The title of this post has been appearing in recent emails and contacts to our Firm with increasing frequency. In the opinion of this author, it is the wrong question to be asking.
The reason I say this is the wrong question is that the Federal employee does not want to go out and find some random doctor who will support their claim that they are unable to work and therefore eligible for federal disability retirement. On the other hand, many doctors are unwilling to get involved in their patients’ legal matters, and highly averse to litigation, so asking your doctor to support your claim for federal disability retirement may not be the right way to approach the situation either.
To understand what you need from your doctor, or how to approach your doctor, it is important to get an understanding of how OPM and the MSPB will view doctors reports, notes and records of treatment in an application or appeal for federal disability retirement.
Doctor Opinions. The MSPB Administrative Judge will likely only consider persuasive a doctor’s conclusion that an employee is disabled only if the physician explains how the medical condition affects the employee’s specific work requirements. (The one exception to this rule is when the medical evidence “unambiguously and without contradiction indicates that [the appellant] cannot perform the duties or meet the requirements of his position.”)
Doctors Reports. Medical reports that do not include reasoned explanations of how the medical condition affects the ability of the patient to perform essential functions of a position do not support a finding of eligibility for federal disability retirement. Certain Judges in the MSPB seem to hold strongly to the concept (wrongly, in my personal opinion) that Doctors’ detract from the evidentiary weight of their own opinions by preparing reports that don’t explain the basis for their diagnosis with objective clinical findings.
Treating Doctors versus Testifying Experts. The MSPB and OPM have both expressed difficulty with testifying experts in federal disability retirement appeals. This comes out in statements in the initial decisions suggesting that the “probative weight of medical opinion” is enhanced by the “extent and duration of medical expert’s familiarity with appellant’s treatment”. What that means is that the MSPB Judge could give less weight to a doctor’s opinion if a federal employee hires a doctor solely for the purpose of offering a report as to whether the federal employee is unable to perform the essential functions of a job. This does not mean that you can’t hire a non-treating medical expert to offer an expert opinion as to whether or not you are medically able to perform the essential functions of your job; as with anything in the law, such matters depend greatly on the particular facts of a particular case.
In light of the above, the best medical evidence supporting a federal employee application for federal disability retirement is the treating doctor’s well-reasoned expert opinion as to whether and how the employee’s medical condition prevents them from accomplishing the essential functions of the federal employee’s job. This can often be accomplished by asking your doctor the right questions and providing your doctor with the right material on which to base their opinion.
No post on this website is legal advice, is meant to be legal advice, and certainly does not serve as a substitute for legal advice. Information is power, and we are providing this information to give you, the federal employee, with some power. This information is not widely or easily accessible to Federal Employees.
The Law Office of Eric Pines represents Federal employees under FERS or CSRS in their applications for federal disability retirement to OPM. If an application for federal disability retirement is denied, the Firm represents Federal employees under both FERS and CSRS in their MSPB appeals of denials of federal disability retirement applications by OPM.
It is best to consult with a lawyer familiar with Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) and disability retirement appeals to discuss the facts and law of your particular case. If you have questions about federal disability retirement under FERS or CSRS, or OPM’s denial of your applications for federal disability retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, contact an MSPB attorney at the Law Office of Eric Pines to schedule a telephone consultation.