Does Illness Serve as a Qualification for Federal Disability Retirement?

To qualify for federal disability retirement, you must have become disabled while working in your position. The author looks at some cases as precedent for providing medical evidence to establish a connection between the illness and ability to perform your job.

One of the qualification standards for federal disability retirement is that you must have become disabled, due to injury or illness, while employed in your position under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) or Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). Additionally, that injury or illness must be hindering your ability to perform your essential job duties at an efficient level.

Illnesses, like injuries, come in many forms and can be extremely debilitating. Some of the most common illnesses we see clients approved for are various forms and stages of cancer, bipolar disorder, PTSD, atrial fibrillation, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and leptospirosis.

Establishing a Connection

Physical and psychiatric medical conditions are equally valid in filing for federal disability retirement. The law doesn’t distinguish one from the other when determining the impact on your ability to perform your job. The key is to show the connection between your illness and your ability to perform the essential duties of your job.

These can be tougher cases to prove, simply because they require much more documentation. Treatment notes such as diagnosis, symptoms, treatment plan, prognosis, historical record of treatments (including every medication prescribed), and descriptions of responses to treatments are all extremely important evidence for your case.

However, the most important notes that should be included as medical evidence is how your condition or conditions has impaired your functioning, and more importantly, your job functioning. Bridges v. OPM, 21 M.S.P.R. 716 teaches us that you don’t have to have a “specific” medical condition. In other words, multiple medical conditions (injuries and illnesses) can be considered as the cause for the deficiency in service.

Objective Medical Evidence

Vanieken-Ryals v. OPM, 508 F. 3d 1034, 1040-44 (Fed. Cir. 2007) tells us that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) cannot argue that an applicant’s case contains insufficient medical evidence because it lacks “objective medical evidence,” especially when the application is based upon psychiatric medical conditions.

Although objective medical evidence must be considered, this evidence is not required to establish a disability. Submitted medical evidence cannot be rejected solely because it lacks so-called “objective measures”.

OPM must consider all of the applicant’s competent medical evidence and the applicant may prevail based on medical evidence consisting of a medical professional’s conclusive diagnosis, even if it was based primarily on their analysis of the applicant’s own subjective symptom descriptions and other disability indications.

Hibernating Symptoms

One condition of being approved for federal disability retirement, is that you may have to have periodic medical exams, based on your approved medical condition, to continue receiving benefits. This can get a little tricky with regards to an approved illness.

Some symptoms with certain illnesses can hibernate. This could cause the doctor evaluating you, and ultimately OPM, to think that you are no longer disabled and can perform your job again.

However, Group v. Office of Personnel Management, 108 LRP 31698, 109 MSPR 5 (MSPB 2008) shows us that even though you may not be showing any symptoms at the time of a medical exam doesn’t mean you have recovered. Merely returning to your work environment may cause the symptoms to return, therefore, still disabling you.

While these types of disability cases may be tough to prove, they are certainly possible. Aside from having medical evidence to back up your claim, the most important element of getting a federal disability retirement case approved is establishing the connection between your illness and your inability to perform your essential job duties at an efficient level.

About the Author

Bo Harris is the President of Harris Federal Law Firm and is a certified Federal Retirement Consultant (FRC℠). Bo has established Harris Federal as one of the premiere federal employee benefits law firms in the U.S., while assisting 8,000+ federal employees. Contact Harris Federal at (877) 226-2723.