All applicants for FERS Disability Retirement must fill out an Application for Immediate Retirement (SF3107) and the Documentation in Support of Disability Retirement Application (SF3112). The "Documentation" is a number of separate forms, including the Applicant's Statement (3112A), the Supervisor's Statement (3112B) and supporting documents, the Physician's Statement (3112C), and the Agency Certification of Reassignment and Accommodation Efforts (3112D).
All applicants must provide OPM with proof that they have applied for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) before OPM will begin processing their application. You can apply online.
However, just filling out these forms is not always enough. They must be filled out in a way that convinces OPM of your right to Disability Retirement. This is where a lawyer comes into play.
The three most important documents you can control are the Applicant's Statement, Physician's Statement, and Supervisor's Statement. Read about the Supervisor's Statement here and the Applicant's Statement and Physician's Statement here.
OPM requires that you fill out an "Applicant's Statement." A cursory review of the questions asked demonstrates OPM's interest in deficiencies in performance, attendance, and conduct. To the extent possible, your responses should be directed to those issues. The following is a composite of the four most critical questions asked of both FERS and CSRS employees:
Describe how you are deficient in your job in respect to performance, attendance, or conduct.
Describe your medical condition(s) (i.e., disease or injury) and how it interferes with performance of your duties, attendance, or conduct.
Describe any other restrictions on your activities imposed by your medical condition(s) (i.e., disease or injury) which you believe should be considered in determining your ability to perform your job in your agency and in other positions in your agency for which you may otherwise be qualified.
What efforts have been made by your agency to change your work area or your job to make it possible for you to perform useful and efficient service in your position or another position?
The Applicant's Statement is the only government form that provides you with an opportunity to express the severity of your disabling symptoms. As you can see from the few questions on the form, it fails to elicit the information that OPM really needs in order to assess your case. In my practice, I have developed a far more detailed questionnaire that allows my clients to provide OPM with the information that it really needs to make a decision. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that they will read it. But there is no guarantee that they will read their own form either.
Remember that your responses on the Applicant's Statement may be useful not only to OPM, but also to your physician who will draft the Physician's Statement (Form SF 3112). Your doctor may have heard your complaints over and over again, but nothing is more effective than having them detailed in writing while your doctor is drafting the Physician's Statement.
Here's an example of the importance of detailing your symptoms to both OPM and your physician. Tests may demonstrate that you have a medical condition known to cause fatigue. However, the fact that you suffer from this particular medical condition means nothing to OPM, and may not in itself remind your doctor of your particular disabling symptoms. Through your answers to these questions, you can make the point that in your particular case, your medical condition causes fatigue, and that your fatigue is so bad that it precludes you from getting anything accomplished at work, because (you might explain further) after being at the office for two hours you can no longer stay awake, and when you are awake, you can't remember from one moment to the next what you just read on the computer screen. This tells everyone much more than just stating that you suffer from fatigue.
The "Supervisors Statement" is a required form which is nearly identical for both FERS and CSRS employees. It requires the supervisor to provide specific information about your performance, attendance, and behavior on the job. It is assumed that these are reliable indicators of whether you are unable to render "useful and efficient service" and thus whether you are considered disabled from your job.
The importance of the "Supervisor's Statement" varies with the nature of the case and with the individuals at OPM who review it. In short, its impact can't be measured. Since it could be important, you want it to be as much in your favor as possible. To that end, you should encourage your supervisor to provide as helpful a response as is possible. However, even if your supervisor did everything possible to be unhelpful, that would not necessarily prevent you from gaining disability retirement.
If you have previously received satisfactory or excellent evaluations in spite of your declining performance, your supervisor may worry about suddenly having to downplay your performance for the purpose of the disability retirement application. However, this has never been a real problem, given the universal understanding that performance evaluations often have little relationship to performance. Anyway, few would challenge a supervisor who refused to record the diminished performance of a once excellent, but now ailing, subordinate.
It's absolutely true that at least some of the five questions that doctors are asked to answer on the "Physician's Statement" are either absurd, unintelligible, or medically irrelevant. In fact, the degree to which the physician should consider each and every question varies with the nature of the case. In general, the more subjective the symptoms, the more carefully each of the questions should be dealt with. Unfortunately, this is a difficult judgment call for physicians who don't have any direct experience with OPM's disability retirement program. A primary task of the attorney is to encourage and assist the physician in this task.
"I can't possibly charge for all the time its going to take me to answer these questions!"
Not unreasonably, physicians want to get paid for their time and work. Physicians are often unsure as to how to charge patients for the sometimes great amount of time and work required to properly prepare a "Physician's Statement." It does not fall easily under a predetermined diagnostic code on some form, and insurance will often not cover it. The remedy is to assure your physician that you will pay fully for all the time involved that is not otherwise covered.
"No one will ever believe that this patient is disabled!"
Many doctors, just like most of the rest of us, tend to define a disabled person as some sort of basket case. Doctors are concerned that they will be perceived as dishonest in going to bat for a patient who doesn't appear to fit that picture. The physician needs to come to terms with the disability retirement law, and how it differs from other laws such as workers' compensation. Doctors who are not experienced with disability retirement for government employees do not understand that the program does not require total disability, and it even permits you to work at another job while collecting. But quite truthfully, this is the type of lesson best taught by an attorney with sufficient experience to answer the inevitable questions that the physician is going to raise. If necessary, an attorney can assure a physician that the patient is a proper candidate for disability retirement.
"I'm going to end up in court on this one!"
Most physicians dread the thought of being hauled into court as a witness in any sort of legal matter, let alone in what they perceive as some difficult-to-prove "subjective" symptoms case. Not to worry! Disability retirement cases never make it to court, and rarely ever make it to a hearing at the MSPB. One way to dispel the physician's anxiety on this issue may be by providing a copy of this book as part of your campaign to enlist wholehearted cooperation. If that doesn't work, have your doctor phone me.