Assume the following hypothetical: A Federal or Postal employee who is 48 years old, with 25 years of Federal Service, engages in a type of work which is repetitive, day in and day out (yes, even this sentence is repetitive and redundant), full time, over the course of those 25 years.
One day, while moving a piece of furniture at the direction of his spouse, he feels a sudden and sharp pain in his back. He has to sit down and rest for a while. The “for a while” turns into a visit to the emergency room, then to his family doctor. The MRI shows a disc bulge at L5-S1, with multi-level disc degeneration, spinal stenosis, and other degenerative changes. Despite multiple modalities of treatments, including epidural steroidal shots, physical therapy, variances of medication regimens, etc. (and you can even add a surgical intervention), the pain continues to worsen and deteriorate his medical condition. The chronic pain prevents him from performing his job. Whether sedentary or physical, the high distractability of the pain results in his poor performance.
Can he/she file an OWCP claim? Such a claim is submitted and rejected, because the issue of causality cannot be established. An appeal is filed, and it is again denied. The treating Neurologist and Orthopaedic Specialist are unwilling to establish a direct causal link. But one argues: Do those 25 years of repetitive work account for nothing? Can it all have occurred because of the singular occurrence? Does my medical condition reflect that of a person twice my age merely because of a single incident?
It is precisely because causality is the crux of OWCP, that Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS is an important benefit for all Federal and Postal employees. OWCP/FECA is a benefit which is great for the limited role it plays; Federal Disability Retirement is a benefit with wider applicability, and the chance for the Federal or Postal employee to enter into another phase of life.
Robert R. McGill, Esquire
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