Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Understanding the Doctor

A question I often ask the treating doctor at the end of a Hearing before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board (obviously for Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS) is:  Do you have an opinion as to whether Mr. X/Ms. Y is a malingerer? The reason I ask such a question is to establish in the mind of the Administrative Judge, that after all of the clinical examinations, the treatment modalities, the diagnostic testing, etc., does the doctor have a personal opinion about the individual who is seeking to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits

Obviously, there are multiple questions which I ask as a follow-up; and, indeed, the question as to the status of the client/applicant requests a professional opinion about the patient — but implicit in that question is also a rather personal one.  It goes to the heart of who the patient/applicant is, and what the doctor believes about this particular applicant/patient.  For, to resolve any doubts about the underlying motive of the patient is not only important to the Administrative Judge in a Federal Disability Retirement application; it is equally important that the doctor is comfortable in his own mind, as to the clear and honest intention of his patient.  Conveying that comfort from the voice of the treating doctor to the ears of the deciding Judge, is no small matter.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: The Family Doctor and the Surgeon

I am often asked whether or not a medical report from the “specialist” will have a greater impact than a family doctor.  Implied in such a question, of course, is a perspective which tends to see the family doctor as somehow “less qualified”, sort of like comparing the technical deficiencies of a “country doctor” as opposed to a “real doctor” — one who works in an emergency room in a large metropolitan hospital.  Perspectives and prejudices have a way of defining judgments, and assumptions, presumptions and long-held beliefs, whether valid or not, often rule our lives. 

How can I answer such questions?  In the course of a Hearing before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board, I have had family doctors testify who were unbeatable, and certainly overwhelming in his or her expertise and medical knowledge.  The years of experience in having to deal with thousands of patients, and confronting and treating medical conditions of every imaginable sort — and making decisions (including referring patients to “specialists” for concurring or confirming diagnoses and opinions) involving the “whole” patient’s medical condition and treatment — came through with such persuasive force and overwhelming confidence, that it was indeed the “family doctor” or the “country doctor” who ruled the day. 

Similarly, I have had the “specialist” testify in cases, who barely were able to coherently describe the connection between the medical condition and the essential elements of the job.  And, of course, sometimes the opposite is true — good surgeon, mediocre family doctor; mediocre specialist, great country doctor.  As in all things, in Federal Disability Retirement applications under FERS or CSRS, it is not so much that the credentials matter, as the character, experience, and “heart” of the doctor who treats the patient.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Merit Systems Protection Board: A Different Animal

When an individual has attempted to obtain disability retirement under FERS or CSRS on his/her own, but has failed at both the initial stage as well as the Reconsideration Stage, while it is true that a Hearing before an Administrative Judge at the MSPB is to be heard de novo (meaning, heard “anew” and where new evidence may be submitted), it is always important to try and introduce something new above and beyond medical reports and records. This is why I normally insist upon having at least one doctor testify over the telephone. That way, everything can be presented and exposed: the Judge is able to hear first-hand the medical assessment and opinion of the treating doctor, and allow the doctor to be subjected to as much cross-examination as OPM’s representative wants.

This latter aspect is important for the administrative judge to see — that we (the applicant and the attorney) have nothing to hide; the opinion of the doctor is unequivocal and informed, and none of OPM’s questions can shake that opinion. This takes careful preparation and a systematic, thoughtful series of questions and answers between the attorney and the doctor, to meet each of the legal criteria demanded for approval of a disability retirement claim.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: Remember the Details

At each state of attempting to get a Federal disability retirement application approved, it is important to “remember the details”. For example, at the Merit Systems Protection Board level, in conducting a Hearing, remember that if the best medical evidence/testimony you are able to provide is through a health professional other than an “M.D.” (e.g., a therapist, a Nurse Practitioner, a Chiropractor, etc.), always point out the unique credentials of the provider, to include whether in the particular state in which he/she practices, if greater latitude and responsibilities are given to the practitioner.

Thus, it may be that in one state a Nurse Practitioner can exam, diagnose, and prescribe a medication regimen without the direct oversight of a medical doctor, whereas in other states such latitude may not be allowed. This should be pointed out to the Judge, to emphasize greater credibility of the testimony of the practitioner. Further, remember that in Vanieken-Ryals v. OPM (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, November, 2007), the Court therein reiterated that the medical documentation/evidence required must come from a ‘licensed physician or other appropriate practitioner’, and so long as that medical practitioner utilizes “established diagnostic criteria” and that which is “consistent with generally accepted professional standards”, the testimony cannot be undermined. Use the strengths of the case you have, and emphasize the little details that matter.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire