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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Filing Deadlines

Typically, a claim for compensation must be filed within three years of an injury. The three-year time period begins to run from the time the employee knew or should have known that her condition was caused by her job.

This deadline may not apply if the injured employee’s immediate superior was notified of the injury within 30 days of its occurrence. The employee must show not only that the supervisor knew of the injury, but also that he/she knew that it occurred on-the-job. Section 8119 of the Act gives specifics of notification requirements.

In the case of occupational disease, the time for filing begins to run when the employee knows or should have known that her condition was caused by her employment. Where the employee continues to be exposed to the work factors causing the condition, the time limitation starts over every time the person is exposed again, and will run from the date of the last exposure to the work factor. For instance, if you are exposed to loud noise or asbestos on the job, if you learn that you have a medical condition caused by that exposure, but you continue being exposed while continuing to perform your federal employment, your time limitation does not start running until the last day you are exposed to that work factor in your job.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Flaws in the AMA Guides, 6th Edition

There is a crisis occurring with schedule awards. OWCP has adopted the AMA Guides, 6th Edition. Unfortunately, the AMA appears to be completely in the pocket of the insurance industry as impairment rating percentages have plummeted under the 6th Edition. OWCP with its complete focus on pleasing employing agencies and complete disregard for the well being and rights of injured workers will likely characterize this immense cost savings as the result of good management practices, not merely the adoption of an anti-worker methodology for determining schedule awards. Doctors now complain bitterly about how much more complicated and time consuming it is to do a rating under the 6th Edition and how frustrating the process is because they are forced to provide ratings that vastly underrate workers' impairment. The design of the 6th Edition prevents them from rating all of the conditions impairing a rateable body part, which is in direct conflict with the FECA requirement that all impairments to the rateable body part due to the injury or pre-existing conditions must be included in the rating.

Recently, the Employees Compensation Appeals Board had an opportunity to correct this violation of FECA, unfortunately they also chose to go along with the anti-worker sentiment that is entrenched at OWCP. Obviously, OWCP should have done what many other jurisdictions have been doing and rejected the AMA Guides, 6th Edition, as fundamentally flawed and unfair to the injured worker.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

OWCP is hiring!

Turn your experience as a claimant into a job working for these folks in Florida:

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Noise Exposure and Federal Workers' Compensation

Federal employees who are exposed to noise in the course of their job are entitled to workers compensation benefits for the damage this causes to their hearing. If you have worked around loud machinery in the USPS or for other federal agencies, or have been otherwise exposed to noise on the job, you must file for your workers compensation benefits within three years of when you learned that noise has damaged your hearing. If your work environment then continues to expose you to noise, your workers' compensation claim needs to be filed within three years of when you were last exposed to noise on the job. There are many errors that can arise in OWCP's handling of this sort of case that can cause your benefits to be denied or be far lower than they should be. If you think your federal job has damaged your hearing, you should be sure to protect your rights by acting within the relevant time limitations. If you are not sure of your time limitation, you should investigate this immediately in order to avoid losing your entitlement to benefits on a technicality.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

USPS fails to submit CA-7 forms

I presently have several clients with accepted permanent restrictions from their workers compensation claims who have lost all or most of their working hours as a result of the USPS NRP. These folks are entitled to receive workers compensation pay for the hours that the USPS does not have work. And they would, if the USPS would complete and submit CA-7 forms. Unfortunately, families are going without income for weeks, and in some cases months, because the USPS will not process CA-7 forms, and OWCP will do nothing about it.

The claims examiners tell us that there is nothing they can do until the USPS provides the missing information. But I challenge that notion. Why can’t OWCP start paying the workers based on an educated guess as to their pay rate? OWCP could easily obtain a paycheck stub or an SF-50 from the injured worker. If the USPS later documents that the injured worker was overpaid, there would be a without fault overpayment because the overpayment was created by the USPS’ failure to respond.

OWCP’s refusal to take simple steps like this continues to document its complete alignment with employing agencies and the lack of concern for protecting injured workers.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Sun Exposure Can Cause Work-Related Cancers

I recently reviewed an article, “Skin cancer as an occupational disease: the effect of ultraviolet and other forms of radiation”[1] that explained: “Members of several occupational groups appear to be at a higher risk of skin cancer. There is an increased risk of skin cancer amongst outdoor workers, such as farmers, welders,…police officers, physical education teachers…. Although sun exposure is thought to be a common etiologic factor, some studies have suggested alternative explanations, such as irradiation from the welding arc in welders, [and] nonionizing microwave frequency radiation from radar use in police officers….Occupations in which there is an increased exposure to ionizing radiation, such as radiation technicians and radiologists, showed an increased risk for melanoma and NMSC” (non-melanoma skin cancers.)

Historically, federal workers compensation claims for skin cancer seem to be geographically distributed; letter carriers in the Southwest United States seem to file more skin cancer claims while such claims are quite rare in the Northeast.

Eczema is a less significant occupational disease for which health care workers are at risk as well as those engaged in printing, metal machining, motor vehicle repair, and construction.

In addition, NIOSH, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
has published a list of occupational carcinogens:
listing substances that cause a variety of cancers.

One tends to think of occupational disease claims as orthopedic in nature, to a lesser extent, psychological, along with some lung conditions and hearing loss, but there are a wide variety of complaints and disease types that may arise from the performance of duty in federal employment. Many occupational illnesses are underreported due to lack of awareness or fear. It is important to remember that occupational illnesses that can take many years to develop are also work-related, entitling injured workers to medical care, wage loss payments, and schedule awards.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

NRP Withdrawal of Modified Work is a Valid Basis for a Recurrence

The Postal Service National Reassessment Program (NRP) has caused countless USPS employees to lose their jobs or have their hours reduced to as little as one hour of work per day. I get many calls these days from USPS employees who have been put off the clock, partially or totally, with the Postal Service saying that they don't have work available. If you have an approved federal workers compensation claim, and this happens to you, you should file a Recurrence immediately. On the Recurrence Form (CA-2a), where you are asked to describe the Recurrence (box 21), you should indicate that your temporary modified duty job was taken away or your hours were reduced. You must also start filing CA-7 forms at the end of every pay period. DO NOT PROCRASTINATE regarding any of this.

OWCP should approve your Recurrence based upon the USPS withdrawing work. Make sure you have in writing from the USPS what has happened, and send a copy of that letter directly to OWCP. Remember, as always, to put your claim number on every piece of paper you send to OWCP.

If OWCP responds by telling you that you are not entitled to a Recurrence because a wage earning capacity decision was issued previously in your case, you should call me. Many such decisions were issued improperly over the last 20 years and can be overturned.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Metal Spray Powders

I was recently reminded of a client who passed away some time ago who had worked as a welder on a military base repairing parts from fighter jets. Unfortunately, this mission-critical task exposed him to metal spray powders that caused him to develop Nasopharyngeal cancer, and he eventually passed away from complications from this illness. When he came to me, his benefits had been denied repeatedly and it was very satisfying to help straighten out his case. He was able to receive life-prolonging treatments that his health insurance was not willing to pay for, and his family continues to receive support from OWCP by way of survivor benefits now that he is gone. Welders who used metal spray powders are at risk of developing serious health problems. Nasopharyngeal cancer is just one of various life-threatening illnesses that is tied to exposure to nickel and other metals found in these products. If you worked with metal spray powders, or have a friend or loved one who did, and have been diagnosed with cancer or other illnesses, it may well be due to that work-related exposure.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Beware the Intervention Nurse

One way that OWCP likes to “bully” injured workers is to assign an intervention nurse soon after an injury or following surgery. The nurse’s goal is to get your doctor to curtail treatment and return you to work, despite your health.

Although the nurse does not have the right to sit in on your appointment with your doctor, many will try. If you allow the nurse in to the examination room during your appointment, this can cause several problems. You are no longer free to discuss your situation with your doctor. The nurse’s presence will increase the time it takes for your examination. And, the nurse may annoy your doctor by questioning his treatment plan and/or harassing him to release you back to work.

You should discuss this situation with your doctor. One solution is for your doctor to advise the assigned nurse that any meeting should occur after your appointment, and the nurse will need to prepay for the amount of time that the nurse wishes the doctor to set aside.

YOU need to have a good rapport with your doctor. Do not let the intervention nurse jeopardize this!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

OWCP Ignores Mandate for Open Gov't

President Obama has called for more transparency in government and has required all Departments to execute this concept. Unfortunately, OWCP has not gotten the message. They continue a decade-long pattern of pretending to serve injured workers, while focusing all of their energy upon pleasing employing agencies.

For example, OWCP has added Skype links to “facilitate” calling key personnel such as Regional Directors and top National Office Administrators, but if you search for such key personnel, you do not find any of their names in Skype. Other DOL agencies are issuing frequent accessible news releases, but not OWCP. Other DOL organizations have had live video recorded chats, but not OWCP. OWCP’s presentation of their “Strategic Plan” held on March 25, 2010, was not video-taped for public viewing nor were there any outside participants other than some former OWCP employees who now work for other government agencies. This continues a pattern of OWCP mistakenly viewing its “customer” as the employing agency, and ignoring the plight of the injured worker.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

2010 COLA

OWCP has published the 2010 annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLA):
  • Pay Rates: The new maximum compensation rate based on the salary of a GS-15, step 10, is now $129,517 per year. The minimum compensation rate is the salary of a GS-2, Step 1 or $20,017 per year. The weekly minimum is $288.71 and the maximum is $1,868.03. Thus a newly calculated payment as of January 18, 2010 for 28 days would be $1,154.83 for the minimum and $7,472.13 for the maximum. In death cases, the monthly pay is a minimum of $1,668.08 and a maximum of $8,094.81.
  • Cost-of-Living Adjustments for March 1, 2010 based on the “Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers” (CPI-W) is 3.4 percent. The increase is applicable where disability or death occurred before March 1, 2009. The maximum compensation rates are $7,472.13 per four weeks or 1,868.03 per week after rounding to the nearest $1.00 monthly or the nearest $.25 weekly. By contrast, for SSA beneficiaries there is no cost of living adjustment for 12/01/2009–11/30/2010.
  • Debts: The interest charge on overpayments has also been changed to 1.0 percent for January 1, 2010 through December 31, 2010. This compares to a rate of 3% last year. The rate will be reviewed again on July 1, 2010 to determine if the Treasury has changed the rate.
  • Mileage: Effective January 1, 2010 the reimbursement for use of privately owned automobiles necessary for medical treatment has been reduced to $.50 per mile compared to $.55 last year.