WORKERS’ WITH PRE-EXISTING MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES AND WORKERS’ COMPENSATION: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Many Workers, prior to starting employment, have diagnosed medical illnesses.  There are a variety of forms of mental illness.

A study looked into mentally ill individuals in the workplace.  This study discusses how work impacts the mentally ill. This information is important with respect to workers’ compensation stress claims.

This article will discuss mental illness, forms of mental illness, work’s impact on mentally ill individuals, and what it means in the context of workers’ compensation stress claims.

What Is Mental Illness?

 Mental illnesses are health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking or behavior (or a combination of these). Mental illnesses are associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities. Psychiatry.org. “ Mental illness is common. In a given year: nearly one in five (19 percent) U.S. adults experience some form of mental illness one in 24 (4.1 percent) has a serious mental illness, one in 12 (8.5 percent) has a diagnosable substance use disorder.” Psychiatry.org

There is a variety of mental illnesses.  These include anxiety disorder, Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism, bipolar disorder, clinical depression, dementia, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia,

What Is California Psychiatry Injury Causation Standard?

Labor Code Section 3208.3 provides the causation standard.  The causation burden per (b)(1) is that “In order to establish that a psychiatric injury is compensable, an employee shall demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that actual events of employment were predominant as to all causes combined of the psychiatric injury”  This means greater than 50 percent.

There is a lower standard in certain circumstances.  Per (b)(2), “… in the case of employees whose injuries resulted from being a victim of a violent act or from direct exposure to a significant violent act, the employee shall be required to demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that actual events of employment were a substantial cause of the injury.”  Substantial cause is at least 35 to 40 percent.

 Does Working Impact Mental Illness?

The study found that “Individuals with mental illness who are employed, compared to those who are unemployed, reported slightly higher levels of overall life satisfaction and psychophysiological health”. Granjard A, Mihailovic M, Amato C, et al. Occupation and life satisfaction among individuals with mental illness: the mediation role of self-reported psychophysiological health. PeerJ. 2021;9:e10829. Published 2021 Jan 29. doi:10.7717/peerj.10829.

How Does The Study Relate to Work Injuries?

Mentally ill individuals may have improved health and satisfaction when they are working.  Therefore, this improvement in their mental state should be factored into work injury causation analysis.   Also, it may have value with respect to permanent disability apportionment.

What Was in the Study’s Reporting?

The study reported that “, the mechanism underlying the relationship between having an occupation and life satisfaction implies that having an occupation enhances individuals’ perception of their own physical and psychological health, which in turn might increase their satisfaction with life” Granjard A, Mihailovic M, Amato C, et al. Occupation and life satisfaction among individuals with mental illness: the mediation role of self-reported psychophysiological health. PeerJ. 2021;9:e10829. Published 2021 Jan 29. doi:10.7717/peerj.10829.

What Is the Impact of Unemployment on Mental Illness?

The study noted that “[u]nemployment can lead to, among other things, diminished social status, financial debt, reduced self-esteem, and feelings of guilt. Most importantly, unemployment is significantly associated with psychiatric problems and approximately 37% higher risk of suicide (Milner, Page & Lamontagne, 2014).” Granjard A, Mihailovic M, Amato C, et al. Occupation and life satisfaction among individuals with mental illness: the mediation role of self-reported psychophysiological health. PeerJ. 2021;9:e10829. Published 2021 Jan 29. doi:10.7717/peerj.10829.

Note: This finding is important.  Mental health treatment and assessment of impairment during a pre-employment period is exacerbated by unemployment.  Thus, with no unemployment In combination with work, a Mentally Ill individual’s mental state may be significantly elevated prior to confronting work stress.

What If I Need Advice?

If you would like a free consultation regarding workers’ compensation, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. We have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their workers’ compensation cases for over 28 years. Contact us today for more information.

VISUAL ANALOG PAIN SCALE (VAPS) AND WORKERS’ COMPENSATION: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

In the Workers’ Compensation System, Doctors and Medical Evaluators ask Injured Workers to fill out various scales and questionnaires. One of these scales is the Visual Analog Pain Scale (VAPS.)

Scales and questionnaires can impact an Injured Worker’s ability to get treatment and disability payments. Therefore, Injured Worker should understand how to answer them properly.

This article will discuss the Visual Analog Pain Scale(VAPS), how the VAPS is administered, how VAPS is to be answered, how VAPS is graded, and how VAPS can be used within the workers’ compensation setting.

What is VAPS? What Is it Designed to Measure?

The Visual Analog Pain Scale is “a unidimensional measure of pain intensity, which is utilized in diverse adult populations.”  Measure of adult pain: Visual Analog Scale for Pain (VAS Pain), Numeric Rating Scale for Pain (NRS Pain), McGill Pain Questionnaire (MPQ), Short-Form McGill Pain Questionnaire (SF-MPQ), Chronic Pain Grade Scale (CPGS), Short Form-36 Bodily Pain Scale (SF-36 BPS), and Measure of Intermittent and Constant Osteoarthritis Pain (ICOAP) Gillian A. Hawker, Samra Mian, Tetyana Kendzerska Melissa French 07 November 2011 https: //doi.org/10.1002/acr.20543

The VAPS is intended to explore the issue of pain.

What Does VAPS Look Like?

The VAP Scale can be set up either horizontally or vertically. Supra.

This is an example of a scale:    0 “no pain”   |————————————————–| 100 “worst imaginable pain.”

How Many Questions Are There in VAPS?

One. It is the simple answering of one’s pain level.  This is done by marking a spot on the spectrum to describe the pain. Supra.  The spot can be measured and assigned a number.  See below.  Some scales allow for the patient to assign a number.

How is the Score Interpreted?

“A higher score indicates greater pain intensity. Based on the distribution of pain VAS scores in post surgical patients (knee replacement, hysterectomy, or laparoscopic myomectomy) who described there postoperative pain intensity as none, mild, moderate, or severe, the following cut points on the pain VAS have been recommended: no pain (0-4mm), mild pain (5-44mm), moderate pain (45-74 mm) , and severe pain (75-100 mm) ” Supra.

Why Are These Terms important?

In workers’ compensation, the evaluators look at pain. Pain is often characterized by the terms of slight, moderate or severe.

The definitions for slight, moderate and severe are different in the field of industrial medicine. California used to use them to assign permanent disability.  In order to do so, they defined the terms.  The 1997 Permanent Disability Rating Schedule defined the terms as follows: “Pain is not always disabling. It becomes disabling when its degree affects function. Regulations define four degrees of subjective pain – minimal, slight, moderate and severe. By definition, minimal (mild) pain is not disabling because it causes no handicap in the activity precipitating the pain. However, slight, moderate and severe pain reflect increasingly greater degrees of handicap on work activity, and are ratable factors of disability.” P.1-7.  While these terms are no longer used for permanent disability purposes, they are frequently documented in medical reports.

Pain’s nature and extent, in certain circumstances, can be a factor in assessing whole person impairment. Whole person impairment is then translated into permanent disability.

How Can Testing Impact Injured Workers’ Claims?

Testing creates credibility issues.  When an Injured Worker provides a 100 score, it means either that they are in severe pain, they are exaggerating, or that they are making a cry for help.  In cases with minor injuries, high scores will impact the credibility of the pain reporting.

Also, an injured Worker may wish to ask how the question should be answered. Pain level when medicated or pain level during a certain period of time, i.e. this moment or this week, are legitimate questions.

What Is the Problem with this VAP Scale?

Pain assessments can be confounded with respect to an individual’s “pain reference.”

Some individuals have never experienced severe pain in their life.  For women who have experienced childbirth and for those who have passed a kidney stone, their pain references, however, can be in the severe range.  Thus, an individual’s past medical conditions is important to review as a reference.

It is quite conceivable that they have experienced pain in the 90s up to 100.   Some individuals also have strong pain tolerances.  A 70 to them would be a 95 to others Thus, these individual’s reporting may only be relevant when compared to other  assigned scores provided on different dates of evaluation or treatment.

How Should an Injured Worker Answer the VAPS?

An Injured Worker should make their best effort to accurately describe their pain.

If there is any confusion concerning how to answer or mark the scale, you should clarify with the evaluator. For instance, you could be a 50 on medications and a 70 without.  Thus, it is important that the doctor or evaluator understand your reason for assigning a particular level of pain.

What If I Need Advice?

If you would like a free consultation regarding workers’ compensation, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. We have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their workers’ compensation cases for over 28 years. Contact us today for more information.

THE FEDERAL EMPLOYEES’ COMPENSATION ACT (FECA) AND WORKERS’ COMPENSATION: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

The Federal Government has its own Workers’ Compensation System.  Thus, a Federal Government Employee, living in California, pursue FECA claims rather than filing California workers’ compensation claim.

This article briefly details the Federal Employee’s Compensation Act (FECA) system and how it differs from the California State system.  This article is cursory and not meant to be relied upon for the purposes of pursuing a claim.   It is merely informational.

Who Is covered By FECA?

“The FECA program covers all civilians employed by the federal government, including employees in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the government. Both full-time and part-time workers are covered, as are most volunteers and all persons serving on federal juries. Coverage is also extended to certain groups, including state and local law enforcement officers acting in a federal capacity, federal jurors, Peace Corps volunteers, students participating in Reserve Officer Training Corps programs, and members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary and Civil Air Patrol.” The Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA): Workers’ Compensation for Federal Employees Updated April 13, 2020, Congressional Research Service https://crsreports.congress.gov R42107

Note: There are Injured Workers who are employed by businesses with Federal Government contracts.   These employees may be as a private employee and may not be eligible for a FECA claim. Instead, they are eligible to pursue a state-based workers’ compensation claim.

What Conditions are Covered Under FECA?

Under FECA, “workers’ compensation benefits are paid to any covered employee for any disability or death caused by any injury or illness sustained during the employee’s work for the federal government.  There is no list of covered conditions nor is there a list of conditions that are not covered.” Supra.

Defenses available for certain injuries.   The defenses include willful misconduct and intoxication as causes of the injury.

Note: These defenses are similar to that of state-based systems.  In addition, state-based systems place limitations on claiming benefits on certain body parts. In California,  compensation is limited with respect to the following body parts: psyche, sleep, and sexual dysfunction.

What Is the FECA Claims Process?

“All FECA claims are processed and adjudicated by OWCP (Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs.) Initial decisions on claims are made by OWCP staff based on evidence submitted by the claimant and his or her treating physician. The law also permits OWCP to order a claimant or beneficiary to submit to a medical examination from a doctor contracted to the federal government. An employee dissatisfied with a claims’ decision may request a hearing before OWCP or an OWCP review of the record of its decision. A final appeal can be made to the Employees’ Compensation Appeals Board (ECAB). The decision of the ECAB is final, cannot be appealed, and is not subject to judicial review”. Supra.

Note: in the California state-based system, there is the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board which provides for adjudication of claims.   Employers are required to maintain insurance, be self-insured, or be legally uninsured.  Also, the California state-based system also allows for an employer opt-out in the form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR.)  In the California system, Injured Workers are capable of appealing cases up to the California Supreme Court. In very limited circumstances, there may be even access to Federal Courts.

Are There Time Limits to Filing FECA Claims?

 “FECA Claims In general, a claim for disability or death benefits under FECA must be made within three years of the date of the injury or death. In the case of a latent disability, such as a condition caused by exposure to a toxic substance over time, the three-year time limit does not begin until the employee is disabled and is aware, or reasonably should be aware, that the disability was caused by his or her employment.” Supra.

Note: In California Workers’ Compensation, there are multiple time limits for filing claims.  Generally, there is a one-year statute to file an Application at the Workers’ Compensation Board.

What Are the FECA Disability Payments?

 The FECA system has various forms of disability payments. They include continuation of pay, partial disability payments, scheduled benefits (which are permanent partial disability payments), and total disability payments.

For the scheduled permanent partial disability payments, there is a schedule which determines the disability payments.

For total disability, there is a monthly benefit paid.

Note: The California system has salary continuation benefits for some public employees.  Otherwise, there is a temporary disability rate which is essentially two-thirds of the workers’ average weekly wage. Similar to FECA, California has a permanent disability schedule which addresses the amount of payments of permanent partial disability.   The California based system also has a form of total disability payment as well.

Are There FECA Death Benefits Available?

 Yes.  If an employee dies in the course of employment or from a latent condition caused by his or her employment, the employee’s survivors may be eligible to receive compensation benefits.

Note: The California system also has a death benefit component  for dependents.

What Are Medical Benefits Under FECA?

“Under FECA, all medical costs—including medical devices, therapies, and medications— associated with the treatment of a covered injury or illness are paid for, in full, by the federal government.”  Supra. “Generally, a beneficiary may select his or her own medical provider and is reimbursed for the costs associated with transportation to receive medical services.”  Supra.

Note: This is different from the California system.  In that system, there are medical provider networks that may impact which providers a worker can choose as their treater.   California industrial medical treatment is also entirely the responsibility of the carrier and not the worker.

Does FECA Provide Vocational Rehabilitation Benefits?

“The Secretary of Labor may direct any FECA beneficiary to participate in vocational rehabilitation, the costs of which are paid by the federal government. While participating in vocational rehabilitation, the beneficiary may receive an additional benefit of up to $200 per month. However, any beneficiary who is directed to participate in vocational rehabilitation and fails to do so may have his or her benefit reduced to a level consistent with the increased wage earning capacity that likely would have resulted from participation in vocational rehabilitation.”

Note: The California system is different.  Currently, for 2013 dates of injury and beyond, there is an educational voucher along with a separate job displacement benefit payment.  It is  markedly different from FECA.

What If I Need Advice?

If you would like a free consultation regarding workers’ compensation, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. We have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their workers’ compensation cases for 27 years. Contact us today for more information.

 

 

 

 

 

ARE INJURED WORKERS SATISIFIED WITH THEIR INDUSTRIAL MEDICAL TREATMENT?  QUALITY WORK-RELATED MEDICAL CARE AND WORKERS’ COMPENSATION: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

“I Can’t Get No, Satisfaction”

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California Industrial Medical Treatment is controlled by the Labor Code. Thus, it differs from both traditional Private Medical Care as well as Government Programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

Industrial medical care is part of a risk management system designed to provide cost-cutting elements with respect to providing the service.

Researches have looked into Injured Workers’ satisfaction with respect to their treatment.

This article will discuss Injured Worker’s satisfaction with their medical treatment.

What is Industrial Medical Care?

In California, Industrial Medical Treatment is guided by the Labor Code.   The Labor Code contains various treatment limitations.

Medical Control is one limitation. Insurance Company Managed Provider Networks limit the doctors that Injured Workers can choose.

Medical treatment is limited by utilization review of medical treatment requests.  These utilization reviews can deny treatment that does not follow the set algorithms and schedules.

What Is Private Medical Care?

Private Medical Care can come from a variety of sources. There is cash payment in where there is a direct provider patient relationship.  There are personal insurance policies for which the individual purchases the policy directly from the medical insurance company.  Finally, there is employer provided health insurance policies.

What is Medicare?

Per the SSA, “Medicare is [the U.S]… health insurance program for people age 65 or older. Certain people younger than age 65 can qualify for Medicare, too, including those with disabilities and those who have permanent kidney failure.

The program helps with the cost of health care, but it does not cover all medical expenses.”

What Is Medicaid?

Per Medicaid.gov, Medicaid programs [are] designed to provide health coverage for low-income people. This program is separate from Medicaid.

Can Injured Workers have Multiple Insurance Coverages?

Yes. Injured Workers can have multiple coverages at the same time.   It is possible that an Injured Worker can have private coverage, medicare and workers’ compensation at the same time.  For Injured Workers with low income and are on social security disability, they may have medicare, medicaid, and workers’ compensation at the same time.

What was the Study’s Overall Finding? Were There Other Findings?

The study found that “that Workers’ Compensation status is independently associated with dissatisfaction with health care compared with other primary payer groups.” Compton J, Glass N, Fowler T. The Effect of Workers’ Compensation Status on the Patient Experience. JB JS Open Access. 2019;4(2):e0003. Published 2019 Jun 11. doi:10.2106/JBJS.OA.19.00003

The study, however, had other findings of interest as well.

Workers’ Compensation treatment rated lower than Private Insurance and Medicaid.   It did, however, rate at about the same level of satisfaction as Medicare. Compton J, Glass N, Fowler T. The Effect of Workers’ Compensation Status on the Patient Experience. JB JS Open Access. 2019;4(2):e0003. Published 2019 Jun 11. doi:10.2106/JBJS.OA.19.00003.

With respect to mental health issues, workers’ compensation treatment, satisfaction was rated lower than private insurance.   It was however comparable to both Medicare and Medicaid patients. Compton J, Glass N, Fowler T. The Effect of Workers’ Compensation Status on the Patient Experience. JB JS Open Access. 2019;4(2):e0003. Published 2019 Jun 11. doi:10.2106/JBJS.OA.19.00003.

There was one area in which there was some higher level of satisfaction with respect  to industrial medical treatment.   This was when the treatment included surgical authorization.  Patients with Workers’ Compensation who were scheduled for a surgical procedure were more likely to be satisfied with their care.  Patients with surgical authorization have higher levels of satisfaction.  Compton J, Glass N, Fowler T. The Effect of Workers’ Compensation Status on the Patient Experience. JB JS Open Access. 2019;4(2):e0003. Published 2019 Jun 11. doi:10.2106/JBJS.OA.19.00003

What Can Be Done to Improve Care Injured Workers’ Satisfaction?

This author believes that the following items may improve the level of satisfaction of industrial medical care.   First, expanded Managed Provider Networks with more doctors to choose from.  Second, improvement of the utilization review process to allow for greater authorization of treatment.

As noted above, Injured Workers are happy when there are results that occur as part of the treatment.  This is shown in their level of satisfaction with respect to surgical authorization.

What If I Need Advice?

If you would like a free consultation regarding workers’ compensation, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. We have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their workers’ compensation cases for 27 years. Contact us today for more information.

MEN, DEPRESSION, SUICIDE, AND WORKERS’ COMPENSATION: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Stress impacts Men and Women differently.   Studies show there are differences in the workplace.  The findings are both significant and complicated.

This article will discuss depression, suicide, the differences between men and women, and the implications with respect to workers’ compensation cases.

What Is the Psychological Diagnosis of Depression?  

 Per the American Psychiatric Association, Depression (major depressive disorder) is an illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act.

”Depression symptoms can include: Feeling sad or having a depressed mood, Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed, Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting, Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, Loss of energy or increased fatigue, Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., inability to sit still, pacing, handwringing) or slowed movements or speech (these actions must be severe enough to be observable by others), Feeling worthless or guilty, Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions, Thoughts of death or suicide.” APA

A depression diagnosis requires these symptoms last for an extended period of time. “Symptoms must last at least two weeks and must represent a change in your previous level of functioning for a diagnosis of depression.” APA

Which Sex Is Diagnosed Most with Depression?

 Studies show that women are diagnosed at twice the rate as men. “[c]omparatively, in Western countries, men are formally diagnosed with depression at approximately half the rate of women” (Kessler et al., 2005Wilhelm, Parker, Geerligs, & Wedgwood, 2008).” 1. Oliffe JL, Han CSE. Beyond Workers’ Compensation: Men’s Mental Health In and Out of Work. American Journal of Men’s Health. January 2014:45-53. doi:10.1177/1557988313490786

Note: These findings raise questions.  There is the issue of “men’s reluctance to express concerns about their mental health and reticence to seek professional health care (Emslie, Ridge, Ziebland, & Hunt, 2006Sharpe & Heppner, 1991Winkler et al., 2006).” 1. Oliffe JL, Han CSE. Beyond Workers’ Compensation: Men’s Mental Health In and Out of Work. American Journal of Men’s Health. January 2014:45-53. doi:10.1177/1557988313490786

In other words, men may not seek mental health treatment. Thus, there would be fewer depression diagnosis for men.

Is There a Connection Between Depression and Suicide?

Severe depression can … significantly increase the risk for suicide.  (Emslie et al., 2006Kessler et al., 2005Wilhelm et al., 2008World Health Organization, n.d.), 1. Oliffe JL, Han CSE. Beyond Workers’ Compensation: Men’s Mental Health In and Out of Work. American Journal of Men’s Health. January 2014:45-53. doi:10.1177/1557988313490786

Which Sex is at Most Risk of Suicide?

Men have been found to have higher rates of suicide. “[S]uicide rates are approximately four times higher in Western men than in women (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012Hawton & van Heeringen, 2009Levi et al., 2003Moller-Leimkuhler, 2003Rihmer, Belso, & Kiss, 2002Statistics Canada, 2012a2012bWasserman, 2000Wolfgang & Zoltan, 2007).” 1. Oliffe JL, Han CSE. Beyond Workers’ Compensation: Men’s Mental Health In and Out of Work. American Journal of Men’s Health. January 2014:45-53. doi:10.1177/1557988313490786

Thus, there is the question as to why men’s suicide rates are higher when their depression rates are lower.

Are There Suicidal Issues Related to Occupation?

The issue of suicide has multiple issues.  There is suicidal thought or ideation.  There is the act of suicide.

Studies have found high suicide rates in male-dominated workgroups. This included manual workers, farming, military and nursing.” 1. Oliffe JL, Han CSE. Beyond Workers’ Compensation: Men’s Mental Health In and Out of Work. American Journal of Men’s Health. January 2014:45-53. doi:10.1177/1557988313490786

Suicidal ideation is also an issue for men. Being a failed breadwinner can have an impact on suicidal thoughts. “Linkages between men’s work, depression, and suicide have also been described. Self-perceptions of being a “failed breadwinner” led older men with a history of depression to think about suicide (Oliffe, Han, Ogrodniczuk, Phillips, & Roy, 2011), whereas some middle-aged men countered suicidal ideations by focusing on work as a means of providing for their family (Oliffe, Ogrodniczuk, Bottorff, Johnson, & Hoyak, 2012. 1. Oliffe JL, Han CSE. Beyond Workers’ Compensation: Men’s Mental Health In and Out of Work. American Journal of Men’s Health. January 2014:45-53. doi:10.1177/1557988313490786

Is There a Connection Between Depression and Retirement?

Depressed workers are more likely to retire than nondepressed workers (Doshi, Cen, & Polsky, 2008) 1. Oliffe JL, Han CSE. Beyond Workers’ Compensation: Men’s Mental Health In and Out of Work. American Journal of Men’s Health. January 2014:45-53. doi:10.1177/155798831349078

What Does This Information Mean with Respect to Workers’ Compensation Claims?

These studies impact workers’ compensation cases in that they provide insight into the injured worker.

There studies show that there is some uniqueness for a man to file a claim for depression. These studies provide “red flags” as to certain occupations that men perform and their risk for suicide.  These studies may give some insight to employers as to whether depressed male  injured workers are going retire or return to work.  These studies show that working may assist a man’s mental state.

What If I Need Advice?

If you would like a free consultation regarding workers’ compensation, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. We have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their workers’ compensation cases for 27 years. Contact us today for more information.

 

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