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What are Your Options?

There is usually more than one option available to an employee with an employment injury or other work-related problem.  It is empowering to know your options. For most, one or more of the avenues listed below will be available.

One important option is not listed but should never be overlooked - you can walk away.

OWCP (Office of Workers Compensation Programs)

OWCP is an agency within the U. S. Department of Labor (DOL). OWCP adjudicates and administers claims of on-the-job injury by federal employees. The governing federal statute is the Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA; see U.S. Code 5USC8101). Benefits are payable under the FECA for wage loss, treatment, expenses, permanent functional impairment, rehabilitation related to injuries for medical conditions which are accepted by the OWCP as work related. Wage loss compensation is not payable without medical proof of disability – meaning the inability to work due to accepted work injury. Survivor benefits are available to spouses and family members of employees whose work injuries resulted in death.

Key positions in OWCP/BHR include claims examiners, senior claims examiners, and hearing representatives. Included are vocational rehabilitation and physical therapy specialists, rehabilitation counselors, field nurses, medical examiners, and schedulers.

This benefit is not taxed. All income earned is deducted from this benefit.

If you disagree with a decision of the OWCP, you may request an appeal with the BHR. You may appeal a decision by OWCP or BHR to the ECAB in Washington, DC. There is no judicial review of decisions rendered by the ECAB.

OPM (Office of Personnel Management)

OPM is essentially a Human Resources Department for all federal employees, compensationers, annuitants (retirees), and re-hired annuitants. Among many other things, OPM receives and adjudicates applications by federal employees for immediate disability retirement.

You may be capable of gainful employment and still qualify for this benefit. Your application must show that you have at least one diagnosed medical condition which is expected to continue for at least one year and which prevents you from providing useful and efficient service to your federal employer in the position last held (or in any available bona fide position for which you are qualified).

Key players are your employing agency, OPM benefits specialists, OPM reconsideration examiners, and OPM customer service representatives.

This benefit is taxed and, if you retire under FERS, is off-set by any social security disability benefits paid or payable for the same period. You may still earn other income up to 80% of your date of retirement pay and continue to receive your entire annuity check from OPM.

A decision reached by OPM may be appealed to the MSPB. MSPB decisions are subject to federal court review.

MSPB (Merit Systems Protection Board)

The MSPB hears adverse employment action appeals from federal employees based on failure to promote, excessive or unwarranted discipline, removal, constructive removal, suspension, failure to restore to work from a compensable work injury and other prohibited personnel practices including improper reduction in force.

Key players include you, witnesses, the administrative judge and the judge’s assistant.

MSPB appeals are shorter from start to finish than most other processes. A typical MSPB appellant wants to continue or return to work for the federal government and is looking for a way to make that happen. MSPB provides limited remedies and may award attorney’s fees for the prevailing party. Decisions of the MSPB are subject to judicial review.

EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission)

The EEOC hears and adjudicates claims of unlawful workplace discrimination brought by federal employees. The governing statute is the Rehabilitation Act. Section 504 prohibits discrimination based on physical or mental disability. If you are a qualified person with a disability your agency may be compelled to provide a reasonable accommodation unless it is shown that such would pose an “undue burden” on the employer.

Key players include you, witnesses, the employing agency, the complaints investigator [“informal stage”], the administrative judge and the judge’s assistant.

Complaints of discrimination by federal employees involve both an “informal” and a “formal” stage of the proceedings. Both are vitally important to the success of your claim. Attorneys’ fees may be awarded to the prevailing party. EEOC decisions are subject to judicial review.

BVA (Board of Veterans Appeals)

Department of Veterans’ Affairs reviews, adjudicates and administers claims of service related disability through Local VA Offices located throughout the United States.

Key players are you, the Local DVA Office and BVA personnel.

If a veteran is not satisfied with a decision of the Local Office, an appeal may be filed with the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, or BVA. For maximum benefit, the appeal should be initiated within one year of the decision being appealed. This is accomplished by filing a “Notice of Disagreement”, or NOD, with the Local VA Office. After the NOD is filed, you may opt for an on-person hearing. At this stage, you may also hire an attorney to represent you in your appeal to the BVA. A BVA decision is subject to review by the U. S. Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims.

Attorney’s fees are not recoverable, but may be paid from any award issued on the veteran’s claim if the attorney of record has agreed in advance to such arrangement.