The claimant, Mr. Z, was removed from his position as Military Pay Clerk under the Army because of excessive unauthorized absences from work. He then applied for federal disability retirement benefits due to his heart condition and post-polio syndrome, stating that these conditions had interfered with his attendance and job performance.
When the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) denied his application, Mr. Z appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board. There, the administrative judge reversed the OPM’s decision. Even though there was conflicting medical evidence, the judge found that Mr. Z’s absences were due to his Post-Polio Syndrome.
Unfortunately, Mr. Z died of a heart attack before the hearing. Even though the claimant was dead, the OPM appealed the administrative judge’s decision. The OPM said that the judge was incorrect in his decision because of the conflicting medical evidence. The evidence given by Dr. A, Mr. Z’s doctor, directly conflicted with the Army’s physician, Dr. B, so the judge’s ruling wasn’t consistent with all the evidence. With Mr. Z dead, his widow, Mrs. Z, continued to assert her late husband’s claim.
Determining how persuasive medical evidence can be a bit tricky. It really depends on whether or not the evidence provides a good explanation of how a certain medical condition makes it difficult or impossible for the claimant to perform his job duties. Additionally, the extent and duration of the doctor’s familiarity with the claimant’s condition (as well as that doctor’s qualifications) can make his medical opinion more convincing.
In this case, the Army’s Dr. B had only seen Mr. Z once—several months before his removal. Dr. A, on the other hand, had seen Mr. Z many more times over a bigger time span. Dr. A also had more experience and training in a more relevant medical field, with a number of patients who were suffering from the same condition as the claimant. As such, Dr. A’s opinion was far more convincing than Dr. B’s opinion.
Because Dr. A’s opinion was more persuasive, the Board affirmed the granting of federal disability retirement benefits to Mr. Z. This case shows us that when a medical opinion is given by a doctor who is familiar with the claimant’s condition, that opinion is given more consideration and is very persuasive, especially where the expert can give a good explanation of how parts of a condition prevent a claimant from doing his job.
–Harris Federal Law Firm