Did you know that an injury on the job could affect your VA disability even years after your ETS? We cover this and Functional Capacity Evaluations here.
If you get injured on the job, whether in the military or a civilian job, you could be facing a long road to recovery. You may need weeks or months off work, and you may have to go through physical therapy or other medical treatment regimens. So how do you and your employer know when you’re ready to go back to your job at full capacity again?
A functional capacity evaluation is designed to determine exactly that. And if you’re a veteran, this evaluation could have an impact on your VA disability application. Read on to learn more about FCEs and how they can impact you.
Table of contents
- What Is a Functional Capacity Evaluation?
- FCE and the VA
- FCE vs. C&P
- Why Do You Need One?
- When Do You Take an FCE?
- How Do You Know If You Need an FCE?
- Who Performs FCE Exams?
- What Does It Involve?
- Where to Go for Your FCE
- What to Bring to Your FCE Exam
- Don’t Fake It
- What Happens If You Fail?
- What FCE Results Could Mean for Veterans
- How the VA Handles TDIU
- Prepare for Your Functional Capacity Evaluation
What Is a Functional Capacity Evaluation?
Before we dive into all the specifics of how to prepare for your functional capacity evaluation, let’s talk about what they are. Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE) is designed to determine how prepared you are to return to your job. These are usually given after an accident or injury at work, especially if that incident resulted in a worker’s comp case.
An FCE is designed to provide an objective evaluation of your physical and mental state. In particular, these evaluations consider your physical and mental abilities related to the demands of your job. At the end of the evaluation, the examiner will decide if you’re ready to return to your job at your full capacity, if you need special accommodations, or if you are unable to return at all.
FCE and the VA
It’s important to note that before we go further than in general, FCEs are not administered by the VA and are not a standard part of your disability application process. The VA uses a compensation and pension exam (which we’ll discuss more in a moment) to determine more about your physical and mental state. The FCE is not conducted at VA offices or by VA medical professionals.
However, if your job requires you to take an FCE, it could have an impact on your VA disability rating. In particular, if your FCE shows that you are unable to return to your job, this could be a point of evidence supporting a higher disability rating. It could even help you qualify for total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU).
In this video, one of our VA compensation lawyers explains the difference between a 100% VA Rating and TDIU.
FCE vs. C&P
The FCE and C&P exams may seem similar on the face of them, but in fact, they serve two very different purposes. As we mentioned, the FCE is primarily a civilian evaluation performed as part of your job requirements. It’s focused on your ability to return to work and only has a direct impact on any workers’ comp payments you may be getting.
Your C&P exam is a part of your VA disability application and is administered by the VA. While it also evaluates your mental and physical states, it is related to your VA compensation, rather than your job or workman’s comp. This exam can have a direct impact on your VA disability rating and will not necessarily impact your job.
Here are some tips on your C&P exam from one of our VA disability lawyers.
Why Do You Need One?
So why do you need to take an FCE as part of a worker’s comp claim anyway? Shouldn’t the doctor who’s treating you be able to determine when you’re ready to go back to work and what sort of accommodations you need? While your doctor does have the medical expertise needed to determine your physical and mental state, their main limitation is time.
When you go to the doctor, they only spend about ten minutes interacting with you. This isn’t enough time for them to get a true sense of your current abilities or what your current functioning looks like. An FCE lasts for hours, long enough for the examiner to get a good idea of what your functional capacity looks like.
When Do You Take an FCE?
In general, your FCE will happen during your healing and therapy process after an accident or injury. These exams should happen at the end of your treatment regimen after all your testing and treatment have ended. If you’re still undergoing physical therapy or other medical treatment, it’s too soon to take your FCE.
Your FCE should take place after you’ve reached your maximum medical improvement or after a long plateau in your physical therapy improvement. You may need to take one after undergoing work, hardening, or conditioning as part of your treatment. It’s also possible you may need to get an FCE even if you haven’t been injured, but you’re transferring to a more physically demanding job.
How Do You Know If You Need an FCE?
If you need to get an FCE done, you’ll receive a notification telling you so. Before this happens, your employer may require you to undergo an independent medical examination with a doctor of their choosing. This is meant to ensure that you aren’t conspiring with your doctor to make your condition seem worse than it is to get higher compensation.
If your independent medical exam determines that you can return to your job, the company may order that you get an FCE to confirm how prepared you are. You can also request an FCE at any time during the worker’s comp process, as can your lawyer. If your company requests an FCE, you’ll get a notification in writing explaining where to go for your exam and what to expect.
Here one of our VA disability lawyers goes over the questions Woods and Woods, The Veteran’s Firm, is often asked about veterans’ disability claims and appeals.
Who Performs FCE Exams?
In general, your FCE will be administered by a medical professional who has not played a role in your treatment up to this point. This will ensure that you and your employer get an objective viewpoint on your status. These professionals are specially trained to administer these exams, and they know what signs of distress or faking to look for in patients.
Most of the time, a physical or occupational therapist will be the one giving your exam. These professionals have lots of experience working with people at all levels of rehabilitation. They can tell what your body can stand up to and whether you’re mentally fit to return to your job.
The VA doesn’t usually give 100% TDIU for just a single disability. They typically add up disabilities and veterans meet the criteria like this:
1. You have at least 1 service-connected disability rated at 60% or more disabling, or 2 or more service-connected disabilities—with at least 1 rated at 40% or more disabling and a combined rating of 70% or more—andTaken from https://www.va.gov/disability/eligibility/special-claims/unemployability/
2. You can’t hold down a steady job that supports you financially (known as substantially gainful employment) because of your service-connected disability. Odd jobs (marginal employment), don’t count.
What Does It Involve?
The FCE is a long test involving a variety of physical and mental challenges designed to test your abilities and endurance. Your examiner will likely start with an intake interview, during which they’ll take a look at your medical history. They may also give you a musculoskeletal screening, designed to get an overview of your general physical health.
From there, physical tests will begin and will check your cardiovascular health, your strength, and other such capabilities. You may be asked to walk or run on a treadmill, crawl a certain distance, move your hands or other parts of your body in certain ways, and handle and manipulate objects. Your evaluator will also ask you to sit, stand, balance, crouch, stoop, reach, grip objects, stack boxes, kneel, perform dexterity and hand-eye coordination tests, and undergo a series of cognitive tests.
Where to Go for Your FCE
In most cases, FCEs are conducted in a medical facility of some kind. Depending on who’s administering your evaluation, you may need to go to a physical or occupational therapist’s office. Your exam may also be conducted in a hospital, a private doctor’s office, or a similar medical facility. It’s unlikely that you’ll go to a VA hospital for an FCE.
The letter notifying you of your FCE appointment should give you details on where to go and when to be there. Be sure to show up a few minutes early for your appointment. This will give you time to fill out any necessary paperwork and will help you manage any delays that may occur.
A behind the scenes look at who works for you at Woods and Woods, The Veteran’s Firm.
What to Bring to Your FCE Exam
When you go in for your FCE, make sure to wear comfortable clothes that you can move in. You’ll be doing a good amount of physical exercise, so you don’t want any tight waistbands, shirts that ride up, or impractical shoes. Although these exams may seem nerve-wracking, it’s important that you go alone; family and friends will not be allowed into the examination room with you.
You should bring any medications you’re currently taking with you so that the examiner knows what’s required for you to keep up with your daily routines. You also need to bring any assistive devices you may use, such as a wheelchair, crutches, a walker, or a cane. Also, make sure you write down a list of your job’s physical requirements before your appointment and bring it with you so your examiner knows what’s required of you on a day-to-day basis.
Don’t Fake It
Whether you’re trying to win a worker’s comp case or return to work sooner, it may be tempting to fudge your FCE a little. You may be tempted to hide any discomfort you’re feeling or downplay your pain level. Or, on the flip side, you might feel like playing up your pain a little might help win you the compensation you deserve.
But any way you play it, faking your FCE is counterproductive. The examiners running these evaluations are trained to recognize signs of genuine pain and signs that you may be exaggerating things a little. Instead, be completely honest about how much pain you truly are – or aren’t – feeling, and don’t overplay or downplay your level of discomfort.
What Happens If You Fail?
First of all, we should clarify that there is no “failing” a functional capacity evaluation. These evaluations are not meant as a test that you have to perform a certain way. They are simply meant to be an honest, objective evaluation of your health level and whether you’re ready to return to work.
If your evaluator determines that you are fit to return to work, your company will likely act accordingly. This may or may not have an impact on any worker’s comp case you currently have in progress. If your evaluator determines you aren’t ready to return to your full capacity, you may be awarded more time off work, more worker’s comp, or special accommodations for your current needs.
What FCE Results Could Mean for Veterans
So what does an FCE exam mean for veterans and what does it have to do with your disability compensation? As mentioned, the VA does not officially use FCE results as part of their evaluation of disability compensation. But it could be used as evidence to help you get TDIU.
If an FCE examiner finds that you are entirely unable to return to your job due to a mental or physical limitation, it could be proof that you fall into the individual unemployability category. If you are also a veteran and your injury is related to your military service, you could qualify for VA disability compensation.
The big deal about a TDIU ruling is that you jump from a 70% VA Rating to get the monthly payment equal to a 100% Rating. This is our ultimate resource guide for all things TDIU.
How the VA Handles TDIU
If you are unable to hold a steady job as a result of your injury, you may qualify for total disability based on individual unemployability, or TDIU. Rather than being focused around a specific injury or condition, this category simply focuses on your ability to hold a job. If you qualify for this designation, you could receive monthly compensation from the VA.
If you don’t have a spouse or any children or parents financially depending on you, you could get $3,332.06 per month from the VA. If you have a spouse and a child depending on you, the amount would be more.
Prepare for Your Functional Capacity Evaluation
Although a functional capacity exam doesn’t directly impact your VA disability rating, it could provide support for a TDIU claim. Be sure to bring everything you need for your FCE, and show up a few minutes early. Be completely honest about your abilities and pain during the exam, and remember, there is no “failing” an FCE.
If you’d like to learn more about how an FCE could impact your disability compensation, check out the rest of our site at Woods and Woods, LLC. We fight for veterans every day, and you don’t pay unless we win. Contact us today to start getting the compensation you deserve. We aren’t workers’ comp lawyers, but we have a network of trusted attorneys all across the United States and we’d be happy to recommend someone to you.
At Woods and Woods, the Veteran’s Firm, we’ve helped thousands of veterans with their VA disability applications and appeals. We’ve been adding staff and lawyers during the Covid pandemic to better serve disabled veterans in difficult times.
Call us today to discuss your VA disability appeal or your first application. The call is free and we won’t charge you a single fee until we win your case. We even pay for the postage for all of the documentation you send to our office. You can look for a VA disability attorney near you or call us and join the thousands of veterans living off of VA disability thanks to Woods and Woods.
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You can use the results of the exam as evidence, but you’ll still need a C&P exam. You can use the findings and the opinion of the doctors or physical therapist as another professional opinion to prove your current condition. You’ll need one of our doctors, your family doctor, or a VA doctor to write your nexus letter. When you call us we can go over the FCE findings and advise you to use them or not.
No. To get VA disability, we have to prove that your current condition was caused by something that happened during your military service. Give us a call if you think they are related. Our case management team will review your evidence and let you know if you have a case for free.