“Goodness is about character – integrity, honesty, kindness, generosity, moral courage and the like. More than anything else, it’s about how we treat people.” – Dennis Prager
You do not need to be a fan of Dennis Prager to appreciate his comment about goodness. When preparing for the Sheriff’s Academy, I memorized the department’s six points of honor, a graphic of the star shaped badge, and it’s six points: trustworthiness, courage, justice, service, compassion, and teamwork. These six points encouraged my decision to enter public service.
I was sworn in as a Deputy Sheriff on September 24, 2006.
I signed a settlement agreement and resigned on June 8, 2017.
Sharing this story – authoring this post – has taken more than a year to complete. I recognize it will take some time to read in its entirety. Please do so. It is difficult to have a conversation and/or answer questions about the last four years without all of the details. I admit I have been short and non-engaging about my injury, the medical and legal processes, our life in general, during this time. It is challenging to share without all of these details – details hard to share in short form and stir a lot of difficult emotion. I apologize if my solidarity and shortness offended you. Candidly, those times I am confident I did offend someone, avoiding or being short was the only way I could control some of the emotions. I am not justifying my actions – to the contrary – I apologize. I encourage conversation. I welcome your questions. I simply ask that before you inquire, please read this.
My Jelly Donut and an Introduction to Language
I shared a little about my injury, my jelly donut, a few months after I was injured. This post, our story, is not about my injury. My intent is to encourage you, as Mr. Prager put it, “More than anything else, goodness is about how we treat people.” My aim is to share how we were treated and how we treated others. To understand and follow along, you have to know about my injury.
I injured my lumbar spine, my low back, by lifting a bag from the trunk of my patrol car. For those wanting to know specifically, “at the L5-S1 disc space, which is desiccated, there is evidence of a broad-based 4mm left lateral protrusion/subligamentous extrusion which contributes to moderate left S1 lateral recess stenosis; there is a short pedicle configuration of the spinal canal.” Symptoms include sciatica in my left leg, including radiculopathy, numbness, paresthesias, sporadic/spontaneous lancinating pain, a reduced range of motion, reduced mobility, and a lack of strength.
In July of 2015, I detailed daily living with my injury:
“In the early morning, I wake up with a dull soreness in my low back. My left leg is tight with sharp pain. I slowly stretch my leg, but cannot straighten my leg without sharp, shooting, and stronger pain. This tightness remains anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours after getting up from bed.
The dull soreness in my low back remains throughout the day. During lumbar unloading and decompression exercises, the pain will subside to lower levels. During walking and other normal day-to-day activities, the dull pain slowly increases throughout the day. This increase usually forces me to 1) lay down, 2) perform at home physical therapy exercises, and/or 3) wear a lumbar decompression belt.
Throughout the day, my left leg experiences sporadic variations of pain, numbness, tingling, and soreness. Pain is most typically sharp, radiating from my back to my foot. There is, on most days, a general soreness like pain in my left ankle. At times this pain is minimal, at other times this feels like a sprained ankle. The pain in my leg has a tendency to cause me to walk with a limp at times. The sporadic and spontaneous sharp pain causes a “jerk” reflex which has resulted in me dropping items, tripping, falling, etc.
In addition to the detailed pain symptoms, I have experienced a severe loss of mobility, range of motion, and strength. I cannot bend forward at the waist much past what I perceive as 35%. I cannot bend backwards at the waist much past what I perceive as 50%. I cannot bend side-to-side at the waist much past what I perceive as 50% (slightly less to the left side). I cannot sit on a flat surface with my left leg straightened in front of me. I cannot lay on a flat surface with my left leg straightened without an increase in pain. I cannot sit for long periods of time. I cannot sit without elevated pain on soft surfaces (such as a couch, some chairs, or in a vehicle). I typically will use lumbar pillows to help alleviate some of the pain.
The pain is worsened by repetitive movements. I cannot sit, stand, and repeat, without worsening the pain. Typically, I will sit for a period of time as either necessary for the situation or as long as my back pain is limited. Then, I will stand for a period of time until my legs tire or the soreness in my back elevates. Then, I will lay down for a period of time to decompress my lumbar spine. I make every effort to reduce the times I transition from sit/stand, laying/standing, etc., to reduce the pain. During these movements, if I properly brace and use my abdominal muscles, I can accomplish the movement with a minimal increase in pain. If I forget to brace, or am in a situation where I react quickly and do not have time to brace, I experience a sharp and high level of pain, and at times simply cannot accomplish the transition without external assistance (grabbing onto an object for stability, resetting in the former position, etc.).
When lifting items (groceries, my children, household items, etc.), I need to specifically use my arm strength and brace myself with my abdominal muscles. If I attempt to lift even small objects without bracing and using my arm strength I am reminded with sharp pain in my low back, sharp shooting pain down my left leg, which will then linger and subside only with time and exercises. This type of increase in pain without bracing, and necessity to brace and use muscles other than my back (typically, my arms), is consistent whether lifting, pushing, or pulling. I make every effort to absolutely avoid making any of these movements while twisted or bent over, as the result is debilitating pain.
Even after a low to no activity day, simply walking, sitting, and laying, causes the pain in my low back to increase. By the end of the day, I am unable to get comfortable, pain-free, while lying in bed. This pain, accompanied by the pain in my leg, aggravated by straightening my leg while lying down, has resulted in a lack of sleep. On most nights, I sleep but a few sporadic hours. A good night’s sleep is usually out of sheer exhaustion from a dozen bad nights.”
It is interesting to read this now. I remember the pain in the first few weeks after I was injured. I remember the progression from the day I was injured to the day I authored the above. I know the progression from that day until today. Although pain and limitations remain, my capabilities, although still limited, have clearly improved. I continue to improve, month after month, year after year.
As you continue to read, you’ll learn that two doctors gave me their medical opinion that I would continue to improve and heal over time, without surgery. The state’s Qualified Medical Evaluator, Dr. Theodore Georgis, an Orthopedic Surgeon, stated so in his report,
“The patient is very forward looking and with the condition of his back, he is hoping that over the next few years, his back will continue to improve and he will get back to a higher functional capacity of the spine. In my opinion, there is the possibility that his symptoms may continue to improve, and function of his back will continue to improve as well. However, I explained to him at this point in time, he is deemed to be at maximal medical improvement, with no foreseeable improvement over the next 12 months. However, the possibility does exist that he may certainly heal further with the passage of time and his body’s natural healing mechanism, and again develop increased function and capacity relative to the lumbar spine.”
It is so frustrating to read this and recall my conversation with this doctor, now knowing how attorney’s later twisted the truth and refused to apply common sense. Dr. Georgis is using medical terms; he was not saying my condition on that day was permanent, by definition, and would remain that way the rest of my life. He also did not say or imply I should have surgery. To the contrary, he wrote,
“The patient is very informed of the medical literature regarding disc herniation and back injuries, and has reasonably elected to proceed with an ongoing conservative treatment approach at this time as opposed to invasive treatment, such as epidural steroid injections and/or surgery.”
I added the bold emphasis.
Spoiler alert: I was not allowed to go back to work at the Sheriff’s Office because of my “permanent” work restrictions and was denied a medical retirement (the only other option available to me) because the county’s attorney, Stephen D. Roberson, successfully argued and convinced the Ventura County Employees’ Retirement Association Board Members,
“[I] unreasonably refused medical treatment, including non-invasive injections and/or surgery.”
Since the word reasonably and invasive are used in both quotes, by both a doctor and an attorney, let’s take a look at the meaning of the prefixes used.
(added to adjectives, participles, and their derivatives) denoting the absence of a quality or state; not.
the reverse of (usually with an implication of approval or disapproval, or with another special connotation).
(added to nouns) a lack of.
not doing; not involved with.
not of the kind or class described.
not of the importance implied.
a lack of.
(added to adverbs) not in the way described.
(added to verbs to form adjectives) not causing or requiring.
expressing a neutral negative sense when a corresponding form beginning with in- or un- has a special connotation.
Am I missing something? Are the words Dr. Georgis and Mr. Roberson used not complete opposites? I’m not a doctor and I am not an attorney, but I do speak English (and studied Latin for four years). Are doctors and attorneys taught different meanings to the English language at medical school and law school?
Part of this process centers around the varying medical and legal definitions of the word “permanent.” Not to deviate too much from the story line… in 2016, I worked in a tradeshow booth (at the SEMA Show) across from a company with a huge screen, playing the same video on loop. It was loud. For those of you who have attended or watched the show on TV, this was your typical SEMA over-the-top marketing. The video opened with a Sam Elliot like voice,
“the only constant in the universe is change.”
I will never say and never have, by literal definition, my limitations, my restrictions, my injury are permanent. I have improved; I continue to improve. The human body is an amazing creation. The argument against my permanency had nothing to do with a time period, and instead centered around choice. Another spoiler alert: you don’t get a choice. Instead of using a dictionary or even common sense, instead of making a phone call and asking my doctor what he meant, the system is run by attorneys, board members, and their case-law. Those attorneys have convinced themselves they are smarter than our doctors, smarter than me, smarter than you. For my attorney and honorable friends reading this, we are still friends, please do not take offense. Instead of feeling disrespected or thinking less of me, assuming I am stereotyping, please continue reading and judge for yourself. Then, let’s grab a beer or coffee together and chat about how we can improve the system to prevent what my family and I went through from ever happening to another family again. Text or call – visit me at home or at work.
On June 23, 2017, I had to turn in my badge, gun, and equipment. The bag of equipment was about 75 pounds. I was going to call a cadet for help. “No,” I told myself. I can use my arm strength, brace my abdomen, I can do it. I carried my bag all the way from my car, through the Government Center parking lot, into Sheriff’s Personnel. This was a tearfully personal and proud moment. When the doctor assigned the permanent work restriction, “no lifting more than 65 pounds,” he did not say, “for the rest of your life.” He was using a medical phrase, not a legal phrase, not a literal phrase. He encouraged me that one day I would be able to; his report says so! I lifted more than 65 pounds.
I “certainly” have “heal[ed] further with the passage of time and [my] body’s natural healing mechanism,” just as Dr. Georgis told me I would! I may have been at maximum medical improvement the day the doctors authored their reports. My injury and limitations were not, are not, literally, permanent. Until this experience, I assumed attorneys were taught the same idiomatic antithesis as I was taught in the academy: the letter of the law versus the spirit of the law. I should have not assumed. I side-track from the story to say this, never forget to apply common sense to even the toughest decisions in life!
Let’s get back on track.
My Last Code Run
The last day I wore my uniform, September 24, 2014, my 8-year work anniversary to the day.
I was not going to let the pain stop me. I mustered the strength, got in my patrol car, and started my shift, “Station 1, 9T2, 10-8.” I radioed dispatch and told them I was in service. I was hoping they would simply acknowledge me, “9T2, 10-8,” but instead, I was immediately dispatched to a reported injury traffic collision, “9T2, respond Code-3 to a 10-49, child bicyclist struck by car.” Responding code-3, with lights and siren, is a unique driving experience for many reasons irrelevant to this post (ask me another time). This “code-run” was one I will never forget. Every turn, quick slow down, quick acceleration, every bump in the road, every movement, I shouted in pain. I arrived at the scene of the accident and praised God the ambulance beat me there and the paramedics were attending to a child laying on the ground. Mentally prepared to see the worst, I was happy to see the boy was fine with only minor injuries. The car was pulling out of a parking lot (not driving 100mph) when the boy (riding on the sidewalk) ran into it. The boy made eye contact with me so I started to bend over to console him and share a mood lightening comment like, “Did the paramedics do this to you? Do you want me to arrest them?” Instead, I couldn’t move. The pain was too great. By that time, other deputies and the Motor Sergeant had arrived. A motor Deputy was already starting the report, so I volunteered to take the boy’s bike home while he went to the hospital. The boy’s bike was lying on the ground. It took everything in me to get it. I could barely lift it into my trunk. Once at the boy’s house, the watching neighbors must have laughed at me as I took about ten minutes to slowly get the bike out of the trunk and move it to the front porch. I could not work like this. I could not jeopardize my safety, my partners’, or the public’s. I headed straight back to the station and told my Sergeant what was going on. I could barely move and it was getting worse.
Getting injured on the job is a unique situation. You want medical attention, you want to get better, but you are not in control. Your employer decides what medical facility you can visit, that facility decides what specialty doctor (if any) you get referred to, and so begins the process. Being a Deputy Sheriff only complicates this process. There are unique physical job requirements and unique legal policies a law enforcement agency has related to injured workers, such as black and white policies on work restrictions. To continue this post, and I hope every sworn friend reads this, I want to share what the process was for me and my family. Maybe not what it is intended to be, legally should be, or what it is/was for you, but, what it was for us. Understanding this process is the only way to understand the sadness, frustration, and anger we are overcoming.
I contacted Sheriff’s Human Resources. I was provided a list of urgent care facilities to choose from (you don’t get to choose where you want to go, you get to make a selection from a list). I had two criteria looking at the list and considering my options: who was the closest and who had the soonest appointment. I went to the Community Memorial Urgent Care in Camarillo. It didn’t take but a few seconds for the doctor, Dr. Marc Wright, to diagnose me with “low back pain.” Quickly after introductions and an X-Ray, I was offered a shot, followed by a prescription for pain medication. “What is wrong with my back causing this pain? Is the shot and medicine going to fix the problem or reduce the pain?” I didn’t want the pain to simply go away, I wanted to know what was causing the pain. Dr. Wright would not guess at what was causing the problem; and, I respect him for that. The shot was intended solely to reduce the pain; I declined the shot. The medicine would help reduce the pain and obvious inflammation. I asked if a handful of other non-medicinal ways of reducing inflammation would be acceptable; yes, it was acceptable; I declined the medicine. To be clear, when I say, “it was acceptable,” I mean a doctor – not an attorney, retired judge, financial adviser, or other retirement board member – gave me his medical approval!
I knew my conservative medical opinions and choices would come up during this process. I did not know, when I declined that first shot and prescription, my decisions would be the center piece of the final decision against my disability retirement. Before we move from the urgent care, to the MRI, and continue… let me share some of my personal beliefs and why I made and continue to make the choice to not have a shot and routinely consume medication.
The Lazarus Pit
Have you ever visited a country where there are no toilets? Where homes are built with hands and not power tools? Where the frames of homes are not straight, because it is a tree or branch? Where going to school is a luxury, a gift, an exception? Where you pray for rain because Arrowhead does not deliver? We do not live like that. We are not only the complete opposite, most of us have no perspective or have lost perspective. We can ask Alexa to do our math, charge our phones wherever we want, connect to internet that floats in the sky, and have Lily and Amgen to create an elixir for pretty much everything. Comic books tell the tale of the Lazarus Pit, where people near death can be revived. You all do realize that does not exist, outside of God, right?
Let’s be reasonable. Mac got a splinter; I used tweezers (a medical instrument, for you letter of the law folks). Jane fell and scraped her knee; I put a band-aid on (traditional medical treatment), some lavender oil (alternative medicine), and ice (conservative treatment). Mac got RSV as a baby; I took him to the hospital and he breathed in steroids. Kelli had an epidural; I’m glad she did. I have had morphine, codeine, Vicodin, Norco, and a lot of other drugs and medicines in my life. My kids are vaccinated. They did not get every shot on the menu. They received what Kelli and I determined was reasonable after educating ourselves and discussing it with their pediatrician. I have traveled in some of the most remote parts of the world to share the Gospel and deliver, you guessed it, medicine. People have looked at me during this process as some crazy loon that won’t even take the most basic of medicines. I’m sorry, that is not true. I do take Advil on occasion; I took one last night after an active day. I do have a reason for not routinely taking Advil. I do have a reason for not wanting Norco or Vicodin. I’m not a doctor, but I’m not an idiot.
It was very clear something major happened in my back. It was clear, not knowing what my injury was, that inflammation was present. Without a doctor telling me so, it was obvious I needed to reduce inflammation. Do you know what reduces inflammation? If you put a period after Advil, you are uninformed or naive.
Yes, my personal beliefs include the belief that an almighty God created me, loves me, created me with an ability to self-heal (cut yourself and watch as the wound turns to a scab), and has the ability to miraculously heal me, dead or alive, just as He did Lazarus. You do not have to agree with me. I hope everyone reading this does not. Simply because I believe that, does not mean I am foolish. I believe God created man. Man created medicine. What came first, the chicken or the egg? I’ve said it before, but it is worth repeating here: God created the man, God created the medicine.
My criteria is pretty simple in making these types of decisions. These were part of the discussions the doctors and I had. Here are a few of the questions I asked:
- Will this medicine address the problem or simply mask a symptom?
- Does the risk of the medicine (repeated/regular Advil use: liver toxicity, Vicodin: opiate addiction, etc.) outweigh the conservative alternatives?
- Is there a reasonable alternative to surgery? Does that alternative have worse, same, or better results?
I want to answer the last one and encourage you to research it if you are unaware or disagree. There are no formal medical studies or reports that indicate surgery has better long term results than maintained conservative treatment, specifically related to disc herniation. None! To the contrary, there are numerous studies that show individuals who took a conservative approach, after 5 years showed no physical difference and after 10 years showed better results than those who had surgery. So, if you have an opinion about my reasonableness to elect conservative management over surgery, please educate yourself before sitting on a board and voting on a future disability retirement. Do not use your elderly wife’s back injury as a comparison to my injury, as board member Arthur E. Goulet did. Do not tune me out and look at your phone, because you disagree, like board member Ventura County Treasurer and Retired Judge Steven Hintz did.
Bringing this back on track, I believe God created the doctors I was treated by. If one of those doctors would have said, “you need surgery,” or “you need this medicine,” followed by, “there is no alternative,” or some confident form of “it will heal you,” I would have had surgery, I would have taken additional medicine. Again, apply common sense, apply reasonableness. Simply because I have reservations about medicine and surgery, simply because I do not agree with most Americans’ default to consume any elixir for any ailment or quick fix desires, does not mean I absolutely refuse every form of medicine. One of the leading reasons I choose not to have surgery is I continue to get better, and the pain in my leg, nerve pain, is not constant. If that pain were constant, I would have surgery. I coughed the week before Halloween 2015, a year after my injury. It caused excruciating nerve pain in my leg that would not go away. I waited only two days before I called the doctor and went to see him. I told him, “if this does not go away, cut me open!” It went away, the doctor calmed me down, told me to do the conservative things I had done before to reduce inflammation, recommended and approved some physical therapy sessions, and all was well.
Unbiased Primary Treating Physician
So, I hurt my back, I went to the Urgent Care, Dr. Wright referred me for an MRI, you know the results, and the process continues. After Dr. Wright reviewed the MRI Report, he referred me to Ventura Orthopedics and Dr. Kevin Deitel, an Orthopedic Surgeon who specializes in neck and spine injuries. I did not choose Dr. Deitel; he was chosen for me by Dr. Wright. That said, and I want to be clear about this, Dr. Deitel is an outstanding doctor. Ventura Orthopedics is a great organization and showed me a tremendous amount of care and support. I share, “I did not choose Dr. Deitel,” to make the point that Dr. Deitel is an unbiased person in this process. He was my Primary Treating Physician.
There is no way to share every conversation Dr. Deitel and I had. There is no way for me to share the thousands of pieces of paper I have of notes from every visit. It is important to summarize them, because they are the bulk of my medical treatment. Dr. Deitel had me undergo 24 sessions of physical therapy, 12 sessions of acupuncture, and five months of at home exercises. Dr. Deitel never, not once, recommended surgery. He never recommended epidural injections. He never recommended I take Advil. We did have a lot of conversations about these topics. We talked about alternatives to Advil, and Dr. Deitel supported my conservative preference. We talked about why and why not to consider epidural injections and Dr. Deitel supported my desire to avoid them. We talked about a microdiscectomy. Dr. Deitel, a surgeon, not only supported my preference to avoid surgery, he referred me to some of the medical reports, studies, and surveys that supported conservative treatment! At one point, I asked Dr. Deitel, “From what you have shared and what I have read, it does not seem like there is a compelling reason to have surgery. It seems like the long term results are actually more favorable for those who do not. Should I have surgery? Is there something about my injury that is different from what we have talked about? Is there any reason to not wait and see how much more I improve? Is there any permanent damage, am I worsening my injury, by letting more time pass?” Dr. Deitel smiled. He shared that most of his patients immediately opt for surgery because they do not want to be in pain anymore. He shared that most of his patients do not take the time to read and educate themselves. They are blinded by the pain and a microdiscectomy is a quick and reliable way to get rid of the pain. Dr. Deitel continued, and confirmed, that long term results are not just the same, but more favorable for people without surgery. He also shared that if I could manage the pain, if it continued to get better, if it was not a constant nerve pain, he supported my preference to avoid surgery.
I am a direct person – here comes a thick layer of sarcasm – if you were not aware. During one of our conversations, I asked Dr. Deitel directly, “If you had my injury, would you have surgery?” Dr. Deitel smiled again, “I’m a surgeon, of course I would have surgery.” Part of the discussions, between Dr. Deitel and I, centered around my age. If I were in my 50’s, yes, surgery, please. Why? Long term results don’t matter if those long term results happen in your 80’s. In 10 years, I’m in my 40’s. In 20 years, I’m in my 50’s. I care about the long term results, because I intend on living life to the fullest when I am 40, 50, 60, and hopefully older. So, I followed up Dr. Deitel’s answer with another question, “if you were my age?” He answered, again with a smile, “maybe not.” During another one of these types of discussions, I asked specifically about the size herniation I have, my extruded disc in comparison to a non-extruded disc (there is that prefix again), the shape of my congenitally deformed spinal canal, all the factors specific to me, would surgery heal me? Dr. Deitel answered, “I do not have a crystal ball.” A surgeon not having a crystal ball is not a convincing argument or comforting recommendation to have surgery. Not to me. Attorneys, Board Members, and Mr. Roberson on the other hand…
In Dr. Deitel’s Permanent and Stationary Report, he said, “Interventional treatment, such as injections and surgery, have been denied by the patient.” In other reports and notes, he used the word “refused.” Mr. Roberson focused on these words, pulling them from their context, and concluded, “[I] unreasonably refused treatment.” No, Mr. Roberson, I did not. Dr. Deitel will tell you so. Did you have the common sense, did you apply the spirit of the law, did you have the human decency knowing the cataclysmic impact on my family’s life, to ask him? No. You did not. After my disability retirement was denied, on the basis my condition is not permanent because I make it so by unreasonably refusing treatment (the Ventura County Board of Retirement’s conclusion, not mine), I did ask Dr. Deitel. Here is his response, in writing, on paper, no secret, ho hidden meaning, just as I have tried to share over and over again,
“Travis’ decision not to pursue treatment options to include anti-inflammatory medications, epidural injections or surgical intervention is reasonable and well within his rights as a patient.”
That makes it pretty clear, right? Clear as mud as the story goes.
Dr. Deitel authored a report detailing I was permanent and stationary, including permanent work restrictions, on March 16, 2015.
Permanent Work Restrictions vs. Temporary Work Restrictions
Peace Officer’s receive compensation, their full compensation, while they are temporarily disabled, when a doctor gives temporary work restrictions, while treatment is ongoing. This compensation is called 4850 time/pay (4850 is a section of the California Labor Code). I was prohibited from returning to work from the date of my injury until March 16, 2015, because of these temporary work restrictions. From around December 2014, a few months after my injury, until I was deemed permanently disabled, I had asked about working in a “light-duty” capacity, as I had witnessed other deputies do while injured. Come to find out, and I share it because I think it is absurd, a doctor is not allowed to release you to work “light-duty” within the confines of your restrictions, unless he is medically certain your treatment will return you to full duty in 30 days. Since Dr. Deitel was not certain I would be able to return to full duty, he was legally not allowed to let me work light duty.
I am going to brag for a moment, to elaborate on why this light duty prohibition is crazy. In high school, I wanted my own computer, but could not afford it. So, when my high school decommissioned all of their old Mac’s, I took a few, tore them open, pieced the working pieces back together, and used my hack-a-Mac all throughout high school until my parent’s upgraded the family computer, one capable of the video editing I was doing at the time. When they purchased that computer, while they were talking with the sales representative, I hacked into the locked computers on display to play games.
The Matrix opens with a computer screen blacking out, and green type magically appearing. “I can do that,” I thought. So, in high school in the late 1990’s, I would trick my friends into installing a program that would enable remote access (sounds bad to call it a virus), and I would then connect to their computer. I then had a program that looked a lot like DOS, but I made the type green. Once connected, the screen would black out like in the Matrix, I would type random green messages, thoroughly scaring my friends. All on a 14.4k modem, eventually upgraded to a blazing fast 56k modem.
I share this to point out I have some skill sets that could assist a law enforcement agency that do not require lifting more than 65 pounds, that do not require the ever important ability to take down and restrain combative subjects. I am not a computer engineer or someone who knows advanced programming. Equally, I am smarter than the average Joe who’s resume states, “proficient in MS Office.” These are skills law enforcement should care about. I know how people use computers! I know more about analytics than most people with advanced marketing degrees and decades of experience. I started using web analytics in 2002. I would look at how people came to a website, what they did once they were there, what they did not do, where they left, where they went, where they’re from, what their interests are, etc. I would use that data to then tailor the site, making it more effective. Using analytics to learn about your visitors’ demographics, interests, and more, is called psychographics. I’d be interested to hear if you’re aware of any law enforcement agencies using psychographics to not only prevent, but predict crimes.
How is this relevant to law enforcement? You may not know this, but police officers, deputies, and investigators sometimes use tricks to catch bad guys. They will call a suspect, pretending to be someone else. If they know your phone number, but do not know where you live, they will do – I have done – things like call the local favorite pizza place, give the pizza operator your phone number for a delivery purchase, and 9 times out of 10, the operator will confirm your address for the delivery. They also use pretend Facebook accounts. Now, imagine if they would make it more routine to utilize people like me to setup websites with tracking information, analytics, to see not only where the person lives and travels, but how old they are, what affinity groups they are a part of, what other sites they visit, and more. Analytics can be so precise and plentiful, you can pretty accurately predict what someone will do. The Sheriff’s Office does not take advantage of the numerous deputies with these skill sets. Utilizing someone for a specific skill set does not conform to how the department is structured, where you need a certain rank, previous assignment, or friend in that assignment. You also cannot have temporary work restrictions. Or, permanent ones.
Wow. Really getting off track. Let’s bring it back.
It was difficult for me when people would ask me, “Why aren’t you doing light duty?” The answer is simple: the department, the doctors, and the Claims Administrator (CorVel) would not let me. But, why they would not let me is a complex legal and medical mess. It complicates it even more when other doctors let other injured deputies return to light duty for more than the 30 days. It was extremely emotionally difficult to turn in my badge, gun, and equipment to a deputy working light-duty with a wrist brace on. You want to know what I was thinking? Why is she more important than me? Why will they let her and not me? Spirit of the law – that’s why. A lot of people think the Sheriff’s Office is like a normal business, where you can call your boss, and your boss has the power/responsibility to make a decision and say, “yes, you can work at your desk a few hours a day.” No; they don’t. They will not release you to light duty until they are confident you’ll be back to full duty in 30 days. Light duty is a safety net for everyone but the injured worker. Letter of the law.
From my initial appointment, with Dr. Wright, and those first temporary work restrictions, “no work,” until March when Dr. Deitel authored the permanent and stationary report and permanent work restrictions, I had dozens of conversations with CorVel. One worth sharing is in regards to the 4850 pay I was receiving. In those conversations, as 1-month off work turned to 3-months, then 6-months, the adjuster told me the 4850 pay would last for one-year. The more time that passed, the more the reality of not returning to work settled in, the more I feared the day I would not get a pay check.
Fear and Anger
Some people call me fearless; and, I appreciate that. But, it does not accurately describe me. I have been afraid, on multiple different levels, many times in life. I am not fearless. Instead, I train myself and now my children to trust in God’s plan, and face fear with courage, knowledge, and faith. Fear does not overcome or freeze me.
“Courage is not the absence of fear, it is the conquest of it.” -Anonymous
I had a home, a mortgage, a wife, two kids and a dog. I know what you’re thinking, I should have got rid of one of the kids, they eat a lot. When Dr. Deitel declared I was permanent and stationary, I had no idea what was coming. I went into that appointment hoping to continue to get better, hoping to return to work. Dr. Deitel made it pretty clear I was not going to be able to return to work any time soon. After that appointment, I was afraid. The feeling of, “I am going to lose my job,” made me sick. More, the unanswered question, “how am I going to support my family?” made me malaria-like sick (yes, I know what that feels like).
Afraid, but not overcome with fear. Instead, Kelli and I prayed, we focused on God, we had faith in His good plans for us, we educated ourselves about my injury and the process, we talked with family and close friends, we looked at our finances, looked at our life, and formed a plan. Our plan was two-fold: 1) I wanted more time to pass to see if I would get any better; I wanted a doctor to better articulate why I was electing conservative treatment; and, generally, I wanted a second opinion for either confirmation or new revelation; 2) We knew we needed to start planning for the worst: no job, no money, no help, no nothing; this meant selling some of our belongings, selling our home, and making a decision to rent small or stay with family. So, we acted on both. I requested to see a Qualified Medical Evaluator (the one option for a so called “second-opinion” in the process) and we contacted a realtor to sell our home.
We were told the 4850 pay would last for 12-months, so we planned on my pay ending in September. In April, a few weeks after the last appointment with Dr. Deitel, amidst our planning, CorVel sent a letter saying that my pay would not continue, and ended retroactively to the appointment date in March. My fear, my patience, my hope, turned to anger. Sinfully so, I confess. I was angry because I was not being treated as a human, rather, a case number and statistic. The adjuster knew she told me the 4850 pay would last for 12-months. She knew Kelli and I were planning on selling our home and making arrangements to get through it. She knew when the 4850 time ended we would not be receiving any compensation. Knowing all of that, you would expect her to call me and explain why my pay was ending earlier than she indicated. Right? No phone call. Just a letter in the mail. No answer when I called the first time. No answer after the second voicemail. Finally a return call after the third. She apologized, said it was procedure, the law says 12-months or when you reach maximum medical improvement. I thanked her for calling back, and hung up the phone. Flabbergasted. Angry. Sad. Worried. I called my aunt fighting back tears, “please pray for us,” I asked.
We called every option we could think of for help. We were told PORAC (Peace Officer) benefits were only for temporarily disabled employees, not those deemed permanent. State and federal disability benefits do not apply to sworn peace officers. We, literally, had no income. Zero. A week later, another letter. My 4850 time was reinstated and the letter indicated it would remain until the 12-month date. No reason for the change. No phone call. No apology. No nothing. But, we had an income again, and more importantly, we had an exact date the income would stop.
Neutral Qualified Medical Evaluator
While formulating our plan, dealing with the unexpected added stress of receiving, not receiving, receiving again, 4850 time, in July of 2015, I had my appointment with the State Qualified Medical Evaluator (QME), Dr. Georgis. When I requested a QME, I received a list from the state, with three doctors. In summary, I was told I needed to choose one. I looked up all three online, called each office, tried to gather some info about the doctors, and eventually decided on Dr. Georgis. I chose Dr. Georgis because the receptionist on the phone sounded nice, his address was in Camarillo, and I found case law he was involved in where he authored a report articulating why an injured worker could return to work, healed without surgery, as the result of a back injury. The injured worked was a federal police officer. It appeared he could articulate the merits of my conservative election. It also gave me hope. I was getting better very slowly, but getting better. I had hope that maybe this doctor could tell me how long, or convince me to have surgery, or encourage me to continue conservatively.
Here is some of Dr. Georgis’ report:
The patient has had no prior injury or any prior permanent disability involving his lumbar spine… it is my opinion with reasonable medical probability, that 100% of the permanent disability of the patient’s lumbar spine is a direct result of the current specific industrial injury dated September 24, 2014; 0% is apportioned to prior disability; and 0% is apportioned to preexisting pathology or other nonindustrial factors.
The patient would have the following prophylactic work preclusions relative to his lumbar spine: No heavy lifting; or repeated bending or stooping.
If the above restrictions cannot be accommodated by the patient’s employer, then he is considered to be a Qualified Injured Worker.
The patient is very forward looking and with the condition of his back, he is hoping that over the next few years, his back will continue to improve and he will get back to a higher functional capacity of the spine. In my opinion, there is the possibility that his symptoms may continue to improve, and function of his back will continue to improve as well.
However, I explained to him at this point in time, he is deemed to be at maximal medical improvement, with no foreseeable improvement over the next 12 months. However, the possibility does exist that he may certainly heal further with the passage of time and his body’s natural healing mechanism, and again develop increased function and capacity relative to the lumbar spine.”
As before, it is very difficult to read this now, reflecting on that day and what has happened since. Where Dr. Georgis leaves no room for speculation, what follows and takes my career from me is nothing but speculation.
The Process Continues
Leading up to this QME appointment and shortly thereafter, Sheriff’s Human Resources contacted me to “engage in the interactive process,” a legal term/process where an employee and employer discuss the work restrictions against the work requirements in an effort to return the employee to work… or, not. During this process, I spoke with the head of Sheriff’s Human Resources. Our first conversation was difficult. I was told 1) since I physically could not do the job of a patrol deputy, I could not be a deputy, the department does not accommodate any work restrictions, 2) work preclusions are not the same as work restrictions, and unless they were clarified, the department had the right to order me back to work, and 3) if the preclusions were indeed restrictions, my options were to apply for a reassignment or apply for a disability retirement.
If the department does not accommodate permanent work restrictions, why are there sworn employees, with a badge and gun, that have permanent work restrictions? No answer. Still, to this day, no answer. I have enabled comments below, feel free, anyone, to respond here.
After a couple months, at my request, Dr. Georgis clarified, the prophylactic work preclusions were indeed, “Permanent Work Restrictions.”
I received a letter and list of available positions I could apply for. They included: Helicopter Pilot, Forensic Scientist, Dispatcher, and more. The one on the list that I was qualified for (no, I cannot fly a helicopter and do not have a PhD in blood pathology), was Dispatcher. I thought about it – for a while. At the end, I decided not to apply to be a dispatcher. I did not enter law enforcement to be a dispatcher. I would not be a good dispatcher. I would be unhappy. I would be envious of the deputies. I would be angered to be constantly reminded of what I lost. A lot of reasons.
This left one option. Sheriff’s Human Resources told me to speak with VCERA and apply for a disability retirement. I did not want to apply for a disability retirement. So I asked, “What happens if I don’t apply? If you’re telling me this is my only option, why don’t you apply for me?” In short, nothing would have happened if I did not apply. I would have remained on an unpaid leave of absence, and I suspect that would have lasted a very long time (I would still be on an unpaid leave of absence). In answer to my second question, she replied, “We do not apply for the employee unless they physically cannot apply for them self.” In other words, unless you’re killed in the line of duty. I’m sorry. If you are making the decision, making the statement and stance that an injured worker cannot be accommodated, you should apply, it is your decision. Do you know what happens in private sector situations where an employer does not accommodate an injured worker?
Application for Disability Retirement
Accepting reality – although unfair – my one option, I applied for a disability retirement. I’ve been asked, “If you did not want it, why did you apply?” Did you know as a sworn Deputy Sheriff, you are not allowed to have secondary employment? As long as I was still employed by the Sheriff’s Office, even though I’d be on an indefinite unpaid leave of absence, I was not allowed to work. I began asking, “If I am not allowed to work light duty, because of your policy; if I am not allowed to seek another job outside the department, because of your policy; how am I supposed to survive and provide food for my family?” Yes, I asked rhetorically, but I was very serious. It makes absolutely no sense! How could they tell me I could not work for them in the same sentence they tell me I could not work elsewhere? I was supposed to remain in limbo indefinitely? Without a paycheck? “You can apply for advanced pension payments,” was the answer to “how am I supposed to get an income if you will not let me work.” You cannot get advanced pension payments unless you apply for a retirement. Without any other options, I applied in August of 2015.
From Challenge to Hearing
The advanced pension payments were approved. The paperwork made it very clear that these were advancements, and if the retirement were to be denied, we would have to pay back the money. Kelli and I were uncomfortable with the idea of spending money that was not ours. We were not horribly impressed with the county’s processes/employees/representatives or assured about the retirement process, so we decided to not spend that money if we did not reasonably have to. I started taking on graphic, web design, marketing consulting, and photography side work, and Kelli went back to substitute teaching. Our home sold, pretty quickly. Thankfully, we made a good investment in our little Old Town home, and were able to bank the equity, giving us a safety savings account, and, prayerfully at the time, the down payment for our future home. My parents, God bless them for their generosity and hospitality, allowed us to move in and take over the bedrooms and large portion of the garage (not to mention the shed, yard, fridge, laundry room – did I mention we have a 200 lb dog), helped store our belongings, and helped watch the kids. I have no idea how to say thank you, repay you, or express my gratitude. If only people could understand what you did for us; it is a priceless and selfless gift.
Two months later, I received a letter informing me my application was being challenged. No details as to why on the one page letter. There were two more pages explaining I needed to get an attorney. In so many words, the letter said I would be denied a disability retirement if I proceeded on my own, because I lacked the legal knowledge needed to proceed in the process. It then had a list of recommended attorneys.
I called the number to inquire, “What is being questioned?” I did not understand. I supplied every piece of paper I had received, every doctor report, and applied at the direction of my department. What was there to challenge? I left two messages and attempted to call a few other times with no answer. I received this letter from Paul Hilbun, who works for Ventura County Risk Management. I never received a return call. Paul has yet to introduce himself to me. He sat three chairs away from me at the VCERA board meeting and did not have the courage or respect to look at me, let alone speak to me.
Did I Mention I Have a Family… Kids?
Applying for the retirement, my 4850 time ending around this same time, started a behind the scenes process no one had the decency to speak with me about. Amidst the retirement being challenged, the county, the department, the Ventura County Deputy Sheriff’s Association (VCDSA), without telling me so, changed my “status” from an employee to a retiree. Instead of receiving a phone call, instead of someone explaining to me what was going to be impacted by this change, it was brought to my attention by a letter. In short, it said my medical coverage, through Blue Cross via VCDSA, ended three weeks prior (not in the future – but, retroactive – in the past). My dental plan, life insurance, all of my benefits ended three weeks prior to receiving the letter. The coverage was for me, Kelli, Mac, and Jane. Who would have been financially responsible if something major would have happened to my family during that time? Who would have been responsible for the hospital bill if something were to have happened? I ask this, admittedly, unashamedly, obviously, still full of anger. Why did the department or association not call me and tell me? When people say, “oh, the system is not fair,” or “oh, it is not so-and-so’s fault, it is just the system,” I beg to differ! I know the people who work at the association. I have a lot of respect for them. I can think of one association employee, probably reading this, who without any question whatsoever, I would stop what I was doing, drop everything, to help them if they were in need, literally take a bullet for her. Make it a policy, an important procedure, a mandatory practice, whenever something like this happens, that has an impact on a member’s family, their children – call them! Better yet, visit their home, offer your condolences, let their wife see you care, learn and see the heartache the member and their family are going through!
I assume the reason they did not call three weeks prior was because they did not know. I accept this is probably true. It does not make it acceptable. The department knew! For those of you reading this that work in Sheriff’s Human Resources, for you Sheriff, make a policy to notify the association! It is not the “system” or the “process” – YOU are personally responsible for failing to care about my family. No more excuses!
A Note to Sheriff Dean
When I worked as a bailiff, I would come out of the court house every time I saw you standing alone outside of the Hall of Administration when you were rightfully and courageously fighting for your career. I did not have any role in that process, none whatsoever; but, I care about you and your family. So, I locked up my courtroom during break and walked over to simply say hello, that I was thinking of you, that Kelli and I were praying for you and your family, that I looked forward to seeing you in uniform again.
I am not saying I wanted that same attention from you, or some form of special treatment, during my hardship; I am not even saying you should have taken the time to talk with me on the beach in Carpinteria when we would see each other. I did not expect you to take time out of your busy and important schedule, or time away from your relaxation with friends and family.
You know what I did expect? You know me Geoff! You know my family, my wife, my kids, my upbringing, you knew me when I got pulled over for tailgating and was afraid to tell dad, you were at my wedding because I wanted you there as a friend. You should know without any question, from personal experience, my character and integrity. You should have said, “Trav, MY department cares about you. I value you. I am sorry and saddened you’re going through this.”
I never expected anything from you. I defended you by saying, “he is not responsible for this-or-that.” I am not blaming you or implying the outcome would be different. I am encouraging you to differentiate a process from a relationship. Moreover, I am encouraging you to use your department’s leadership to correct the wrongs and deficiencies in this process – the ones you do have control over or could initiate betterment. You told me my resignation was “bittersweet.” Yes, it is. Thankfully, my faith, hard work, new career, friends, family support, and loving wife make it sweet. Nothing you or your department did makes it sweet. Nothing about the process leading to my resignation was sweet – and, yes, sinfully – I am bitter and angry.
I recently learned you’ll be retiring after this term. I encourage you, sir, as someone I truly respect, make a change for good. Stand for what is right. Leave the new leadership team with an honorable goal: fix this problem!
Returning to the Plot
I still payed my association dues during this time. I payed retiree medical opt-outs. The Cobra premium was more than $1,400 a month. I declined since my income was, well, less than that. My hope in sharing this, as honestly as I have and continue, is that people will start taking personal responsibility. They may not be responsible for the whole process, but they are responsible for their role in it. If you were involved, in any capacity, you are personally responsible for how you treated me and my family.
I detour, again, because I do not want anyone reading this to be mistaken. This is not about the legal process, the retirement process, the medical process (although important and in desperate need of change). This is about how people treated me and my family. Not the overarching conclusions and decisions, I am talking about in the details, in the moments when we felt abandoned and helpless.
After the retirement application was challenged, before the hearing, I retained counsel as VCERA told me to do. Shortly thereafter, a deposition was scheduled.
I was not receiving a paycheck at this time, and Kelli and I were not spending the advancements from VCERA. We were staying with my parents, Kelli substitute teaching, and I was doing graphic side projects. Since I now had an attorney, I wanted an answer, “Why am I not allowed to work?” Of course, I was physically unable to work patrol, but I could work at a desk. The Sheriff’s Office does not accommodate that, so why were they allowed to prevent me from getting another job? Did you know a Deputy Sheriff is not allowed secondary employment without the Sheriff’s signed approval? I was still a sworn Deputy Sheriff, badge and gun. I asked Sheriff’s Human Resources; they told me I was not allowed to get another job while employed. Wanting a paycheck, an earned one at that, I told my attorney I wanted to work. The month before the deposition, my attorney called and confirmed with the county’s attorney, I could apply for a job since the Sheriff’s Office does not accommodate injured workers.
Since I am not short on tangents or words here… I said, “The Sheriff’s Office does NOT accommodate injured workers.” Some of you reading this will say, “Yes, we (they) do!” No! You do not! I was an injured worker. I asked to work within my limitations. You said no. That is unaccommodating! Let me guess, “it is more complicated than that,” or “there are legal complexities…” I am sorry, those are excuses. The truth is you did not accommodate me, an injured worker. Period.
I spoke with my attorney and confirmed I could apply for a job on a Thursday. I had one interview Monday, another on Wednesday. I was hired the following week.
“You are unmotivated to return to work.”
At the deposition, I was finally able to hear and deduce why the application was challenged. At the deposition, the attorney, Mr. Roberson, focused in on two lines of questioning worth sharing.
If you were to take an honest look around the world, I am confident you would agree, there is corruption, deceit, and greed (not just for money, but power, fame and the like). Mr. Roberson, doing the deposition, exemplified corruption, deceit, and greed (in his case, greed for power and money, through winning cases at any cost). If you know Mr. Roberson, if you are Mr. Roberson, and are reading this laughing or upset, I would be more than willing to detail my disgust for Mr. Roberson, a man in desperate need of God’s grace. You, as a resident of Ventura County, should be ashamed your county retains counsel like Mr. Roberson.
Mr. Roberson questioned me, and later at a hearing, stated, based on the information I provided him at the deposition, “[I was] unmotivated to return to work.”
When asked, I shared honestly with Mr. Roberson – I have integrity – I entertained leaving law enforcement. I looked at other job opportunities. I even applied for some and had two interviews, while working as a Deputy. I shared my motivation for doing so. Law enforcement is hard on families, and my family takes priority over my career. Providing for my family is accomplished through a career; the two are not independent. If there would have been a career that better provided for my family, for dozens if not hundreds of reasons, I would have absolutely entertained it. I also shared how common this is in law enforcement. Deputies look for other opportunities for various reasons, let alone noble ones like providing for a family.
“You have had degenerative disc disease since you were 12 years old.”
When I was 12 years old, I met a lifelong friend, Darren. Darren’s father is a Chiropractor. Mr. Roberson knew I had seen Darren’s dad – I told him. When I was 12 years old, I went camping with Darren’s family. Darren’s dad showed me some Chiropractor tricks. For example, he would tell me to hold my arm up strong, horizontal to the ground. He would push down on it, but I would hold it strong. He would then put his finger in a spot between my eyes, and my arm would drop. He put sugar, white sugar, in my hand. Then, asked me to raise my other arm again. I could not hold it strong! He taught me about different points on the body, and how he could determine what portions of my spine were out of alignment by touching them and my arm dropping. I was skeptical, but couldn’t argue with the result. I did not have any back injuries, no ailments, nothing wrong with me… but, I would get adjusted by Darren’s dad, a Chiropractor.
According to attorneys, specifically Mr. Roberson, if you have had Chiropractic adjustments from your friend’s dad, at 12 years old… you have degenerative disc disease.
Rather than ranting more, suffice it to say, this is utterly stupid. It does not take a genius to figure out why I had a Chiropractic adjustment at age 12. I had a friend whose father was a Chiropractor! That’s why!
After the deposition, before the hearing, I volunteered to see a doctor of Mr. Roberson’s choice. Mr. Roberson paid this doctor to evaluate me, to provide a report for the hearing.
I sat in the waiting room for more than two hours. I was escorted to an examine room and eventually met the doctor, Dr. Rosenberg. Dr. Rosenberg spent two minutes with me. Two minutes! A county, retaining counsel who pays a doctor willing to flippantly do this, should be criminal.
The hearing itself was pretty uneventful. Much like a deposition, we sat around a table and I answered questions by the attorneys and hearing officer. A lot of the questions centered around my election to maintain conservative management, my reservations about the routine consumption of ibuprofen, epidurals, and surgery. The recommendation was later mailed. In summary, it concluded,
“[I] unreasonably refused medical treatment recommended to [me].”
Board Meeting Vote
In March 2017, VCERA voted on my application based on the recommendation. I was, for the first time in the process, allowed to speak directly to VCERA. Rather than summarizing, I want share with you verbatim what I shared with them:
“Members of the Board,
Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share with you. I respectfully request your attention.
It is not my aim to repeat any of the information you have already reviewed. However, I would like to make clear what I know to be untruthful assumptions allowed to be used against me.
There is one person in the room who has been involved with every appointment, every meeting, every moment, of every day, of the last two and a half years detailed in the pages before you. Mr. Roberson was not there. Mr. Schumaker was not there. Madam Hearing Officer was not there. I was. I urge you to not simply listen, having already assumed a position based on the recommendation. Rather, I urge you to hear what I earnestly suggest is the righteous and true summation of my application.
After reviewing the recommendation submitted by Madam Hearing Officer, I conclude there are two opinions demanding clarification, affecting your decision here today. I humbly ask that you sincerely evaluate what I say.
Those two opinions are: one, what is reasonable versus what is unreasonable; and, two, what is speculation versus what is reality.
As Madam Hearing Officer states, “the real issue before… the board in this case is whether… [my] condition is permanently disabling.” Permanent being the key word, emphasized in the recommendation.
In her conclusion, Madam Hearing Officer states I have “unreasonably refused to accept medical treatment.” More, she states the board has “the right, if not the duty, to examine the risks and benefits of rejected medical treatment.”
This false conclusion, assuming I have “refused” and “rejected” medical treatment is not only false, the impact those false claims have, is more than unfair, it is saddening, disheartening, and angering. I have not refused any treatment that was recommended to me.
First, is Advil. Mr. Roberson has portrayed my preference to not routinely consume ibuprofen as unreasonable. This is Mr. Roberson’s opinion; not fact. The hours I spent discussing my treatment with Dr. Dietal, from October 2014 until March 2015, are not an opinion.
Fact: Dr. Dietal did not find my reservations about Advil unreasonable. To the contrary, Dr. Dietal verbally and explicitly agreed my natural approach to reducing inflammation was reasonable and acceptable under his care. This is evident in Dr. Dietal’s approved request for acupuncture. Dr. Dietal and I discussed many techniques to reduce inflammation. Madam Hearing officer assumes exclusively “ice and rest” and forgoes what Dr. Dietal and I discussed and accomplished to reduce inflammation: herbal anti-inflammatories, essential oils, acupuncture, cupping, decompression, dietary restrictions, increased water consumption, restricted daily activities, and more.
Physical Therapist Rebecca Guinn did not find my preference for natural anti-inflammatories unreasonable. Madam Hearing Officer assumes this, summarizing a physical therapy report stating, “control of inflammation is difficult.” Dr. Dietal, Ms. Guinn, and I were all well-aware that medication could expedite the reduction of inflammation. Electing an agreeable natural approach, recognizing inflammation reduction would require more attention and time, does not imply unreasonableness. Dr. Dietal and Ms. Guinn never once stated so, not verbally and not in any of the reports before you. Difficult does not imply impossible. To the contrary, my decision was supported verbally during my appointments and therapy sessions.
More offensive than the speculation, is the complete disregard for the fact I succeeded in reducing inflammation. Dr. Dietal, as Madam Hearing Officer points out in the recommendation, spoke with me and advised, “if sciatic symptoms were to progress over time, [I] may require an epidural injection.” From that appointment until the next, I succeeded in reducing inflammation. Note on page 6 of the recommendation, Dr. Dietal writes, “I would not recommend an epidural injection or surgical intervention at this time.” From the date of my injury, until the date of this appointment, I improved with conservative treatment and a limited consumption of anti-inflammatory medication. This is a fact.
In addition to ibuprofen, the recommendation opines I unreasonably declined epidural injections. The following appointment, my sciatica symptoms had worsened. Dr. Dietal discussed various treatments, including epidural injections. As the recommendation correctly states, these alternatives were “discussed,” never recommended. This was a discussion. Not a recommendation as Mr. Roberson and Madam Hearing Officer have speculated and opined. I was there. I had the discussion. Dr. Dietal asked me if I wanted to try more physical therapy, acupuncture, injections, or, I quote, “wait a few more weeks and see what happens.” I did not decline treatment; I did not refuse anything. I asked Dr. Dietal if continuing with a conservative approach was reasonable. His reply? “Of course, it is reasonable.” Wanting what was best for my physical health, I went so far as to express the same opinion about epidurals as I expressed in my deposition. Dr. Dietal agreed with me about masking the true problem, the injured disc and disc spacing, and offered unarguably sound medical advice that the epidural was an anti-inflammatory. Since the conservative approach had proven to successfully reduce inflammation, I asked if it was reasonable to assume that continued conservative management would be a reasonable alternative to epidurals. Dr. Dietal never, not once, disagreed that continued conservative management was not only reasonable, but a normal and sound medical alternative. These are the facts of our, quote, “discussion,” not a recommendation as unfairly speculated. In plain English, memorialized in his reports, also included in the recommendation on page 7, Dr. Dietal, I quote, “recommended” additional physical therapy. If, as a result of our discussion, my election to maintain conservative treatment was unreasonable, why did Dr. Dietal recommend conservative management? Why did Dr. Dietal not once, never, state my election, my choice, was unreasonable? I submit, with medical literature in support, my choice was reasonable.
Madam Hearing Officer and Mr. Roberson continue with their speculation: surgical intervention. I did not refuse surgery. Surgery was never recommended. Dr. Dietal and Dr. Georgis never once suggested or implied maintained conservative management was unreasonable. To the contrary! Dr. Dietal and I had many conversations. I may be a “lay person” as Madam Hearing Officer has stated, but my mental capacity and ability to research, investigate and learn, is not only commended throughout my law enforcement career, littered throughout my exceptional annual reviews that Mr. Roberson has continually ignored, it is a skill and personality trait Dr. Dietal appreciated during our discussions. Medical literature, much like case law, is readily available for anyone willing to research it. As a result of my injury, I had plenty of time to order and read medical books specific to the lumbar spine, time to search out and read medical reports, studies, and more. This attained and specific knowledge was part of the discussions Dr. Dietal and I had. The discussions, not recommendations, about surgery, centered around the medically sound and unarguable conclusion that maintained conservative management when compared against surgical intervention leads to no significant differences. This is a fact. Not my opinion. Medical fact. Studied fact. Agreed by Dr. Dietal. Agreed by Dr. Georgis. Fact. Not an opinion. Dr. Dietal is a surgeon. Seeking his experience, knowledge and expertise, I asked him, specifically regarding my spine, my disc, unique to me, would surgery heal me. Dr. Dietal answered me, “I do not know. I do not have a crystal ball.”
Dr. Dietal’s reports did not include the details of these many discussions. This was one of the reasons I asked for a second opinion from a Qualified Medical Evaluator. I wanted a second opinion, as stated in my request for a QME, “I request a comprehensive medical report to better articulate, in greater detail than provided in Doctor Dietal’s report, the medical facts associated with…the merits of conservative management.”
This question, “Is conservative management reasonable when compared against surgical intervention?” is answered in the QME report, quoted in Madam Hearing Officer’s recommendation. Dr. Georgis’ statement is a response to the very reason I requested a QME. His answer? I quote from page 8 of the recommendation, “The patient…has reasonably elected to proceed with an ongoing conservative treatment approach.” There is no suggestion, no recommendation of surgery. There is no implied act or decision of unreasonableness. The medical literature supports my decision, Dr. Dietal supports my decision, and here, Dr. Georgis confirms my decision is reasonable. Reasonable! Dr. Georgis, literally, used the word reasonable. Not, unreasonable as the county’s attorney, paid defense examiner and paid radiologist have speculated and opined. My decision is reasonable. This is a fact.
Please allow me to read what I included in my request for a QME. These medical conclusions were also a part of my discussions with Dr. Dietal and Dr. Georgis. The medical citations are included in my request for a QME, included in my application. I want to point out this request was authored by me. Mr. Schumaker did not meet me until VCERA advised me to retain counsel.
“The literature supports both conservative management and surgical intervention as viable options for the treatment of radiculopathy caused by lumbar disc herniations.”
“Long term results appear to be similar regardless of type of management [surgical intervention or conservative management].”
“In general, there is evidence that early surgery in patients with sciatica provides for a better short-term relief of leg pain as compared to prolonged conservative care, but the evidence is low quality because of the fact that only one trial investigated this properly. No significant differences were found between surgery and usual conservative care in any of the clinical outcomes after 1 and 2 years, but the evidence is of very low quality. The scarcity of studies as well as the limited quality of the studies does not support the choice for any timing in our current guidelines.”
I am heartily offended that Mr. Roberson, as an educated man, an assumedly morally responsible man given his position and relationship with the county, has the audacity to demean me as unreasonable.
It is not only unfair, it is disturbing, that the facts I have spoken of here are being overlooked for the opinion of Dr. Rosenberg, Dr. Rothman, and Mr. Roberson. I spent more than 5 months with Dr. Dietal and his medical organization. Each appointment was approximately thirty minutes, in some cases longer than an hour. Each physical therapy appointment was an hour long. My appointment with Dr. Georgis was three and a half hours long. Instead of the hours and hours spent with Dr. Dietal, Ventura Orthopedics, and Dr. Georgis, Mr. Roberson and Madam Hearing Officer suggest Dr. Rosenberg’s and Dr. Rothman’s opinion is superior. Please consider the hours upon hours I spent with Dr. Dietal and Dr. Georgis, in comparison to my appointment with Dr. Rosenberg, and the opinion of someone I had never met until the hearing, Dr. Rothman.
I went to see Dr. Rosenberg at Mr. Roberson’s request. I have respectfully and timely accommodated every request made of me this entire process. I waited in Dr. Rosenberg’s waiting room for two hours and twenty minutes. I was then seen by a gentleman who identified himself as a technician. The technician used instrumentation to take measurements of my physical movements. This took approximately five minutes. Then Dr. Rosenberg saw me. He introduced himself and stated he was asked to evaluate me. Dr. Rosenberg asked me to sit on the edge of the examination table. Dr. Rosenberg checked my reflexes by using his instrument to tap on my heels and knees. Then Dr. Rosenberg lifted my left leg, checking for sciatic irritation. Dr. Rosenberg then concluded his evaluation. Dr. Rosenberg was in the room for less than two minutes.
The report of a doctor, who spent two minutes with me, is being considered with more weight than those of Dr. Dietal and Dr. Georgis who spent hours with me.
To be clear, Dr. Dietal and Dr. Georgis are not doctors I chose. After reporting my injury, I was provided a list of urgent care facilities by the Sheriff’s Department. I went to the closest one. The urgent care sent me to Dr. Dietal; not my choice. I requested a QME, and the state provided three doctors; three, not my choice. From those three, I selected Dr. Georgis.
Dr. Georgis’ report should have the most weight in this decision. He is the one unbiased party, and as determined by the state, the most qualified to report on the facts of my injury and permanent work restrictions. The state’s Division of Workers’ Compensation concluded I am permanently disabled, agreed with Dr. Georgis’ evaluation, agreed with Dr. Georgis’ permanent work restrictions, and agreed with Dr. Georgis’ request for continued conservative management and future medical treatment. The state did not agree with Mr. Roberson’s partner. The state ruled 100% in favor of Dr. Georgis’ conclusions. Mr. Roberson was hired to represent the county, and Mr. Roberson paid Dr. Rosenberg. Dr. Rosenberg was not paid to honestly and accurately evaluate me or the facts; this is made evident in the two minutes he spent with me in comparison to the three and a half hours Dr. Georgis spent with me. Dr. Rosenberg spent less than 1%, exactly .95%, of the time Dr. Georgis spent with me. I have an opinion to make; and, my opinion warrants your attention since opinions are allowed as I have witnessed Mr. Roberson use them and Madam Hearing Officer support them. My opinion and accusation is Dr. Rosenberg was paid to find a medical opinion to provide Mr. Roberson with, to ignore the facts I have detailed here, to argue my application. Dr. Rosenberg is rudely biased. I respectfully and humbly ask you to honestly evaluate this accusation.
Dr. Georgis’ conclusion, that I have “reasonably elected to proceed with an ongoing conservative treatment approach…as opposed to invasive treatment…” is the most reasonable and factual conclusion in your decision and my future.
Mr. Roberson and Madam Hearing Officer support their speculative medical opinions with clearly biased claims against my character and motivation. I take offense; and, respectfully, will now take this opportunity to stand up for myself and my family.
During my deposition, Mr. Roberson asked me about seeking employment outside of the Sheriff’s Office. It does not matter if I am under oath or not, honesty and integrity are integral to my character. Is this being disputed? Where is Mr. Roberson’s evidence or witnesses to dispute my honesty? I have invited Mr. Roberson to review my evaluations. I volunteered to provide them. I encouraged Mr. Roberson to speak with my supervisors. Instead of reviewing my evaluations, instead of speaking with my supervisors, instead of appreciating my honesty and cooperation, Mr. Roberson has used it as an accusation. Please read my deposition. I love my career. I love being a Deputy. I cannot tell you or appropriately describe the sadness I have because of this career being taken from me – taken from me by an injury I did not ask for. I, yes, on occasion, looked for other opportunities, as has every other deputy on the department, only as a thoughtful consideration to better my role as a provider for my family. To assume anything else is unfair. To assume other happy deputies have not is far from reality. The District Attorney’s Investigators Office is the nearest and obvious proof that Deputies do look for other opportunities, not out of a lack of motivation or disliking of their career, but in the prospect of betterment and growth.
Mr. Roberson and Madam Hearing Officer again show bias by making mention of my new job with the company SuperSprings. Again, I respectfully request your continued attention. I take great offense to the bias being allowed against me.
As you’re aware, a Peace Officer receives 4850 pay for up to one year. I was notified by CorVel I would no longer be receiving 4850 pay come September 2015. My wife and I responsibly planned for a rough road ahead of us. After learning our only income would be Advanced Pension Payments, which we knew were advancements not true income, we knew we would be living on no true income. The Sheriff’s Department would not let me work with restrictions, and as a Peace Officer, I was told employment outside the Sheriff’s Office was not allowed, pursuant to our General Orders, without the signed permission of the Sheriff. The Sheriff’s Office would not let me work for a paycheck to provide for my family. So, my wife and I made the hard yet responsible choice to sell our home. We lost our home because of this injury and process. It is an extremely disheartening and saddening reality to lose the home you intended to raise your children in. When I shared this with Mr. Roberson during my deposition, he coldly replied, “Well, you didn’t lose your home, it didn’t foreclose, you sold it.” Mr. Roberson, how dare you. I respectfully bit my tongue then, but will say it now, how dare you. My family lost their home. This injury, the process you and all in this room are a part of, took my home from me, my wife, and my children. Do not belittle me.
My wife and I planned ahead for our family. We sold our home, put all our belongings into a storage unit, where they remain today, and thanks to a supporting family, we have lived with my parents since. After the home sold and income ceased, my wife worked as a substitute teacher and I took care of our two children. I would take on website design projects to work on during nap times and at night. For five months, we provided for our family this way. Up until this point, I was on my own during this process. It wasn’t until VCERA strongly recommended I retain counsel when my application was challenged, that I met Mr. Schumaker. One of the first questions I asked Mr. Schumaker was how can I provide for my family when the department won’t let me work for a paycheck, and this process would not allow me to seek other employment to simply get a check to provide for my family? At the end of January 2016, Mr. Schumaker told me that Mr. Roberson agreed I could seek other employment outside of the Sheriff’s Office, since the Sheriff would not accommodate my physical restrictions. So, in February 2016, I printed résumés and on the first night applied for two jobs. I got replies from both applications the next day. I scheduled two interviews. By February 12th, I was employed with SuperSprings. SuperSprings purchased me the same chair I use at home that supports my back, a table that adjusts with an electrical switch so I can sit or stand as needed, and an office space large enough to allow me to lay down to do my physical therapy stretches. SuperSprings made every effort, and more, to accommodate me. Mr. Roberson and Madam Hearing Officer have formed the opinion that my new job somehow shows a lack of motivation on my part to return or entertain invasive treatment. This is arrogantly wrong. This clearly shows their bias and prejudice. I accepted this job to support my family! I would have accepted any job to support my family. The Sheriff’s Department would not accommodate me. I sought employment with someone who was willing to. I did so only after Mr. Roberson and Mr. Schumaker agreed it was acceptable. Accepting my new job is irrelevant to your decision today, and I am discouraged Madam Hearing Officer allowed and supported Mr. Roberson’s speculation. To use this speculation, to assume my honesty and new job show a motivation not to return to my career as a Peace Officer is so far from reality, it is absurd and offensive.
Further, Mr. Roberson has implied, and Madam Hearing Officer suggests on page 16 of the recommendation, “the potential for an award of lifetime disability retirement benefits, along with these other factors,” she is referring to my new job and election of conservative management, “provides an incentive to refuse any further treatment…” This, as detailed, is not true. Not factual. It is opinion. More, it is wrong. Hurtful. Biased. Prejudicial. Inappropriate. It is angering this type of speculation is allowed in a legal recommendation. As I continue to point out, I have refused nothing! I have stated in my deposition and at the hearing, I am more than willing to entertain surgery when it is recommended to me by a doctor who clearly articulates the surgery will heal me. No unbiased doctor has stated so. Madam Hearing Officer has her facts wrong when she states on page 15, that “there is no evidence that either Dr. Georgis or Dr. Dietal would disagree with Dr. Rosenberg’s opinion.” My application is evidence. I submitted Dr. Georgis’ report with my application. Dr. Georgis’ report is evidence. Dr. Georgis very clearly disagrees with Dr. Rosenberg’s opinion! Dr. Rosenberg’s opinion is my decision is unreasonable. Dr. Georgis states my decision is reasonable. I urge you to accept Madam Hearing Officer is wrong; Dr. Georgis clearly disagrees with Dr. Rosenberg.
I lastly want to address Madam Hearing Officer’s preface to this last statement, “the potential for an award.” I do not want an award! I did not apply to receive an award! I did not want to apply! I did not ask to be injured. I, to this day, optimistically and prayerfully hope to one day overcome my physical limitations. I did not create the black and white policies of the Sheriff’s Office in regards to accommodating injured workers. The Sheriff’s Office setup my appointment and referred me to VCERA to apply. I did not want to apply, the Sheriff’s Office and VCERA pushed me into applying; what was my alternative? I have done everything asked of me. I committed financially to retain council in January, not because I wanted to, but because VCERA recommended I do so. My life has been flipped upside down, I have done everything asked of me, withheld nothing, and in return have been treated as an applicant number instead of the valued employee, commended deputy, and human being I am.
I love the Sheriff’s family. I have been a part of it my entire life. My father, retired Captain John Miller, served the county for more than 32 years. My brother, who graduated the same academy class as me, is a member of the department. Countless friends. Anyone who assumes I want to be hurt and unable to serve next to my brother and friends is absolutely wrong.
The reason I asked to share this today is to clearly state the facts. I am a commended Deputy with an exceptional history of serving our county. It is not fair that an injury is taking that from me. It is not fair that assumptions, speculations, inaccuracies and flat out lies are being allowed to discredit me. I do not care about the award as Madam Hearing Officer opines. I care about my reputation, my family’s reputation, my department’s reputation, your reputation. I care about righteousness. My service has been honorable. My discharge from service because of an injury should not be dishonorable as a result of speculation, bias, and misinformation.
The facts are simple. I was injured. I cannot perform the duties of a Deputy Sheriff. Conservative management is as viable a treatment option as is invasive procedures. My election is, as Dr. Georgis reports, I quote again, “reasonable.”
I urge you to consider all of these facts and seek righteousness in your vote. Do not succumb to what is easy, what is expected, or even what is recommended.
Do what is right. Vote for what is right.”
Two members voted in support of my application: Tracy Towner and Robert Bianchi. Thank you, gentlemen, for listening and standing up for what is right.
Five members supported the recommendation to deny my application: Goulet, Hintz, Mccombs, Sedell, Wilson.
Our attorney suggested we request a reconsideration. It was, as expected, an uneventful meeting, with nothing to be said, and a vote all the same. Our attorney explained our next level of recourse, Superior Court. There was no part of me that wanted to pay more attorney fees, remain in a process of unknowns, live in stress… no. I was done. Mentally, emotionally, physically… done.
Temporary? Work Restrictions
Shortly thereafter, the Sheriff’s Office contacted me with no idea what to do with me. They asked me to return to Dr. Dietal for updated temporary work restrictions. “What? Excuse me? Is this a joke?” The thoughts I had during that phone call were anything but repeatable or honorable. “One more,” I finally told myself. I scheduled an appointment and on May 1, 2017, met with Dr. Dietal. Dr. Dietal was humorously annoyed at the implied statement of attorneys and a board making a decision different than his own. He confirmed exactly what I already knew, and he wrote on the Sheriff’s provided form, “Permanent work restrictions remain unchanged.” The notes from that appointment read,
“Travis returns today for a follow up visit. His restrictions are to persist as limited lift, push, pull of 65 pounds. Travis’ decision not to pursue treatment options to include anti-inflammatory medications, epidural injections or surgical intervention is reasonable and well within his rights as a patient. At this time, I believe that I have little else to offer this gentleman. I would be happy to reevaluate him at any time in the future. 35 minutes were spent reviewing patient’s notes including notes from his panel qualified medical examination from Dr. Ted Georgis.”
One of those “patient’s notes” was the recommendation saying I “unreasonably refused,” treatments. I asked Dr. Dietal that day, “Have I unreasonably refused any treatment from you?” The reason Dr. Dietal says, “[my] decision… is reasonable,” is because when I asked him, “have I refused any treatment,” he answered me exactly as I have shared over and over again, “Absolutely not!”
I drove from that appointment to drop my truck off for a service. While the truck was being serviced, I went on a walk. My phone rang. It was my attorney.
There is no way I can appropriately describe in words how I was feeling that day. I was in one word, done. The impact on my family, marriage, children, career, life…
I felt done; I wanted the stress, the unknowns, the anger, the process… to be done.
My attorney told me Mr. Roberson offered me a Settlement Agreement. If I would be willing to resign, agree to drop any future claims against the county/department/association/etc., the county, through the State’s Workers Compensation Settlement, would pay me the amount of money advanced to me from VCERA (the advanced disability pension payments), $78,710. In other words, I could walk away without owing money, without receiving money… I could be done.
June 8, 2017, I signed the settlement agreement and resigned.
There are so many stories to be told, details left out here, lessons learned, from our experience. Truly, a book could be authored… it would not be a small book.
I hope this post encourages conversation. It has taken me a year to author. I have had to edit endless angry rants, emotional overstatements, and move things around to provide some structure.
I sincerely thank you for reading.
Since signing the settlement and moving on, our life has been transformed. The untold stories of what God has done through this are countless. Ask me about my new career at SuperSprings. Come over for dinner in our new home. See God’s provision in our life.
We are moving on. We are very blessed. Wounds take time to heal, but love and righteousness remain steadfast. God’s provision can come in many different shapes and sizes, but it is always there. If there is one paramount truth I have learned from this injury and experience, it is,
treat people with goodness and integrity.
I look forward to sharing more with you. I hope and encourage you to share this with others; to motivate people to change the wrongs and stand up for what is right, for goodness.
Thank you for reading.
Thank you for sharing.