One of the hardest problems for us to address in FECA cases is when a client has convinced his or her doctor to put in writing that the client can go back to work without restrictions, even when the doctor does not believe they should. This is always done because the client is afraid to lose his or her job or because the client is experiencing an extreme financial hardship and would rather work in pain or cause further injury to themselves than to not have an income. While this is certainly understandable, it can lead to an almost unfixable problem if the client is then unable to continue working without restrictions.
The client is then in the position of having to argue to OWCP that the client got his or her doctor to lie for them in writing regarding the client’s work capabilities, or they have to show that there has been some material change in his or her condition which occurred after the return to work. Please be honest with your doctor and make sure they are honest with you and with OWCP with regard to your work restrictions. Thus, a short term fix can lead to a long term problem.
For an injured federal worker, selecting a competent and experienced attorney can make the difference between acceptance and rejection of a claim. There are very few attorneys nationwide who have experience in handling a worker’s compensation claim for an injured federal employee and even fewer who specialize in doing so. There are significant differences between state workers’ compensation claims under state law and federal workers compensation claims under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act. For example, there is no apportionment under FECA and there are no court appearances. Attorneys who are not accustomed to representing injured federal workers will likely not know how to handle filing initial claims let alone responding to denial letters.
There are many nuances to getting a claim accepted, including making sure that the injured workers treating physician does not use any speculative language, such as probably or could be. These terms are frequently used by physicians and acceptable in many areas of law – just not under FECA. Another example of a difference between state and federal workers’ compensation is that under the federal system, the injured federal worker must provide medical evidence from a physician as defined by the FECA – meaning that the opinions of a social worker, chiropractor, physicians assistant or nurse practitioner are almost never considered competent medical evidence under FECA. If an attorney is not familiar with the nuances of FECA, it will be very difficult to achieve a good result for an injured federal worker, no matter how brilliant that attorney may be.
In addition, attorneys who regularly represent injured federal employees are more likely to be familiar with other areas of federal employment law, such as disability retirement under FERS or CSRS, wrongful termination or suspension issues appealable to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) and disability discrimination issues as they relate to federal employees in connection with EEO complaints.
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One of the remarkable features of the FECA system is the standard of qualification for benefits. To be entitled to coverage, an injured worker need only show that work duties contributed in some way to his or her injury, even if the injured worker had a pre-existing injury. For example, we had a client who had suffered a significant injury to his knee during military service. Our client then went to work for the US Postal Service for over a decade. During that time, his knee condition became significantly worse. Even though he had problems with his knee well prior to his civilian service, his knee condition was covered 100% under FECA.
Under FECA, there is no apportionment. This means that if a factor of employment contributed even .0001% to the development or current state of an injury, then it is completely covered under FECA. So, if a work duty constituted the straw that broke the camel’s back, it is irrelevant whether the camel’s back was badly damaged to begin with.