Disability Retirement under FERS & CSRS: Being “somebody”

Such a phrase cannot pass by without a reference – whether directly or by innuendo – to that famous scene in, On the Waterfront, when Marlon Brando, playing Terry, tells his brother, “I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am…”

“Being” somebody presupposes certain antecedents that need to be explicated, like the archaeologist who carefully brushes away the soil and debris concealing the prize of ancient artifacts, lest the unveiled site remains hidden in the mystery troves of undiscovered histories.  To begin with, it establishes a sense of existence, of the encounter of one’s ego within a greater world involving other subjects, bumping into one another in the course of human interaction.

Further, as the meaning of a word cannot be taken in a vacuum without its antonym providing a contextual linguistic apparatus, so its opposite would presumably be, “nobody”.  But there are no such entities; only lesser known or unrecognized human beings, buried throughout history in unnamed tombs where ravines of ivy and growth cover the accomplishments never declared.

What does it mean, then, to be a “somebody” as opposed to a “nobody”?

When Terry made that mournful accusation against his own brother, it was within the context of his current state, where his mindful projection of potentiality – of what could have been, of pathways into a future misbegotten and now shoved aside as memories no longer valid, and lost opportunities which haunted with resentment until that “boiling over” period that left movie audiences breathless with an overflowing sympathy of sad repose.

The full quote is worth reciting:  “You don’t understand.  I coulda had class.  I coulda been a contender.  I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it.  It was you, Charlie.”   That last accusation – that it was his own brother who had fixed the fight in order to achieve a short-term gain, thereby sacrificing the long-term future of his own flesh and blood — which leaves us not only with a chill beyond sympathy, but a repugnance combined with a sadness for what could have been.

Being “somebody” is thus based upon a paradigm of adopted relevance, where one has a self-reflective perspective of particular accomplishments that would constitute fulfilling the very criteria one has imposed upon one’s self.  That is often where the problem becomes magnified:  For, if one’s own paradigm cannot be shaken or adapted in times where the vicissitudes of life demand, then there is the danger of remaining stuck in the rut of an outmoded reality.

For Federal employees and U.S. Postal workers who are suffering from a medical condition, such that the medical condition requires a change of pathways to travel, it is often a prerequisite to acknowledging the necessity for filing a Federal Disability Retirement application with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether the Federal or Postal employee is under FERS, CSRS or CSRS Offset, to first change that paradigm of being “somebody” as somehow necessarily intertwined with the Federal or Postal job that is continuing to harm one’s own health.

For, in the end, without health, there simply is no “body” in a spatial or figurative sense to reflect a “some” in order to remain being “somebody”.


Robert R. McGill, Esquire


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