In filing for Federal or Postal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management, the question is often asked, “Is it difficult to get Federal Disability Retirement benefits based upon a stress claim”? This is, first and foremost, a misguided question – not only because the underlying assumptions inherent in the question are false; further, the question itself is a misnomer – a mixture of terms borrowed from other processes.
The term, “Stress Claim” does not fit the administrative process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management. That term is more commonly used in filing for OWCP benefits from the Department of Labor. Concepts such as “a claim for Worker’s Compensation”, “an on-the-job-injury claim”, or a “stress claim” may be applicable in the context of a Worker’s Compensation claim, in filing for Temporary Total Disability benefits or for a Scheduled Award; they are inappropriate in an application for Postal or Federal Disability Retirement benefits.
Further, the term “Stress Claim” implies that the origin of the claim is based upon stress, and the stress which one suffers from originates from – where? Answer: From the workplace. Since it originates from the workplace, and has its causal connection and inception in the workplace, it can therefore be argued that it is a “job-related” condition which is compensable under the Office of Workers Compensation Program. In filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, however, such a basis for an application for disability retirement benefits can be detrimental to the claim, precisely because the designation, “Stress Claim”, being caused by the workplace environment or the “situation” at work which induces such a medical condition, can be defeated because it is a “situational disability” (i.e., the stress or medical condition is limited to the situation of the workplace, and does not therefore prevent a Federal or Postal Worker from working in the same or similar job in another workplace).
Thus, instead of the question, “Is it difficult to get Federal Disability Retirement benefits based upon a stress claim?” — the proper question should be: “Is it difficult to get Federal Disability Retirement benefits based upon Major Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, stress-induced psychiatric conditions, etc.?” Here, the question implies much more than a psychiatric medical condition which is constrained by circumstances and situations arising in a hostile work environment. Instead, such a question implies a pervasive medical condition which impacts a Federal or Postal worker’s ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job, based upon a myriad of complex symptoms, including lethargy, short-term memory loss, inability to focus or concentrate, cognitive dysfunctions, anxiousness, sudden and uncontrollable panic attacks, etc. The answer to the first question (“Is it difficult to get Federal Disability Retirement benefits based upon a stress claim”?) is that, Yes, because stress-claims are often situational, it is indeed difficult. On the other hand, the answer to the second, more properly formulated question (“Is it difficult to get Federal Disability Retirement benefits based upon Major Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, stress-induced psychiatric conditions, etc.”), is that, No, it is no more difficult than any other legitimate medical basis that may be asserted.
Sometimes the problem lies not in the answer, but in the question asked.
Robert R. McGill, Esquire