Erica Rutowski- Ramos is an employee at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Buffalo, NY. She spends her days caring for our veterans, and now she needs some care from our community.
Erica injured her hand on the job due to empty metal brackets at her desk on April 14, 2017. She has not yet received any money from Workers’ Compensation. As her medical bills pile up, her health insurance has been cancelled. A mom to 3 children, she was excited (and sad) to send the oldest to college a few weeks ago, while the other two needed school supplies. When her daughter Nina developed pneumonia, Erica was forced to take her to the doctor and pay for her medication without the help of her health insurance. She has exhausted her savings, as well as her vacation and sick time for the next 2 years. Although fortunate enough to have her co-workers donate some of their vacation time, she now faces living without an income.
Erica’s immediate need is to retain an experienced advocate to help her navigate the maze of the federal workers’ compensation bureaucracy.
Erica has been diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, also known as CPRS/RSD.
“Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a chronic (lasting greater than six months) pain condition usually after an injury. The key symptom is prolonged severe pain that may be constant. It has been described as “burning,” “pins and needles” sensation, or as if someone were squeezing the affected limb. There is often increased sensitivity in the affected area, known as allodynia, in which normal contact with the skin is experienced as very painful.
People with CRPS also experience changes in skin temperature, skin color, or swelling of the affected limb. This is due to abnormal microcirculation caused by damage to the nerves controlling blood flow and temperature. As a result, an affected arm or leg may feel warmer or cooler compared to the opposite limb.”
-From The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: (https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Complex-Regional-Pain-Syndrome-Fact-Sheet)
In a nutshell, Erica is in constant pain and has completely lost the use of her hand. This painful diagnosis has been confirmed with a triple phase bone scan, which has shown CRPS in all three stages of the scan.
Why hasn’t she retained a lawyer?
Good question, I’m glad you asked!
With all of the “worker’s compensation” attorney commercials, you would think it should be easy for Erica to find a lawyer to look after her interests. Not in her case.
Erica’s case does not fall under Worker’s Compensation for New York State. As an employee of the VA, she is dealing with the US Department of Labor, OWCP (Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs). As with most federally run institutions, the bureaucracy is excessive and confusing. Attorneys who take federal compensation cases are limited. There are ZERO federal compensation lawyers in Buffalo, but she has found and contacted one in Westchester County.
The federal government requires these compensation attorneys to take a fee, consisting of thousands of dollars, before they can help an injured federal employee with receiving compensation.
I’ll give you a moment to read that again………..
After a federal employee is hurt, they are expected to come up with thousands of dollars for an attorney. Anyone who legitimately hurts themselves at work would think they could navigate the paperwork, they have nothing to hide. Believing the best, you go to the required doctors’ appointments, turn in your paperwork, and work on healing while waiting for your compensation to take effect.
And Erica waited…..
While Erica waited, she went through her savings, Paid Time Off, and donated Paid Time Off.
It has become clear Erica is in need of a specialized attorney to assist her in this process. These are a few examples of what an attorney would be able to help her with:
1. The OWCP has stated Erica did not file sufficient medical reports within the allotted 30 days. The office of Congressman Brian Higgins followed up with the OWCP, and they confirmed her lack of medical reports. She has proof to the contrary. When the proof was submitted, her case went back to the bottom of the file. An attorney will have working knowledge of the OWCP management structure, assuring Erica’s case will now be handled in a timely fashion.
2. Erica’s claim was recently denied by a federal compensation doctor, without explanation. She went to the appointment armed with photographs and reports. The doctor did not look at her supporting documentation, yet still denied her claim. It is interesting to note this doctor was in receipt of her medical reports from the OWCP, which he confirmed were “sufficient”. She has not been able to request the details of her OWCP report. A federal compensation lawyer will have additional access to her OWCP records, allowing her to view the reports.
3. There have been several instances of miscommunication between the doctors, the local VA compensation office, the OWCP and Erica. The proper attorney will have the experience and resources to oversee and successfully follow up with all communications.
Erica’s immediate need is to retain a federal compensation attorney.
Several other bills are piling up, medical bills have been added, but Erica continues without any sort of income. With a federal compensation attorney, her case will be able to move forward and the rest will fall in line. Without the assistance of a knowledgeable advocate, Erica is at the mercy of a confusing maze of bureaucracy. The lawyer she has contacted has been able to answer her questions, but without being retained, he is unable to take action.
$4,500- Legal fee
$3,000- Goes into a required federal escrow account
$800- Medical narrative, an in depth summary of Erica’s injury and diagnosis
$1,547.40 – Everyday incidentals to get her through the next month
$2.60- A large Tim Horton’s Iced Coffee, 2 cream, 2 Splenda, with a shot of vanilla
Total Goal: $10, 000
From Erica’s children and the rest of her family, we are grateful for any amount you are able to give. This amount of money is not something any one of us are able to give. We hope that by pooling our resources, along with the resources of her friends, our friends, and the generosity of the community, we will be able to set right just one wrong in this world. It has been frustrating, as the chaos has begun to build upon itself. Thank you for being part of transforming Erica’s life, we couldn’t do it without you.
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