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…
What if my physician refuses to assist in my disability retirement application?
ANSWER: Get yourself another physician, at least for the purpose of preparing the Physician's Statement (Form 3112 C). It's done quite successfully. While certainly it is best to be supported by a physician who has had a longstanding relationship with you, nothing in the law requires that. It is particularly helpful in such circumstances if the reporting physician has available all prior medical records and is able to review the totality of the situation.
Will I need a lawyer to win disability retirement?
ANSWER: Probably. While it is true that a typist whose hand is cut off probably will not need a lawyer to get disability retirement, most cases are not so clear-cut. Remember the case of the government attorney disabled by AIDS dementia that I discussed previously? If someone suffering from such a serious and incurable illness needed a lawyer to win, then most applicants probably need a lawyer. This is particularly true given that most government employees seek disability retirement for illnesses like chronic pain, depression, anxiety, phobias, allergies, chemical sensitivities, and the like -- all of which have a single common denominator: they are subjective. While such symptoms may severely disable the sufferer, they cannot be readily perceived by others, including the physicians who are called upon to diagnose and treat them. Employees with such difficult-to-prove symptoms have a particular need for strong legal advocacy.
How sick or injured do I have to be in order to collect disability retirement?
ANSWER: You do NOT have to be totally disabled to collect disability retirement. You are considered disabled if you are unable to render "useful and efficient service." If you are unable to perform satisfactorily a single (just one and any one will do) "critical element" of your current government job on account of an illness or injury, then you cannot render "useful and efficient service" and are eligible for disability retirement. It does not matter that you may be able to perform all of the other elements of that job. If you can't perform that single "critical element," then you are by definition disabled.
To some this sounds too good to be true; particularly to some physicians who are accustomed to thinking of disability in terms of wheelchairs, oxygen tents, and life support machines. They often fail to grasp the fundamental point that Congress has chosen to define disability for government employees in far more liberal terms than disability is defined in other areas of the law. As a consequence of their misunderstanding, many doctors are reluctant to go all out for their patients who do not meet the more traditional definition of disability. One result is that their patients end up being denied a benefit to which they have a legal right. One of my major tasks in representing government employees seeking disability retirement is to educate physicians and others on this critical point so that they can, in turn, really go to bat for their patients.
Example: Andy suffers from the chronic pain of a slipped disc whenever he is required to sit for even short intervals. Andy's desk job requires long stretches of sitting. Andy has no trouble playing golf or dancing till dawn, but he cannot sit without pain. Because Andy can not render "useful and efficient service," he is disabled from his government job even though he can play golf and dance. If he meets the other requirements, he is entitled to disability retirement.
Can I really expect OPM to take seriously my claims of disabling symptoms when those symptoms are subjective?
ANSWER: Probably not. Such claims are often not taken seriously by OPM. As a result, many government employees disabled by subjective symptoms are wrongfully denied disability retirement. When proof of disability is difficult to provide, OPM often chides employees and routinely makes them out to be malingerers, liars and cheats. This is where an experienced lawyer can have a particularly salutary impact.
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.