Research Notes

Sometimes Less is More – FECA and FERS

Sometimes Less is More - FECA and FERSOne common misconception is that if one is receiving benefits under FECA that there is no reason to apply for FERS disability. The reason people believe that is because one cannot receive FERS benefits while receiving FECA wage-loss benefits. In almost every situation, it makes sense for an injured worker to file for FERS or CSRS. The primary reason for this is that one can become entitled to FERS/CSRS while continuing to receive benefits under FECA. The FERS/CSRS benefit can come into play in a variety of situations. The first is if OWCP determines that a work-related injury has healed or is not causing any disability. This commonly occurs after a second opinion examiner determines that the claimant's problems are related to age and that the industrial injury no longer plays any role in the claimant's disability. This can happen at any time, sometimes even after decades of a claimant receiving benefits under FECA. Having something to fall back on is very valuable.

In addition, under FERS/CSRS, one can make up to 80% of the current pay rate of the position they retired from and retain his or her annuity. OWCP takes a dollar for dollar deduction if an injured worker returns to work. Sometimes, injured workers can resume some sort of employment, even if it is part time or doing something other than what they did for the government. Even a moderate salary from private employment coupled with a disability retirement annuity can exceed that which one would get from workers comp. Lastly, if one is eligible for FERS, and they have an injury that would entitle them to a schedule award, they can receive both the schedule award and the annuity from FERS/CSRS at the same time. The bottom line is, don't dismiss FERS/CSRS simply because you are receiving wage loss comepnsation from OWCP. An employee can file at any time that they remain on the agency rolls and must file within one year of separation . There are almost no exceptions to the one year requirement, so make sure to get it done in that time frame.

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Honesty is the Only Policy in FECA cases

Honesty is the Only Policy in FECA casesOne 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.

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Contribution, not cause, is key in FECA cases

Contribution, not cause, is key in FECA casesOne 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.

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