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

Federal Disability Retirement: Doctors and the Peculiarities of Treatment

Efficacy of treatment is the goal for a doctor; and upon information that such efficacy has failed to render improvement or incremental signs of progress, many doctors lose interest, or become suspicious.

Social Security Disability, of course, requires a higher standard of proof — one of essentially “total disability”, where one is no longer able to engage in “substantially gainful activity” — and, as such, is an implicit admission of medical failure.

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement, however, is merely an acknowledgement that there are certain medical conditions which, limited in their scope and impact, prevent a person from performing one or more of the essential elements of a particular kind of job.  Such a person who goes out on Federal Disability Retirement benefits can still remain productive in the work-world, by pursuing another, different kind of vocation.

As such, from a medical point of view, conveying the distinction between the two is like the difference between identifying a hill as opposed to a mountain:  both may have some elevation, but the extent and scope between the two goes well beyond a linguistic peculiarity.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: The Reluctant Doctor

In preparing, formulating, and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the linchpin (sometimes spelled “lynchpin”) is comprised of a supportive doctor who is willing to provide substantive medical evidence, by a preponderance of the evidence, that a Federal or Postal employee is no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, and that the medical condition will last a minimum of 12 months.  

Originally, a linchpin referred to a metal fastener which prevented a wheel from becoming separated or dislodged from the axle.  Similar to the conceptual analogy of the “weakest link” in a chain, the idea of viewing a Federal Disability Retirement application in such terms and perspective is to recognize the centrality of a foundation, and how everything else is supported by that foundation.  If the foundation itself is weak, then the chain may snap, and the wheel may fall off the wagon, and everything which is supported by the foundation may come tumbling down.

Such a weak linchpin may be characterized by “The Reluctant Doctor.”   For, ultimately, it will be the treating doctor’s opinion which will provide the primary basis of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  To presume the support of one’s treating doctor may reveal an unfounded sense of confidence.  To declare that, “Of course my doctor will support me.  He’s been my doctor for X number of years,” is to be naive about the psychology of doctors.

Doctors enjoy engaging in the practice of medicine; they abhor the administrative necessities of supporting their patients in preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application.  The Reluctant Doctor is fairly widespread; it is up to the potential applicant, or his/her attorney, to explain the process, beginning with a simple request for an assurance of support from the patient — the applicant who will be filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Tendencies

There are certain tendencies which seem to exhibit themselves on a spectrum of behaviors, and the pattern is fairly common.  As such, it is important to be aware of the natural tendencies of all parties involved when filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  For instance, it is a common tendency for the doctorFamily Doctor, Orthopaedic Surgeon, Neurologist, Psychiatrist, etc. — to avoid having to write a medical narrative report for a Federal Disability Retirement application.

What to do about it?  To try and place the doctor at ease by explaining the process in as direct, simple and concise manner as possible; then to tie the importance of the request for a Medical Narrative Report to the overall treatment plan for the patient — you.  To have an attorney involved can further ease the natural anxiety of a doctor — but it helps to have the client/patient forewarn the doctor as to the role and involvement of the attorney.

Attorneys and doctors are “natural enemies” (i.e., attorneys sue doctors; doctors hate to be sued; ergo, doctors have a natural tendency to dislike lawyers).  If the patient/client, however, approaches the doctor and explains that the lawyer who is representing him or her is there to explain the process, to guide the doctor in the preparation of the entire packet, including giving guidance to the doctor in formulating a medical narrative report, then the tendency towards anxiety and reluctance to assist in a Federal Disability Retirement application can be lessened and overcome.  Tendencies are there to be recognized, then to be adjusted in order to achieve a positive outcome.

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: The Doctor

Doctors hate administrative duties.  They went to medical school, and they want to practice medicine, not law.  If they wanted to engage in vast amounts of paperwork, they would perhaps have gone to law school.  As such, paperwork, writing medical narrative reports for their patients, providing medical opinions in a report — they are part and parcel of the dreaded “paperwork” — somewhat like filling out all of the forms for medicare, medicaid, insurance, etc. to get paid. Such paperwork is often left to the “administrative staff”, and therefore doctors are only sporadically required to actually prepare any paperwork.

This presents a peculiar problem for a potential disability retirement applicant, because in order to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, an applicant must have a doctor’s narrative report which delineates certain issues, addresses certain issues, and renders certain opinions.

Thus, the crucial question becomes: How does one approach a doctor and convince him or her that preparing a proper medical report is an integral aspect of treating the patient? The answer: It must be done with diplomacy, sensitivity, caution, guidance, and understanding, all bundled into one. Above all, it begins with a relationship — a patient-doctor relationship that has been formed over many, many years. And, indeed, that is the requirement under the case-laws at the Merit Systems Protection Board governing disability retirements — that those opinions rendered by treating doctors of long duration are accorded greater credibility than single-examination doctors. And it all makes sense.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire