CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: The Treating Doctor

There is efficacy and motivational bias.  Sometimes, unintended consequences result in the coalescence of both, but where the result is unaffected by the underlying reason for acting upon an event.

In OWCP cases, the motivational bias almost always includes the intent of the Department of Labor to try and save money, and to steer the injured worker to undergo treatment (if one can call it that) and oversight with one of “the company” doctors who can quickly declare a person to be healed and ready for return to full-time duty, despite protestations of pain, discomfort and limitation of movement, all to the contrary.

It is no accident that the ever-present Worker’s Comp Nurse who infringes upon the patient-doctor relationship by imposing her presence upon each visit, agrees whole-heartedly with any such assessment of full recovery, and ignores the pleas of the patient/OWCP benefit-recipient.

By contrast, those who are filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, are encouraged to speak with their longstanding treating doctors, as opposed to merely going to a doctor whose motivational bias may stem from the source of one’s payment.

Treating doctors who have a long tenure of doctor-patient relationships have little underlying motivation to do anything but look out for the best interests of the patient.  If Disability Retirement is the best course, then that will be what the treating doctor will support.  It is ultimately the relationship that has been established over the many years, which makes for all the difference.  And that difference is worth its incalculable weight in gold.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement (for US Federal Employees): Administering Treatment versus Administrative Functions

Doctors rarely have any problems with administering treatment based upon clinical encounters and subjective narratives from their patients; yet, when it comes to providing a medical report and performing similar administrative functions, the sudden pause, hesitation, and sometimes outright refusal, is rather puzzling, if not disconcerting.

Such trepidation from the doctor can obviously result in a difficult wall for purposes of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS.

For, much of medical evaluation, diagnosis, prognosis and prescribing of treatment encompasses receipt of subjective responses from the patient:  where the pain is present; the nature and extent of the pain; the history and chronicity of manifested symptoms; even functional capacity evaluations must necessarily be an observation of the subjective actions & reactions of the participant.  Of course, there are often distinguishable “objective” factors — swelling; carcinogenic versus benign tumors; broken bones, etc.

On the other hand, even MRIs and other diagnostic tools reveal only that X exists — not that X results in symptom Y.  An example would be a bulging disc — while the abnormality itself may show up on an MRI, whether the individual experiences any pain from the abnormality may differ from subject to subject.

This is why, despite the willingness of a doctor to treat based upon most factors being “subjective” in nature, it becomes a puzzle why the same doctor shows an unwillingness to write a report stating that, because of the medical conditions for which patient M is being treated, one must necessarily conclude that he or she cannot perform essential elements X, Y and Z of his or her job.

It is the jump from treatment-to-disability-determination which is often problematic for the treating doctor.  All of a sudden, the excuses flow:  “I am not trained to make such determinations”; “There is no objective basis for your pain” (then why have you been treating me for over a decade and prescribing high levels of narcotic pain medications?); “I can’t say whether you can or cannot do your job”; and many other excuses.

The switch from administering treatment, to treating administrative matters, is one fraught with potential obstacles.  How one approaches the treating doctor will often determine whether such obstacles can be overcome — and whether one’s Federal Disability Retirement application can be successfully formulated.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: OWCP Doctors, and Others, Etc.

Can a doctor with whom one has been treating, but one which was obtained through the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act, Department of Labor (FECA/DOL), Office of Workers’ Compensation Program (OWCP), be an effective advocate for one’s Disability Retirement application?  Of course.

Often, however, there is a complaint that the “OWCP doctor” is not very responsive to a Federal or Postal employee’s attempt to approach the question of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS.  As FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement is based upon proving by a preponderance of the evidence one’s medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, it is crucial that the Federal or Postal employee contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits have a supportive doctor.

While the Merit Systems Protection Board’s expanding case-law holdings continue to reinforce the idea that the most effective advocate in a Federal Disability Retirement case is a “treating doctor”, as such, medical reports obtained through 2nd opinion or “referee” consultations, or via filing for Social Security Disability benefits, may have some limitations on their usage; nevertheless, the weapons of arguing that an “independent” source of medical review also found that one could not perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, can be an effective substantive argument.

As for the OWCP-treating doctor, sometimes those forms completed by such a doctor will be enough to meet the eligibility requirements for OPM Disability Retirement — but that is an individual assessment based upon the uniqueness of each case.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Supporting the Concept

In preparing, formulating and filing a FERS or CSRS Federal Disability Retirement application, the important first step in the “preparation” phase — or, one might even term it conceptually as the “pre-preparation phase” — is to engage the treating doctor with the conceptual framework of what Federal Disability Retirement entails and encompasses.  

As has been repeated many times previously in other blogs, doctors are not administrators, and ultimately detest the need to annotate, narrate, write reports, etc.  The legal system has forced doctors to keep records, if only for their self-protection in the event of a question of malpractice, and the requirement of keeping office records and notes has had the positive corollary effect of forcing doctors to “think through” the procedural steps of what it is that they are “doing”.  

Requesting the treating doctor to support a Federal Disability Retirement application has the identical positive result of forcing the doctor into an admission that one’s medical condition has come to a crossroads:  prior treatment modalities have not proven to be effective; the chronic and progressively deteriorating nature of the physical or psychiatric condition has shown to be “treatment-resistant”; the time has come to acknowledge that a different mind-set must be embraced — one which includes a period of rest, restorative time, and a stage of recuperation away from the activities which the Federal or Postal employee spends on average 40 – 50% of the time at:  one’s job.  

Speaking to the doctor about his or her support and role in preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application is the first, necessary, and vital step in the preparation, formulation and filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS.  How best to approach the doctor, the timing, the words and concepts to use, etc., are all part of that preparation.  

If it is time for the Federal or Postal worker to recognize that one’s medical conditions are preventing the Federal or Postal worker from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, it is time to think about pre-preparing the treating doctor.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The “Nice” Doctor

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is first and foremost important to have the support of one’s treating doctor.  By “support” is meant that the treating doctor must be willing to spend the time and effort needed to prepare and present a medical narrative which will not only narrate and delineate the diagnoses and symptoms — but beyond that, to take the time to explain the “why” of the nexus between the patient’s medical conditions and the essential elements of one’s job.  

To this extent, of course, the Federal or Postal Worker’s attorney should be of the utmost assistance — to guide the doctor in order to meet the legal criteria for qualifying for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  It is never an issue of telling the doctor “what to say” — the integrity of the medical opinion of the doctor should never be violated.  Rather, it is an issue of explaining the elements and legal criteria which need to be addressed.  

In ascertaining the level of support which a doctor is willing to provide, it is simply not enough to establish the factual foundation that the doctor is very “nice”.  Nice doctors aside — whether in conversation, table manners or a general sense that he or she is genuinely an all-around nice person — the question is, Will the doctor spend the time and effort (and yes, it is proper for the doctor to be reasonably compensated for his time and effort) in preparing a narrative report which addresses the legal elements in order to present a case of medical disability to the Office of Personnel Management?  

It is nice to have a nice doctor; it is even nicer to have a nice doctor who will support one’s Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire