If you are applying for Federal Disability Retirement, supporting medical evidence is crucial. Read this story to learn how a federal employee didn’t receive the benefits she deserved because she didn’t have supportive medical evidence.
Ms. W was a PS-5 Letter Carrier employed with the Postal Service. She applied for federal disability retirement benefits, stating that she suffered from Acute Stress Disorder and had also been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) denied her application for lack of supporting medical evidence, the Postal Service removed her because she had been on leave without pay for over a year and therefore wasn’t able to do her job.
Ms. W persisted and appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board. The administrative judge refused to grant Ms. W federal disability retirement. He said that Ms. W’s evidence hadn’t given a good enough explanation of how her conditions stopped her from getting her job done. The judge also found that Ms. W hadn’t proved that her condition wasn’t just situational, which is a big qualification requirement for Federal Disability Retirement.
The only thing Ms. W had going for her case was that the Postal Service had removed her because of her inability to do her job. This is referred to as a Bruner Presumption. If you are removed from your position due to your inability to perform your job, the burden of proof switches to the OPM. This means it is now the OPM’s job to prove that you are NOT disabled. Unfortunately for Ms. W, the Board found that OPM did meet this burden and so Ms. W was not entitled to these benefits.
Medical Evidence is Crucial to an Application for Federal Disability Retirement
The OPM met its burden by pointing out the lack of evidence presented by Ms. W. Her psychiatrists had never stated how her conditions affected her ability to perform her job duties. Ms. W’s argument was that her mental disorders were so severe that she couldn’t even attempt to perform her job. Her inability to perform her duties was only because of her excessive absences, and that alone didn’t support a finding of disability. Also, Ms. W didn’t show that her conditions were severe or permanent enough to grant federal disability retirement benefits.
Ms. W’s application failed because she couldn’t show how her psychological issues prevented her from doing her job. Her case teaches us that when a claimant’s inability to perform her job rests entirely on excessive absences, that claimant will need to provide more medical evidence.