I was injured in 2008 after returning to work after a 2-year deployment…
Before the 2-year deployment, I was
· Working towards my BA in Criminal Justice Degree online from Columbia College.
· Working as A Correctional Officer at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo
· In the Army National Guard (Medevac Unit) as a Blackhawk Crew Chief (Flight status) Flight two nights a week to maintain NVG (night vision goggle) mission flight requirements. Had been serving in the military (Active, Reserve or National Guard since 1986)
· I was doing Dive (underwater) and high angle search and rescue/ recovery, person one to two days a week (off days). Recovered over 150 vehicles out of the California Aqueduct alone.
· Athletics- I was a gym rat, cycling, and softball…
During the deployment
· Passed all the annual (A-Part) flight physical (medically and physically)
· Working as a Crew Chief in flight status and Maintenance supervisor.
· Just signed a six-year contract extension military service.
· Athletics- In the Gym, company softball and volleyball teams
I was deployed with the Army National from July 2006 to July 2008. I completed my annual medical requirements for flight status and went through my post-deployment physical in July of 2008 before returning to work at the California Men’s Colony.
When I came off active duty in July 2008, my goal was to return immediately to The California Men’s Colony (CMC) to work even though I had the option to return two weeks after. Since the promotional exam was given while I was deployed, I was able to take the advancement test upon returning,which I did and passed. Before working shifts, I also had to do the mandatory (IST) annual training.
The first time I was injured was during IST. The training room at the CMC was not available for a reason I can not remember. We had to do our retention techniques and strengths and holds in the parking lot on training mats. I was paired up with someone smaller than me, and when we were doing one of the techniques, I was thrown hard onto the mat, but the back of my head hit the asphalt. Since the person was smaller than me, they couldn’t help control my fall. I did not report it because I was focused on completing the training and returning to work.
That was not the injury that took me off work, though. After passing all of my qualifications, I was working Double shifts (16 hours) with in a short time. During the 6 am to 2 pm, I worked in a Control Tower; then, I would work the second one in another location after that shift. On this day, it was in a building working a tier with another officer from 2 pm to 10 pm. At the end of this shift, before we leave, we would close the gates at the end of the tier as a safety measure. For some reason, the gate on one side was being difficult. They are substantial metal gates that weigh a tremendous amount of weight. I went to push it closed, and it wasn’t moving. I then grabbed the fixed side with one hand and the gate with the other hand. I squeezed the gate closed,and at the same time, I felt a pinch between my shoulder blades. I didn’t hurt but felt like warm water was running down my back. I didn’t think anything about it… and almost completely forgotten about it.
During the next few days, my neck was killing me… I went to the chiropractor, thinking I was out of alignment. The adjustments brought only temporary relief. The chiropractor excused me from work for a few days,thinking I needed some time to heal, but I remained in pain. I then went to my doctor for tests. My doctor ordered tests and x-rays along with physical therapy. The physical therapy only made the pain worse. Usually, I would put my head down and power through the injury, but this time wasn’t like other injuries I had in the past. The doctor gave me three weeks off.
During this time, I was interviewing at the Correctional Training Facility (CTF- Soledad) for a position as a sergeant (promotion). I returned to work at the CMC only for a short time before being accepted by CTF. When I transferred, I was still on light duty but was in constant pain. It was recommended to me to report it to a supervisor as a Workmen’s Compensation claim. I did and was taken off work for a year. I also hired an attorney to help me navigate the legal system Rucka, O’Boyle, Lombardo & McKenna (ROLM). I was sent to a chiropractor, acupuncture, a psychiatrist for a mental evaluation.
I had to sign a waiver to return to work after the year.When I returned, I was using pain medication that I had to report as a controlled substance, and I carried a TEN’s unit on my duty belt with the electrodes attached to my back with the wires running through a hole in my shirt under my duty vest. I continued to get epidural injections every three months and saw the pain specialist once a month. I paid for chiropractic and messages to help with the knots out of my pocket. In addition, I was completing all of my annual IST training while in pain where I was being thrown on the mats hitting my Neck, Back, and the back of my head. But it was a requirement to work and condition of employment with no exception.
It took five years to settle, which was small for a 63%disability and future medical (Problem #1) for the injury. Little did I know,but what they mean by future medical is the doctor can request the treatment to help your condition, but the insurance company can deem it not a medical necessity. So, I wasn’t going to be able to get outside treatment because, for one, it would end the treatment (medication- opioids) I was getting, and second, I couldn’t afford to get the NECESSARY TREATMENT NEEDED.
I had been missing a lot of time from work from the pain; I had burned through all my FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) and sick time. At this point, I was only receiving partial paychecks. I gave up my house and lived out of my car and a storage unit. I would keep my dog with me when not working and then put him in the storage unit while at work. He didn’t mind and would sleep until I was back. We spent a lot of time at the dog park to make up for the inactivity. I would shower and get ready for work at the gym.
It wasn’t long after the settlement that my pain specialist took me off work permanently after reviewing an MRI of my neck. The pain in my back and neck had been increasing. I received the Work Comp paperwork and attempted to contact my attorney (ROLM), thinking this was part of the same case. Little did I know the paralegal was off on a Work Comp injury. I couldn’t get a hold of her on the phone (big firm), so I put all the paperwork in an envelope, took it to the front desk for delivery, and continued to call. I finally got a return call from another paralegal in the office working two desks while the other was out.
Meanwhile, the paperwork wasn’t turned in, and my case was denied. This meant I would not receive any income while off work until the claim was accepted… I finally got a call from the attorney, who took no responsibility for stating this was a new case, so they did not represent me during the period I was denied… I had to sign a new agreement with the attorney after the Work Comp claim was denied and had no idea when it would get picked up, which wound up being ONE AND HALF YEARS LATER.
(Problem #2) The INSURANCE has five years to settle the case. If you can continue to work, that is not an issue. The maximum compensation you can get for an injury is two years. The first year is IDL(close to two-thirds of your pay non-taxable), and the second year is Federal minimum wage, which was $7 an hour, and my average salary was around $25. In mycase, I was taken off work not to return to the same profession, which means they can drag everything out past the two years, and you have no income. When I am writing this, we have gone over seven years.
I had been able to move into a small apartment after the settlement and continued to keep all my belongings in storage, but after the first six months of no pay, I lost everything and became homeless while being stuck on my back. I also lost the storage with all the family photos, cookbooks,and sentimental items… oh and over $60,000 in household goods. I tried to sell most of the things out of the storage, but I couldn’t get access at the direst times without keeping up with payments.
(Problem #3) The Work Comp system is not meant to help the injured. It is designed to help the employer. Nothing is a medical necessity if you cannot return to work because of physical limitations and job performance requirements. Treatment will not be done to make life easier or more comfortable for the injured.
I wound up moving out of the area (3 hours away) that I had been living, changed attorneys to where I was at the time, and attempted to get local doctors. It took two years for State Fund to approve doctors in the area. Meanwhile, I received no treatment or medication from State Fund, but I went to the VA for help which provided a doctor (just evaluation) and chiropractic. At that point, I had already gone cold turkey off the opioids previously provide by State Fund and went through withdrawals because I couldn't get approved for any medications without a doctor (for the injury). Once off the medication I wasn't looking for more.
Once I did contact a doctor, EVER REQUEST FOR TREATMENT WAS DENIED. I had a spinal surgeon requesting a spinal implant DENIED. I had another Spinal surgeon asking to fuse four vertebrae, which was denied. Then when we appealed, it was sent to a third party (a CHIROPRACTOR) AND WAS DENIED INSUFFICIENT INFORMATION… Last I checked, a SPINAL SURGEON HAS A LITTLE BIT MORE TRAINING THAN A CHIROPRACTOR… I have seen over 42 doctors and specialists that have all said and requested the same treatment, and (Problem #4) how is it that a doctor that has never examined you or spoken to you can override ALL the other doctors and deny treatment EVEN WHILE BEING LESSER QUALIFIED?
So in the last few months, I have had surgeons request spinal surgery, and the treating doctor requested a new TEN’s unit to tide me over… Both DENIED. The treating doctor has asked for an ointment to help with the pain… DENIED… I finally had enough with California and moved to Colorado,where I requested new doctors… At first, they didn’t try, but they changed their tune when they had to fly me back to California for a doctor’s appointment. By the way, they dragged me out, not knowing if I would make the appointment until 15 minutes BEFORE I HAD TO LEAVE FOR THE AIRPORT.
I do have doctors in Colorado now… Now the issue is getting approval to do anything… I was scheduled for an epidural to isolate the nerves causing the most problems… Two days before the procedure, the medical staff calls me to see if I have received approval… They HAVE REPEATEDLY BEEN CALLING THE ADJUSTER WITH NO SUCCESS AND HAD TO CANCEL. It is now over two weeks later, andI still haven’t heard if the injection has been approved or denied.