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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Computer Problems Delay 3/1/11 COLA for FECA Recipients

I have in recent days received many phone calls from FECA recipients wondering why they had not received the March 1, 2011 COLA adjustment to their periodic roll wage loss and schedule award payments. The March 1, 2011 COLA is 1.7%.

I have spoken with several knowledgeable persons who confirm that some sort of computer glitch has delayed implementation of the 1.7% COLA. The next periodic roll payments should reflect the COLA; OWCP will send FECA recipients a separate supplemental check to cover the COLA adjustment effective March 1, 2011 or they may include it in the next periodic payment.

At least one claimant who called District 2 (NY) was told that there will not be a COLA adjustment this year which I am advised is incorrect. Unfortunately, FECA claimants will actually see their net check go down once again in 2011 as the cost of health insurance continues to increase far more rapidly than the COLA on their wage loss and schedule award payments.

Beware Bad Advice About A Schedule Award

These days, there are some lawyers advertising heavily who really just want to handle schedule award cases. But be careful. If you pursue a schedule award recklessly, you may be putting your approved workers’ compensation benefits at risk.

I met with a gentleman the other day who has spoken to me on numerous occasions over the last decade regarding his long-standing workers compensation case. This time he was poking around on the internet and stumbled on the website of a lawyer who apparently only wants to focus on getting FECA claimants schedule awards from OWCP. The website brags about how much this lawyer can get injured workers for schedule awards. A link pops up inviting you to speak with the lawyer. Next thing he knew, they were discussing his case on the phone. This lawyer starts explaining how he can get him a schedule award, and that he should be entitled to a lot of money.

Now this gentleman has had a hard life and, fortunately, has learned to think twice about things. We sat down and talked about the case and the various pluses and minuses of the situation. Sure, he could pursue a schedule award. But a schedule award is most valuable to someone who is back to work earning a salary or to someone receiving a pension under CSRS. This gentleman is not eligible for a pension and cannot work which means that his schedule award must be collected INSTEAD of his wage loss check. So all he would get is a slightly larger check temporarily, probably less than a year in this case. Much of the gain would end up in the pocket of the internet lawyer. AND, the danger is that when you poke OWCP, you never know where it might lead.

I advised the gentleman that I would not open anything up with OWCP on a case like this without first making sure that his current entitlement is rock solid. A small net schedule award payment is not worth the risk that his check could be significantly reduced for the rest of his life, or maybe even cut off, as a result of a new round of directed medical examinations with OWCP-selected physicians. Pursuing a schedule award without considering the repercussions is reckless. I was not surprised that I had NEVER seen the internet lawyer’s name on an ECAB decision, which indicates that he does not have much experience handling these cases.

Be careful, there are a lot of predators out there, and not just OWCP.