in the linguistic gymnastics of a language game can be crucial, and repercussions and residual impact down the road must always be viewed with the mental acuity of retrospective foresight.
  3. The medical documentation:  remember always, foremost, and in prefatory, substantive and conclusory form – this is a medical disability retirement.  It is not the appropriate place for one’s lifetime rant; whether a decade ago your supervisor called you an unidentifiable acronym of an unknown origin; and to a great extent, any argumentation concerning the causality or exacerbation of one’s medical condition in reference to the particular agency, department or work situs; this is not the time for a narrative of the Charles Dickens’ kind.  Rather, it is preferable to stick to Holden Caufield’s variety of narrative form, and relate the story without excessive elaboration upon one’s biographical details.   A hostile work environment may well have induced or otherwise exacerbated one’s medical condition, and may make for an interesting autobiographical narrative; but for this particular forum of choice, save it for leisurely and reflective writing – after getting one’s disability retirement from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management approved.  Conclusion:  Focus upon the medical condition, and so should the information obtained from the doctor, medical providers, treatment notes, etc.
  4. Excessive worries about privacy concerns are often the harbinger of procrastination for Federal and Postal employees contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  Can one limit the access to sensitive medical information?  One needs to boil down one’s concerns into the starkness of reality:  What are the choices?  One of three for a Federal or Postal employee who can no longer perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job:  (1) Stay at the job in static fashion (normally not an option; otherwise, consideration of filing for OPM Disability Retirement benefits would not be seriously contemplated), (2) Resign, walk away, or wait to be terminated and do nothing further (not a wise choice, given that the third option is available), or (3) File for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (self explanatorily the best option).  Excessive, warped concerns about loss of one’s identity and the exponential dissemination through gossip of one’s private medical conditions should be kept in its proper perspective, by focusing upon the end-goal:  to leave the agency with an OPM Medical annuity.
  5. If by now, the Federal or Postal employee considering filing for OPM Disability Retirement benefits from OPM is confused, confounded, or otherwise overwhelmed, refer back to the first of these 5 paragraphs:  the Forms themselves provide the parameters of structural integrity.  The process is inherently replete with confusion and compounding complexities; but then, administrative procedures and bureaucratic systems define themselves with such conundrums

How does one ultimately contend with the confluence of confusing factors which comprise a Federal Disability Retirement application?  Start with the medical condition; build the bridge to one’s positional description; if confusion still abounds, seeks the advice of an expert in the field.  Remember always that wisdom begins with the recognition that one is without any knowledge at all; or so Socrates contended, with a knowing twinkle in his eye.

About the Author

Attorney Robert R. McGill specializes in Federal Disability Retirement cases helping Federal and Postal workers secure their OPM Disability Retirement benefits under both FERS and CSRS. For more information about his legal services, visit his Federal Disability Lawyer website.