— Is there a correlation between cleverness and the want of one to talk about one’s self? Does the fox not puff himself up incessantly, and with the slyness of his reputation, disarm the opponent, the enemy, or the target of his feast for his evening meal? Or the crow who craws without end; does he not speak of himself? Yet, the cheetah, the quiet one who, when he walks slowly past a potentially prey, neither speaks nor needs to speak. For the quiet of his strength need not be spoken of; the strength of his ferocity need not be stated in words; and the swiftness of its ability to kill – one merely shudders with quietude and respect. For there is no “I” for a cheetah; only a trailing blur and the salty smell of sweat that comes only from fear.
— From The Personhood of the I
The central focus of preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is the Applicant’s Statement of Disability – the Standard Form 3112A. All applicants who are filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits must complete this form – regardless of whether one is under FERS or CSRS. It is a daunting, foreboding (and some would say, forbidding) form. People approach this form with fear and loathing, and for very good reasons: It requires the applicant to discuss the most personal aspects of the case: one’s medical condition and the impact of one’s medical conditions upon one’s job.
To a large extent, the SF 3112A is the crux and the crucible of a Federal Disability Retirement application. It is where the focus of debate will center upon, for it is precisely the forum where the applicant is making the claim that he or she is entitled and eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS. If you imagine a large exhibit with multiple ‘boxes’ to show how various entities are related to each other, the SF 3112A would be the largest box, and the one in the epicenter – with all other boxes pointing to the centrality of SF 3112A. For, all of the other submissions – from the Supervisor’s Statement (SF 3112B) to the Agency Certification of Reassignment and Accommodation Efforts (SF 3112D); to the Application for Immediate Retirement, Schedules A, B & C, and all of the other “forms” – all of them either attack, defend, or support the SF 3112A in one way or another.
If the SF 3112A appears intimidating, it is written in a way where it is obviously meant to be that way. Question 4 asks the Applicant to “fully describe” one’s diseases and injuries , and then immediately follows with a warning: “We consider only the diseases and/or injuries you discuss in this application.” Thus, at the outset, the Office of Personnel Management is requiring of the Applicant two (2) things: (1) That you discuss any and all of the most personal medical information, with the open-ended imperative that you must “fully” describe your medical conditions, and (2) a clear warning that if you omit something, then such an omission may be disallowed (implying that it may endanger the entirety of the Federal Disability Retirement application). The natural inclination in response to Block 4 of SF 3112A, of course, is to list every medical condition ever suffered, from the beginning of time to the unforeseen future. To approach this question in such a methodology (or lack thereof), would be a mistake; and further, it may be counterproductive. For, if the Office of Personnel Management approves an OPM Disability Retirement application based upon a secondary medical condition which may be neither permanent nor of long duration, then if later an approved annuitant is requested to fill out a Medical Questionnaire for an updated status of his or her medical condition – well, you can guess what may happen.
Next, in Block 5 of SF 3112A, Applicant’s Statement of Disability – it asks the applicant to describe how the particular disease or injury (discussed and described in the previous block) “interferes” with the performance of one’s duties, attendance or conduct. Now, the concept of “interferes” is a rather “softened” statement of the law. And that is one of the problems with Block 5 of SF 3112A – it gives no guidance as to the requirements of the law. For instance, in the prevailing and longstanding law on the matter, as stated in Bruner v. Office of Personnel Management , 996 F.2d 290, 293 (Fed. Cir. 1993), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit set the applicable standard for disability retirement determinations, stating that one of the criteria was the demonstration of a “deficiency in service with respect to performance, conduct or attendance, or in the absence of any actual service deficiency, a showing that the medical condition is incompatible with either useful service or retention in the position.”
Thus, the language under the law provides a much “harsher” standard in comparison to the language contained in SF 3112A – as well as a more “expansive” criteria for eligibility. The term “deficiency” provides a clearer guideline as to what needs to be discussed when bridging the two primary conceptual entities: one’s medical conditions, and one’s job. Compare that with the nebulous word, “interferes”, as if mere interruption or temporary influence of one’s medical conditions upon one’s ability to perform one’s job, is enough to meet the eligibility criteria for Federal Disability Retirement benefits. Don’t allow for the language to disarm you; “interfere” is not the legal criteria to be followed.
Furthermore, Bruner expands the definitional criteria of eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits by introducing the concept of “incompatibility” with either “useful service” or “retention” in the position – a concept which is nowhere contained in the word “interferes”. And, indeed, Bruner is a 1993 U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit case. There are many, many cases which have come after Bruner, which further refine and somewhat expand the definitional foundation of eligibility and entitlement to OPM Disability Retirement benefits. For, what Bruner is saying, in effect, is: Even if you don’t have any service deficiency with respect to performance, even if you don’t have any service deficiency with respect to conduct, and even if you don’t have any service deficiency with respect to attendance – you may still be eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS if it can be shown that your medical condition is “incompatible” with either useful service or retention in the position.
And isn’t this the crux and crucible for most Federal Employees? Don’t most of you work yourselves raw until you are no longer able to work, anymore? Such loyalty results in the self-defeating evidence when it comes to filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits , and further, when you are completing SF 3112A: the Federal or Postal employee has an excellent record of attendance; the performance reviews are outstanding; and there are no conduct issues. Thus, when one begins to fill out Block 5 of SF 3112A, Applicant’s Statement of Disability – just after it asks the potential applicant to describe one’s diseases and injuries – how can one argue about how those medical conditions “interfere” with the performance of one’s duties, attendance or conduct?
And so the person – that discouraged Federal or Postal employee who can barely get up in the morning to be dragged out of bed – puts aside the Federal Disability Retirement application because he or she has made a determination of ineligibility. You have just done the work for the Office of Personnel Management. All because a form carefully chose the word, “interferes”.
Remember that words are chosen carefully – whether by an individual, a group, or an Agency. But carefully chosen words rarely comprise the “full story”, and this is certainly the case when completing the SF 3112A in preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application. The “full story” must always embrace the full expanse of the law, and for that, one should consult with, and obtain the advice of an attorney who is knowledgeable about Federal Disability Retirement Law.
If you believe that you need to consult an attorney concerning Federal Disability Retirement, please contact me in one of these ways:
- View the Federal Disability Retirement Blog or the U.S. Postal Service Disability Retirement blog
- Email me at email@example.com
- Call me at 1-800-990-7932
Robert R. McGill, Esquire