It is easy to see that a physical force upon one’s head can cause a lasting impact, and even a physical force inside one’s head due to whiplash, but it requires a lot more understanding to begin to comprehend psychological conditions that develop from one’s reaction to non-physical forces.
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For those who feel that they cannot exert any control over their life situations, the operative word is uncontrollable. The helpless person is susceptible to a highly charged emotional state and a lingering feeling persists. Learned fearfulness and anxiety can sometimes be accounted for by changes at the location in our brain where nerve chemicals mobilize the body for an emergency and “stamp” memories with special strengths.
The system becomes hyper reactive, which causes extra large doses of secretions of these brain chemicals in response to situations that hold little or no threat, but are somehow reminders of the originating event. Such memories seem to remain as fixtures in brain functioning, because they interfere with subsequent learning or more specifically relearning a more normal response to those traumatizing moments.
In order to establish an OWCP “emotional reaction” or stress claim, one must:
- establish that and event, situation, or allegation actually occurred
- while performing official duties or an activity appropriately related to the employment
- obtain a diagnosis of an emotional condition
- establish a connection between the event, situation or allegation to the medical condition
- report the above in a timely fashion
In acquired fear and anxiety, the mechanisms of learning and relearning have gone awry. It is easy for others to dismiss this problem and these issues because, as they say, nothing has really happened. The people who experience this type of problem need to learn that life does not need to be regarded as an emergency about to happen.
The symptoms of psychological conditions are elusive, such as simply being unable to remember to do ordinary things on occasion – such as washing one’s hands. Often changes in one’s demeanor are erroneously attributed to other, more mundane, developments, such as aging or a change in mood as opposed to an actual injury.
Some injured workers develop neuropsychiatric symptoms such as clinical depression which require mental health professionals such as therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists, and neuropsychologists to help evaluate and manage the cognitive deficits. Unfortunately, because of the elusive nature of the conditions, claims examiners often mistakenly assume fraud when a injured person seeks assistance.
Despite this psychological injuries are eligible for loss wage compensation and medical benefits from OWCP, but, according to the federal workers compensation laws (FECA), there are no schedule award benefits available for them. Of course, if the condition is such that it interrupts one’s ability to perform their work duties, the diagnosis can serve to qualify one for disability benefits from OPM.
One of our clients, a USPS worker from Oregon, had her claim denied on numerous occasions because her doctors failed to be specific enough in describing her disability. We were as happy as she was to take her case to the Merit Systems Protection Board and get her application for medical disability retirement approved.