Federal Disability Retirement: Can I get disability retirement with a mental health condition?

Before discussing this question, I want to say that no federal disability retirement lawyer can tell you if any one condition will get you accepted for disability retirement. The key element of a disability retirement case is its connection to your ability to perform the essential functions of your current position.

Having said that, mental health conditions can (and do) form the basis for successful disability retirement applications. There are some hurdles to overcome, but here are just a few examples of how mental health conditions have been tied to successful applications for disability retirement:

1) Bipolar Disorder. This particular federal employee suffered for bipolar disorder for several years. The condition resisted treatment and therapy over those years. The applicant’s doctor stated that the condition manifests itself by extreme outbursts of rage and anger as well as an inability to get along with co-workers or supervisors on any sustained basis. An MSPB Administrative Judge found this sufficient for showing that the appellant’s medical condition prevented her from accomplishing the essential functions of her job.

2) Major Depressive Disorder/Depression. These are more difficult cases because, by their very nature, the symptoms tend to ebb and flow. Moreover, of all the mental health conditions, there is significant institutional discrimination against those with depression or MDD. I heard one fairly educated manager with a DoD Agency testify about accommodating an employee with MDD, that his own sister pulled herself up by her bootstraps, fixed her depression, and doggone it, so could this employee. Moreover, a person with MDD can be fully functional one day, and the next be unable to leave the house. Care must be taken to show the whole impact of this condition, and to drive OPM and MSPB focus away from isolated periods of time and look at the duration and treatment of the whole condition. OPM denials and reconsideration decisions tend to refer to Major Depressive Disorder as “in remission”. MSPB Administrative Judges frequently gloss over evidence that the condition can be recurrent, and frequently find that the Appellant has “treatment or medication options” still available, or that a Major Depressive “condition” has not lasted a year.

3) Anxiety disorders. In a case where a Federal employee, responsible for dispensing medicine to patients, showed that her “generalized anxiety disorder” led to an inability to concentrate and deal with others in the workplace, she was granted disability retirement when the MSPB concluded that the condition could lead to an inability to perform the functions of her position (for example, potential for errors in providing medication to patients.)

4) Borderline Personality Disorder. BPD, a particularly debilitating condition that is characterized by instability of relationships, mood and identity; impulsivity; anger; frantic efforts to avoid abandonment; and alternation between idealization and denigration of others, can form the basis of a disability retirement application.

5) Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): PTSD is gaining ground in terms of overcoming the general social prejudice against mental health conditions. Over the past few years, I have seen reactions by management to PTSD conditions to become less and less stereotyped, narrow-minded, and juvenile. My concern is that this is a byproduct of the war in Iraq, and the sheer number of veterans returning with the condition and the attention it is getting in the media. If so, then PTSD acceptance in mainstream society as a “real” medical condition will for some time be connected with the need for a socially acceptable traumatic triggering event. I fear that soldiers with PTSD in civil service will be more widely accepted than child-rape victims in the civil service workplace, who will be more widely accepted than victims of discrimination who suffer from PTSD. Nevertheless, a Federal Employee’s job-related PTSD, coupled with symptoms that severely impaired an ability to concentrate or engage in critical thinking and planning, can frequently lead to a grant of benefits for federal disability retirement.

There are many, many more examples of how mental health conditions can – and have – led to a grant of Federal disability retirement benefits. There are some significant prejudices involved with mental health conditions that you will have to overcome, (both before the MSPB and at OPM) which will be discussed in later posts.

Of course, there are many more rules that may apply to your unique set of facts. No post on this website is legal advice, is meant to be legal advice, and certainly does not serve as a substitute for legal advice. Information is power, and we are providing this information to give you, the federal employee, with some power. This information is not widely or easily accessible to Federal Employees.

The Law Office of Eric Pines represents Federal employees under FERS or CSRS in their applications for federal disability retirement to OPM. If an application for federal disability retirement is denied, the Firm represents Federal employees under both FERS and CSRS in their MSPB appeals of denials of federal disability retirement applications by OPM.

It is best to consult with a lawyer familiar with Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) and disability retirement appeals to discuss the facts and law of your particular case. If you have questions about federal disability retirement under FERS or CSRS, or OPM’s denial of your applications for federal disability retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, contact an MSPB attorney at the Law Office of Eric Pines to schedule a telephone consultation.