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

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Is the Doctor in, Please?

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the support of one’s treating doctor is essential in putting together an effective presentation to the Office of Personnel Management.  Sometimes, even doctors have to be reminded of his or her “obligation” to a patient.  When, how, and in what manner of approaching the doctor, is a discretionary element of the process best left up to the patient.  

The reason why the “treating doctor”, as delineated by cases and opinions rendered by Administrative Judges at the Merit Systems Protection Board and by Judges at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, is the best one to provide a clinical assessment and evaluation of one’s ability or inability, and the extent thereof, of performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, is that the long-term relationship that has been (or should have been) established over these many years of treatment, is a foundational basis of being able to ascertain the abilities, capabilities, and limitations of the patient’s physical, emotional and mental condition. 

If a treating doctor hides behind the excuse of saying that he or she is not “equipped” to make a disability determination, or that there are doctors “out there” who specialize in disability determinations, and he/she is not one of them, an explanatory discussion should be engaged in with the doctor, which should include at least the following three (3) elements:  (1)  A reminder of the history of the doctor-patient relationship, (2) that your particular doctor is the one who knows the intimate details of your medical conditions and the history of treatment engaged in, and (3) that such administrative headaches resulting in obtaining Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management is a vital part of the long and recuperative process that the doctor has been trying to attain.  

Ultimately, it is the treating doctor who is the best one to render an opinion as to whether a Federal or Postal employee whom the doctor is treating, can continue to perform all of the essential elements of one’s particular job.  The question then is, Is the doctor in?  Meaning:  Is the doctor still going to “be there” when it really counts?

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Patient-Doctor Relationship

In filing a Federal Disability Retirement application with the Office of Personnel Management, it is always preferable (though not an absolute mandate) to have medical reports and records from a “treating” doctor of some tenure.  What constitutes a “treating doctor” is fairly uncontroversial — it means that the report rendering an opinion concerning one’s physical or mental ability to perform all of the essential elements of your job should be prepared by a doctor who has provided medical treatment, and generally has a patient-doctor relationship.  The duration of the tenure which then creates such a “patient-doctor” relationship does not necessarily put a specific time frame upon a doctor.  It can mean anywhere from a month to a decade, in my view.

From the applicant’s perspective, it is important to understand that the person who is considering filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits has been establishing and fostering that relationship, and this is important to see.  Those many years of going to the doctor, speaking to him or her about the most personal of problems — one’s medical conditions — is part of what creates that special bond identified as a “patient doctor relationship”.  It is a relationship which has been created and fostered through interactive needs, and that relationship should be strong enough to ask the doctor, when the time and need comes to fruition, for a medical report in support of one’s Federal Disability Retirement application.  So, at this point in the issue, as one is contemplating Federal Disability Retirement, does your interaction with your treating doctor constitute a “relationship”, or is it merely an economic exchange of goods and services?

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Go to:  Patient-Doctor Relationship (Part II)

Medical Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: The Treating Doctor

In a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS & CSRS, what distinguishes the entire process of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that a Federal or Postal employee is unable to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job — from other processes, such as Social Security and OWCP — is that the evidentiary weight is placed upon a treating doctor.  There are “other” types of doctors other than treating doctors:  specialists who are referred to for consultative purposes; doctors who specialize in determining functional capacity & evaluate the functional limits of an individual; occupational specialists, etc.  Why a “treating” doctor?  Because we are talking about workers who, over time, find that he or she is no longer able to perform the essential elements of a job and, over that same time, it makes sense that a doctor would be treating that individual.  Disability Retirement is not normally filed as a result of a traumatic accident (although that can happen, also); rather, a Federal or Postal employee normally files a Federal Disability Retirement application because of a condition which develops over time.  That is why the “treating” doctor would be the best source of knowledge and information:  because, through clinical examinations, long-term doctor-patient relationship, the treating doctor can make a long-term assessment based upon all of the facts and circumstances of the patient.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

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

OPM Disability Retirement for Federal and Postal Employees: Doctors Do Want to Help

It is rare that a treating doctor fails to help, or refuses to help.  Yes, “getting involved” in a “legal case” is not only a headache, but for a doctor, it is often an intimidating experience, and many doctors have become “gun shy” over the years because of the negative experiences which have befallen them when getting involved in the legal side of his or her medical practice.

Look at it from the doctor’s viewpoint.

While one may fully understand the distinction between Federal Disability Retirement issues under FERS or CSRS, and those “other” issues (i.e., OWCP/FECA Department of Labor cases, or personal injury cases, etc.), from the treating doctor’s viewpoint, they are all “legal” issues.  And, from the doctor’s perspective and prior negative experiences, once you stick your neck out on behalf of a patient and get involved in a case, one never knows what it may lead to — court, depositions, cross-examinations, etc.  But there is indeed a difference and a distinction between those “other cases” and filing for Federal Disability Retirement cases.

To soothe the feathers of a doctor is important; to take the time to explain the process is vital; to make the job of the doctor as efficient and non-threatening is the key to a successful Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Summer Doldrums & the Physician’s Statement

I have often pointed out in past blogs and articles that I do not have my clients sign the Physicians Statement (SF 3112C), for multiple and various reasons, not the least of which is that it is a confusing form, and in smaller print than necessary, leaving the impression to the doctor that what is requested is far more complex than what is actually required.  In its place, for my clients, I write a 4 – 5 page letter outlining the type of medical narrative report which I need.  This is the summer months; everyone from OPM representatives to lawyers, to doctors and Federal and Postal employees, take time off to recover from the hard work throughout the rest of the year.  When doctors take off for some “summer fun”, it just means that they have less time to spend on administrative matters — such as writing up a medical narrative report for their patients.  Because of this, it is important to try and simplify the matter as much as possible, and a blanket submission of the SF 3112C without some explanatory guidance, is not the best course of action.  Doctors need guidance, and in this busy world, it is best to streamline the process for them as much as possible.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: OPM's Methodology

When the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) approves a federal disability retirement application, a separate page from the approval letter will often be attached, which states the medical basis upon which the disability retirement application was approved. The separate page will often state something to the effect of: “You submitted an application for disability retirement based upon medical conditions, A, B, C & D; however, your application was approved for medical condition B only.”

The concern here, of course, is that if you are later selected to answer an OPM Medical Questionnaire asking you to re-establish your medical disability for continuation of your disability annuity some years later, that you make certain that you answer such a Medical Questionnaire based upon that very medical condition upon which you were approved. This is obviously important. Some have questioned whether or not you can appeal the approval letter based upon the fact that you believe OPM should have approved you based upon a different medical condition. In my view, this is not an appealable issue, and if you question OPM as to whether they should have considered you disabled based upon another medical condition, you may be in greater danger by OPM reversing themselves based upon a re-review of your case. It is best to leave “well enough alone”. Accept the approval letter based upon the identified medical condition, and inform your treating doctor that you may need his input in the future — to address that very medical condition for which you were approved.

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