Podcast #3: A Good Doctor is the Real Key to Winning:
Transcript edited for clarity:
How do you know if you are eligible for Disability Retirement?
There is a legal standard, but you probably would have a difficult time figuring out if you meet it on your own.
Everyone who calls me thinks they meet the standard – otherwise they wouldn’t be calling! Most people think they will be able to win, and without a lawyer on top of that.
Now, that could be true for a small number of people. If someone is paralyzed, have terminal cancer, or something like that, where it is 100% clear cut that they cannot do their job duties, then they probably don’t need me or a referral to another lawyer.
So what’s the standard?
The details for the standard are laid out in the blog, but for now I will say this. The standard is that you have to be unable to perform at least one critical element of your job. You have to prove that a disability makes you unable to “satisfactorily” perform a critical element of your job.
So if your work is unsatisfactory or you are unable to make it to work, then that would meet the standard?
Exactly. Unless you are lazing around watching TV!
You have to demonstrate that you cannot make it to work due to your medical condition.
Additionally, a disability must be expected to last at least one year.
And how would you demonstrate that?
Through a doctor. More specifically, through the applicant’s statement and the physician’s statement (two forms on the OPM Disability Retirement Application).
Now, writing a good applicant’s statement is a good idea, but it is basically worthless compared to a physician’s statement.
What wins a disability retirement case is what a doctor says.
When I was a kid, my dad took me to restaurants every now and then. And the way to get to the front of the line at the restaurant was to put “Dr.” in front of your name. So my dad always went by Dr. Friedman and we were always seated first.
It’s not so different at OPM. The doctor is treated better than everyone else.
So should you lie and say you are the doctor?
You should never lie! But being a doctor isn’t as good as being the federal employee who has a doctor who writes you a great Physician’s Statement!
On the other hand, if you are being treated, but you don’t have a doctor who is ready to talk about your treatment, talk about your disability, and discuss how despite your treatment, you still cannot get over your disabling condition and perform your job, then you are not going to win.
You can say all you want about being sick or disabled, and it won’t matter. You need the doctor to do it.
You need evidence.
If you want to talk to Harvey about your situation, fill out the form at the right, send him an email, or give him a call. As a semi-retired lawyer, he is here to talk with you and help as best he can – think of him as a friend you drop in on for advice.
We have a real problem with Physician’s Statements from doctors who are too busy to spend time writing them and unwilling to go out on a limb to say it like it really is. So you have to work around this.
When it comes to doctors, you have to…
Following up on my earlier post about getting fired for misconduct:
If you are fired for misconduct, that does not mean your agency can wash its hands of you and not cooperate with your claim for Disability Retirement. Your agency is still required…
Will the amount I collect be related to the degree of my disability?
ANSWER: No. The amount you collect has nothing whatsoever to do with the degree to which you are disabled; nor does it have anything to do with how or where you were disabled; nor does it have anything to do with the cost or duration of the treatment you might require.
Do I have a right to keep the nature of my medical condition confidential from my agency? From OPM?
ANSWER: Yes and no. You have a right to the strictest confidentiality regarding your medical condition at your agency but not at OPM. Despite that right, in some instances it takes a special effort to keep the matter confidential. Since OPM, rather than your agency, determines your case, the agency only needs to know the nature of your disabling symptoms and how they prevent you from performing. Except in unusual circumstances, the agency should not need to know the diagnosis or cause of those symptoms. In the event that it demands such information, you have a right to provide it through the agency physician, who must treat it as privileged information and maintain your confidentiality.
Will OPM check up on me to see if I am still disabled or if I have been restored to earning capacity? If so, how, and how often?
ANSWER: Yes, they will check up on you, but the experience of most of my clients is that they will not harass you to get you off disability retirement. This policy, by the way, is different from that of the Department of Labor, which has a reputation for unrelentingly harassing employees in an effort to get them off workers' compensation. The disability retirement law requires OPM to check on your medical condition at least once a year and also permits them to check up on you whenever they so desire. The results are uneven and sporadic. Some employees are contacted within a few months of going on disability retirement while others are not contacted for years. Although OPM has the power to send annuitants to government-appointed physicians, it usually requires you to have your own physician answer a series of questions, which may be the same or similar to those previously asked on the "Physician's Statement." As to monitoring for restoration of earning capacity, that is done on an annual basis through a questionnaire, and you may, in addition, be required to provide copies of your tax returns.
If I am denied disability retirement, can I ask for it again at a later time?
ANSWER: Yes. If you are denied disability retirement because you were accommodated or reassigned, and that accommodation or reassignment does not work out, you can request disability retirement again. Also, if your application for disability retirement is rejected by OPM or on appeal by MSPB, there appears to be no prohibition against reapplying, using both old and new evidence, provided that you are still in government service or have been separated for less than one year.
I have represented Federal government employees and Postal workers seeking OPM Disability Retirement for a long time. I also represent them in agency leave problems such as AWOL, FMLA, LWOP, etc. Leave problems often come along with being sick and disabled. I have stuck to this area of the law for more than 30 years of the 50 years I have been a lawyer.