More On the LIRR Disability Benefits Scandal

One of the hottest topics on this blog has been the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) Disability Benefits Scandal. Unlike other blogs, I’ve tried to bring daily coverage to the issue. Unfortunately due the technical issues causing a complete server move, I have fallen behind on the story. So here are some articles to help get up to speed. Lets start with the article by Alfonso A. Castillo of Newsday which talks about how over 85% of the disability claims filed by retired LIRR employees cited the same two ailments:

More than 85 percent of the approximately 1,800 disability claims made by retired Long Island Rail Road employees during the last seven years cited the same two physical ailments – bone infections and connective tissue diseases – federal documents obtained by Newsday showed.

Bone and connective tissue disorders account for 29 percent of all disability cases filed through the Social Security Administration during the same period, statistics show.

Northport attorney Edward J. Yule, who often represents LIRR workers in injury cases, noted that “working on a railroad is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.” Railroad workers have physically demanding jobs that often strain bones and joints, and nearly all railroad workers get injured, he said.

But Thomas White, spokesman for the Association of American Railroads, an industry group representing the nation’s major freight train providers and Amtrak, said he “can’t think of anything that a railroad worker does that would lead to a disproportionate number like that.”

The high number of disabilities coming from the two categories alarmed LIRR President Helena Williams, who said the figures “appear high” and “cause concern” in a letter she wrote last month to the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board.

Click here for the complete article.

The next article is from Frank Eltman for the Associated Press. His article takes a look at how LIRR President Helena Williams calls for federal legislation to execute a complete overhaul of the Railroad Retirement Board:

NEW YORK – The president of the Long Island Rail Road called for legislation Thursday to overhaul a federal board that granted lucrative disability benefits to virtually every retiring employee in recent years.

Thursday’s announcement was prompted by a New York Times report last month that uncovered a startling trend among retirees at the railroad. More than 90 percent of them were granted disability payments by the federal board, allowing them to collect huge payments every year.

As state retirees, they are entitled to perks such as free golf at a Long Island course, and the Times found “disabled” former railroad workers who spent their summer days walking 18 holes on the course.

LIRR President Helena Williams also said she is requiring all 6,800 railroad employees to undergo additional ethics training while establishing a hot line for employees and the public to report suspected fraud, waste and abuse.

Click here for the complete article.

Alfonso A. Castillo had another article highlighting more specific ways that LIRR President Helena Williams feels the system should be overhauled:

Saying she could not stand idle as Long Island Rail Road employees continue to abuse a flawed pension system that grants disability benefits to nearly anyone who applies, railroad president Helena Williams yesterday called for widespread reforms both at the federal level and in her own agency.

“Something is not right, and I think that’s why I’m here saying it cannot be business as usual at the railroad,” Williams said at a news conference at the LIRR’s Jamaica headquarters. “We have to get to the heart of the system. Why is the system allowing for what you and I would say appears to be, at the minimum, abuse [and] certainly waste?”

Williams outlined a multifaceted plan to curb apparent abuses of the federal U.S. Railroad Retirement Board occupational pension system, which has come under fire after published reports revealed that an alarmingly high number of retired LIRR employees receive disability benefits on top of their LIRR pensions.

Williams yesterday sent letters to members of Congress urging them to overhaul the railroad retirement system. She recommended more involvement and input by employers on individual disability claims, closer scrutiny of employees’ claims by independent medical experts, mandatory physical rehabilitation when applicable, and a more stringent review of disability claims filed by administrative employees whose work does not involve physical labor.

“The goal is to ensure that only those who are truly deserving of a disability pension get a disability pension,” Williams said.

Click here for the complete article.

The last article which appears in this morning’s edition of the New York Times comes from Walt Bogdanich & Nicholas Phillips & looks at how & why the LIRR has asked state investigators to broaden their investigation. The call for a broadened investigation stems from the agency sharing evidence that claims some retirees purchased private disability insurance policies knowing that the federal railroad board would declare them disabled:

The Long Island Rail Road has asked state authorities to broaden their investigation of federal disability payments collected by its retirees, saying that it is concerned that some former employees may be trying to improperly collect disability payments from private insurers as well.

Virtually all career L.I.R.R. employees — as many as 97 percent in one year — get federal disability payments from the federal Railroad Retirement Board after they retire, The New York Times reported last month.

On Tuesday the railroad gave the state attorney general, Andrew M. Cuomo, and the inspector general of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority evidence raising the possibility that hundreds of its employees were buying private disability insurance policies knowing that the federal railroad board would declare them disabled.

In referring the matter to state investigators, L.I.R.R. officials said their suspicions were raised by two types of disability insurance purchased by railroad employees. One is a general, short-term disability policy; the other guarantees payment of auto loans, credit card debts or personal loans in the event the policyholder is unable to work.

Click here for the complete article.

This might turn out to be the biggest scandal to rock the LIRR in its entire history. If some heads do not roll for this, I would be shocked. The amount of corruption & scamming here is too much to even grasp & yet it seems like it is just the tip of the iceberg. Stay tuned as this story has plenty of action left for those who are following along.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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