OPM Contract Physicians

OPM Contract Physicians, many of whom are military doctors with specialties such as trauma surgery, reconstruction, diving or flying related conditions, etc., routinely advise adjudicators on cases well outside their areas of expertise. What does a Navy Doctor know about Fibromyalgia or extreme mental disorders? Despite a lack of expertise, these doctors will often discredit the applicant's treating physician without even discussing the case with them in order to deny federal employees their disability retirement benefits. 

"RETIRED NAVY PHYSICIANS, WHO ARE EXPERTS IN UNDERWATER DIVING MEDICINE, HAVE ADVISED ADJUDICATORS ON CASES INVOLVING MENTAL DISORDERS, FIBROMYALGIA, CHRONIC PAIN AND THE LIKE. THEY ROUTINELY RECOMMEND DENYING DISABILITY RETIREMENT, BY DISCREDITING THE APPLICANTS’ TREATING PHYSICIANS WHEN THEY HAVE NOT EVEN SPOKEN TO THAT PHYSICIAN, OR SPOKEN TO OR EXAMINED THE APPLICANT. THE ADJUDICATORS REGULARLY RUBBER-STAMP THESE DOCTORS’ DECISIONS IN DENYING DISABILITY RETIREMENT."

OPM contract physicians often review disability retirement applications. These physicians are not civil service employees but at-will contractors.

Adverse disability retirement decisions never mention the participation of these OPM contract physicians. Whatever they decide is usually rubber-stamped by the adjudicator denying you disability retirement.

Reasoned opinions by unbiased, qualified physicians focused on the medical aspects of an application, is an excellent idea, since disability retirement is about medicine. Unfortunately the idea has been corrupted.

OPM contract physicians rarely, if ever, have expertise in the medical conditions they review. Psychiatrists aren’t assigned to review psychiatric cases. Orthopedic physicians are not assigned to review orthopedic cases. To my knowledge there are no psychiatrists or orthopedists working as OPM contract physicians.  In fact, there are no known contract physicians employed by OPM who are specialists in any of the types of medical problems raised by applicants.

Some years ago, I found that two, retired navy physicians, were specialists in “underwater diving medicine.” I have yet to see a case in my practice in which the disabling medical condition is connected with underwater diving.

The OPM disability specialists, who actually draft the decisions, routinely rubber stamp the OPM contract physicians’ opinions. The specialists’ decisions parrot back, nearly verbatim, the language contained in the contract physicians’ reports.

OPM contract physicians not stick to medical issues. They opine broadly on law, policy and human credibility. OPM adjudicators slavishly defer to this whole range of opinions handed down by the contract physicians.

Disability retirement applicants are never told that adverse initial decisions are largely a product of OPM contract physicians and not the OPM disability adjudicator, who signs the opinion.

If you manage to get a copy of your OPM file, it will never include or give a hint that these physicians played a vital part in the decision.

OPM contract physicians are nearly immune from questioning by applicants. Because applicants are provided a de novo hearing at MSPB, OPM is usually successful in arguing that they cannot be deposed before hearing and cannot be brought into the hearing as a witness, precluding cross-examination. The MSPB’s theory is that since you are getting a hearing from scratch, what the OPM contract physician had to say is irrelevant. Thus OPM contract physicians’ opinions end up never being challenged, no matter how wrong they might be.

And that’s the most incredible thing is that OPM contract physicians are often dead wrong in their determinations.

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