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Beckman v. District of Columbia Police

October 24, 2002

STEPHEN D. BECKMAN, PETITIONER,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA POLICE AND FIREFIGHTERS' RETIREMENT AND RELIEF BOARD, RESPONDENT.



On Petition for Review of a Decision of the Police and Firefighters' Retirement and Relief Board (SS99-3005)

Before Wagner, Chief Judge, and Farrell, Associate Judge, and Kern, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wagner, Chief Judge

Petitioner, Stephen D. Beckman, seeks review of a final decision of the District of Columbia Police and Firefighters' Retirement and Relief Board (Board) concluding that his psychological disability was not predominantly or causally related to the performance of his duties, and therefore, his benefits would be determined pursuant to D.C. Code §§ 4-607 (2), -615 (1981). *fn1 Beckman argues that he is entitled to benefits at the higher level provided for under D.C. Code § 4 -616 *fn2 for disabilities incurred or aggravated in the performance of duty. He contends that the Board's finding that his disability is non-work-related is not supported by substantial evidence. We conclude that the Board's decision is not supported by substantial evidence; therefore, we reverse and remand to the Board for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I.

A. Factual Background

(1) Institution of Involuntary Retirement Proceedings

On December 6, 1998, the United States Secret Service (USSS) instituted disability retirement proceedings against Beckman who had been with the USSS since 1981. Dr. Charles Filson, a licensed psychologist with Police and Fire Clinic Associates, L.L.C., submitted the recommendation that Beckman be considered for disability retirement because he was disabled due to his "Major Depression, Recurrent, Severe." *fn3 At the time of the report, Beckman was on antidepressant medications, sometimes in large doses, but Beckman had shown only minimal improvement according to both of his treating physicians. Dr. Filson's report indicated that Beckman had required two hospitalizations in 1997, the first due to deterioration in his mental status, and the second for an overdose of Benzodianzepines. The records showed that in March 1998, the Special Agent in charge of the Cincinnati office had petitioned for Beckman's removal based on his medical condition. Dr. Filson also mentioned a USSS medical department report by Richard J. Miller, M.D. expressing his opinion that Beckman was disabled and unable to perform his essential job functions. In October 1998, Beckman's treating psychologist filed an affidavit with the Department of Labor stating that Beckman was fully disabled due to major depression.

Dr. Filson gave Beckman a cognitive examination which showed impairment in his attention span, concentration, and short term memory, although his insight and judgment were good. Based on interviews with Beckman, his treating doctors and a review of all the records, Dr. Filson opined that "the major depression now disabling SA Beckman is a direct consequence of his performance of duties and was incurred in the line of duty." Further, Dr. Filson stated that his review of the records did not "reveal any evidence that suggests non-duty related causality, pre-existing or otherwise caused psychiatric illness, personality disorder or family neuro-psychiatric history." He also indicated in the report that there was no evidence that Beckman was malingering, faking or exaggerating his symptoms.

According to Dr. Filson's report, Beckman, who was appointed to the United States Secret Service (USSS) in 1981, developed his first symptoms of major depression in 1986, which Beckman attributed to extended separations from his family during duty assignments with the Presidential detail. *fn4 Dr. Filson reviewed the report of Dr. Leonard Guedalia, who saw Beckman when he was referred for a fitness for duty psychological evaluation after threatening to kill his boss and himself. Dr. Guedalia noted that Beckman had "considerable depression, abnormal reactions to crises involving significant disappointment and [] Beckman's inability to cope with his work related issues and family complications." Dr. Filson observed that "it is clear from the report that Dr. Guedalia considered [Beckman's] depressive reaction to be work related." Dr. Filson observed that the USSS provided no follow-up counseling or examinations on Beckman's mental status, and Beckman did not seek private treatment at that time because of fear of stigmatization and loss of his security clearance. Dr. Filson testified before the Board that Beckman should have received follow- up treatment for what he described as "a very dangerous circumstance." According to Dr. Filson's report, Beckman returned to work and continued to function with a low level of depression until 1997, and he became isolated and aloof.

(2) Dr. Filson's Testimony

At the hearing, Dr. Filson testified that Beckman's condition had deteriorated quickly once assigned to the Violent Crimes Task Force. He testified that the records showed that Beckman "was a high functioning person before." The depression began accelerating towards the end of 1996, and got progressively worse until August 1997, when Beckman became suicidal and first sought treatment with Dr. Baum. Dr. Filson stated that Beckman's condition had improved with various medications since he originally saw him, but that his long-term prognosis for possible remission of his major depression was fair to poor. He expressed the opinion that the prognosis for Beckman's return to work as a special agent was extremely poor, although with an aggressive "psychopharmacologic" regimen and therapy, he might be able to return to work in a different occupation.

Further, Dr. Filson testified that as to Beckman's depressive symptoms, "in 1988, there was a clearly duty-related episode,"which occurred after the extended duty on the Presidential detail and the threatening incident. He noted that the patient reported a low level of depression from 1987 to 1997, but he continued to function. Dr. Filson agreed with Beckman's treating physician, Dr. Baum, that Beckman's condition destabilized with the work with the Violent Crimes Task Force. He said that Dr. Baum was of the opinion that extra-marital affairs were secondary to the work stresses, and that part of the reason that Beckman got into that type of situation was because of his already destabilized mood. In responding to the Board's questions concerning whether the affairs might be the cause, Dr. Filson responded that he had no reason to discredit Dr. Baum's opinion. In response to a Board member's question concerning Beckman's candor in disclosing the source of his problems, Dr. Filson explained that Beckman had admitted the affairs. Further, he testified that tests administered to Beckman, while not polygraphs, did give "a measure of degree of distortion by the individual of what they are presenting with in the interview and in the testing." From these tests, Dr. Filson concluded that Beckman did not have patterns of "faking, malingering, and grossly exaggerating his symptoms." Based on information provided and the opinion of his treating physicians, Dr. Filson testified that, in his opinion, the cause of Beckman's condition was related to the performance of his duties. He confirmed in testimony that Dr. Guedalia found that Beckman was depressed and that it was work-related, but Dr. Guedalia deferred to the agency on whether he was fit for duty. Dr. Filson opined that this should have been followed up in 1988 because without treatment, there was a great chance for recurrence. Dr. Filson testified that, to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, based on his evaluation of Beckman, consultation with his treating physician, and review of the records and documents, the marital episodes were secondary to the performance of duty which caused his condition. Further, Dr. Filson testified that, having reviewed new material presented to him on the morning of the hearing concerning Beckman's extra marital affairs, he saw nothing to controvert Dr. Baum's position. *fn5

(3) Beckman's Testimony

Beckman testified at the hearing before the Board that in August 1988, after returning from a two week travel assignment with President Reagan, he was informed that he would be assigned for a month in Santa Barbara, California on a Presidential detail. He became upset because such assignments were customarily for only two weeks, and he was just returning home after two weeks away. He failed to appear for work the next day because he "wanted to stay with [his] family," and as a result, he was given a one-day suspension and relieved of the Santa Barbara assignment. Beckman testified that after the disciplinary action, he made what he described as an "unfortunate remark" to a colleague, which he thought would not be disclosed. He said to his colleague that he had done something wrong and "might as well just go into the boss's office and shoot it up and then just take care of myself also." Because of these threatening remarks, ...


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