Beating Up The LIRR Disabled

When the government sent out its  scare letter to about 1500 former Long Island Railroad employees, there was no downside.  After all, anybody who complied with their “amnesty” program, giving up their disability benefits in exchange for no prosecution, was putting money back in the till.  And making money off the backs of disabled people is what the government is all about, right?

Having had the opportunity to discuss this with some of the former LIRR employees on disability, a few things have become clear. First, truly disabled people are scared to death by the threat of prosecution. It’s bad enough that they’re disabled, but now they fear being disabled plus being put in prison.  Nice.

The word has spread that the government, should they decide that a particular disabled LIRR person deserves to be prosecuted, will destroy them.  Everything they’ve ever worked for, their homes, their families, ruined.  For those people who rely on their disability payments, this has kept them awake at night, the fear that there will be a knock on the door in the morning and their lives as they know it will come to an end.

Mind you, these are people who aren’t criminals, who would never give a thought to scamming the LIRR.  They’re exactly the ones most likely to be cowed by the threat of prosecution, most willing to give up their disability payments because they can’t bear the thought of going to prison. Easy pickings for the government, and there is nothing the government likes more than easy pickings.

Worse yet, the methods by which the government is attacking the pensioners plays upon ignorance.  Some might say that what the LIRR defines as disabled isn’t too stiff, and that government prosecutors’ view of disabled isn’t the same as the LIRRs.  That may be, but it’s not up to the government to redefine disability according to the sensibilities of prosecutors. If people are disabled by the LIRRs definition, then their claims are legitimate, even if prosecutors think it’s too lenient a definition.

Instead, the sort of evidence being thrown around is nonsensical.  So they played a round of golf? People with severe back injuries have good days and bad days.  On a good day, they want to enjoy some exercise. They want to have a life. But if they do so, they’re criminals?  And nobody recognizes that they have those bad days when they can’t move or are in agonizing pain.  Yeah, that happens to. What about that?  The government couldn’t care less.

Or perhaps they are still a member of their local volunteer fire department?  It conjures up images of robust men climbing tall ladders, and certainly not disabled guys. Except volunteer fire departments on Long Island are more clubs than anything else, and members continue into their nineties.  When was the last time you saw a 90-year-old run into a burning building?  They can still provide ancillary help, and indeed, they often do, but they aren’t carrying bodies out of second-floor windows.  Volunteer fire departments take whoever they can, and the desire of locals to help out, or continue to help even after they’re disabled (remember, this is volunteer, not paid), is no indicia of being fully-abled. It’s evidence of enjoying the camaraderie of their pals and contributing whatever they can. For free.

The mix is toxic. People aren’t criminals, aren’t equipped to deal with the threat of prosecution. People who hanging on by a thread because of very real physical or mental issues. People who are struggling to make ends meet now, and fear the cost of a defense. People who hear false rumors of how the government never loses, and read stories in the paper of how utterly innocuous conduct is sufficient for prosecutors to indict them.  These are not people who know from arrests and prosecutions. These are people who are damned scared, and rightfully so.

But that’s not the end of the problem, as the same cottage industry that grew up to help the disabled, and later turned dirty to help those who wanted to appear disabled to collect, is giving rise to its own legal cottage industry to take advantage of this fear.

Apparently, lawyers with connections to the same facilitators who were happy to take money from the disabled and the criminal alike are having a field day with these fearful targets. Aside from inherent conflicts of interest that would, if there was anything ethical going on here in the first place, preclude their advising, no less representing, the targets, they are courting these disabled former LIRR employees.  The targets, having no clue where to turn, are going back to the same old wells, and being sent to lawyers who are in bed with core defendants.  After all, where else would they go?

And the advice they are receiving is intended to flame their fears for the benefit of the lawyers.  They are being told that they could be arrested at any moment, with images of SWAT teams surrounding their suburban homes and doors being kicked in.  They are told they better prepare immediately for the worst, as if the United States Attorneys will take them down like cartel drug dealers.  Quick, pay the lawyer a $1,500 “availability” retainer so he’ll show up for arraignment. And lock in these scared people, dozens of them, hundreds of them, just in case.

It’s not bad enough that the government has chosen to go after the low-hanging fruit, the people who have suffered disabilities and are now left to fear that what remains of their lives will be torn from them.  Now, the lawyers who are putatively there to help have figured out how to take advantage of their fear as well, never once mentioning how their conflicts preclude them from representing these people, never mentioning that they aren’t likely targets because of well-established disabilities, never mentioning that the government won’t break down their door in an early morning raid like they’re street criminals, thus preventing them from obtaining competent counsel.

If the government scare tactic doesn’t get them, the lawyers will.  But then, this is what comes from sending out outrageous and baseless threats for the sole purpose of scaring innocent, legitimate people into giving up their rights rather than get chewed up and spit out by the system.  And from lawyers who have no qualms about cheating the fearful for their own benefit.  It’s just an utter disgrace all around.

33 comments on “Beating Up The LIRR Disabled

  1. Kathleen Casey

    Why is this happening? Why is the Federal government threatening these people? What is the iceberg beneath the tip?

  2. SHG

    Some say it goes back years with animosity from Albany toward Long Island and the LIRR. Some say it’s available money in hard times. Some say it’s just enforcing the law when the government thinks something wrong has happened. Pick ‘em.  Though why it’s happening isn’t the pertinent question anymore. It is happening.

  3. Kathleen Casey

    Why is this happening? is always pertinent. Always! I expect that the reason is sordid but I hope the question keeps getting asked.

  4. j a higginbotham

    Over the years, the New York Times has done several articles on the LIRR disability situation. Either they should be sued or many LIRR retirees should be imprisoned. If the percentage of disabled retirees (reported by the media) is correct within an order of magnitude, the LIRR should be shut down as a hazard.

    [I should know better than to comment on lawyer type stuff but the articles i have read have been pretty damning. Can that many statements be incorrect?]

  5. SHG

    The aggregate numbers are damning, and certainly give the appearance that they should all go to prison. But that’s neither an excuse for, nor explanation of, this mass scare tactic and threat without investigation into individual cases, or the use of nonsense evidence for lack of real evidence.

    If they have this massive problem, as the numbers clearly suggest, then the government needs to do its investigation first, then accuse, then show real evidence to backup its accusation.  Damning claims in the media can only go so far. Eventually, you need real proof of individual wrongdoing.

  6. SHG

    The question may be interesting, but not pertinent. Whether it has a sordid answer or not may never be known, but for those with a gun point at their head, I doubt they get any comfort from the question are a lot more concerned with what to do about the gun.

  7. Eddie

    The persecutors are framing a public debate by misrepresenting basic facts in their media blitz.

    Most Railroad Retirement disabilities are “occupational”. A person who suffers hearing loss and back pain, for example, shouldn’t be working on tracks.

    Is painting his basement floor or playing golf criminal?

  8. j a higginbotham

    Thanks for the clarification/rephrasing. I misinterpreted the original post to suggest that there was no evidence of any disability fraud.

  9. SHG

    My first post on this story spelled it out in the link. The earlier post helps to understand the up and down of what’s going on here.

  10. concerned319

    Why are you advocating for 1500 workers who deliberately executed documents to demonstrate that they are disabled? Having a “good day”…please these people were planning on having all good days because they would not have to go to work.
    These people are part of Mr. Romney’s 47%, the victims, the entitled…it is good that the New York Times and the U.S government put an end to this charade.

  11. SHG

    Because I have a problem throwing 1500 people away without any evidence that any individual did anything wrong. That’s where we differ.

    Are 1500 people guilty? Maybe, but they still have to prove it one at a time, because this is America and that’s how we do things here.

  12. Gill Bates

    What a BS article. No, they did not just play a round of golf. They golfed 100 days a year, rode a 400 mile bike race and practiced to become a jiu-jitsu black belt – all while “too injured” to work.

    If this was legit – why use these three specific doctors? Why not use their FAMILY doctor, who actually has their history?

    Look at the LIRR 20 years ago – the rates of disability were far lower. The LIRR brags about worker safety and being a safe place to work. Then suddenly 90% of ALL retirees are disabled?

    Sorry, this is a scam, a fraud – plain and simple.

  13. SHG

    Common points raised, and so worthy of a response. Does hearing loss prevent someone from doing jiu-jitsu? Does carpal tunnel syndrome make it dubious to ride a bike? Should someone with herniated disks not get exercise (not everyone who plays golf do so well, by the way)?  There may well be individuals who are scamming the system, but each has to be taken individually. Mass condemnation, like this, is unduly simplistic and contrary to our system of criminal justice.

    The retirees went to facilitators, who sent them to a handful of doctors, because they were familiar with the Railroad Retirement Board’s requirements and arcane forms. While treatment, if called for (and it’s not always called for, as many conditions are not treatable but merely the way they will be for the rest of their lives), may come from family docs, it would be illogical to avoid going to a doc who knows how to complete the forms, as that would be the purpose of applying for a disability.

    As for worker safety and historical disability, the LIRR promoted workers retiring early and, if entitled, getting disability to promote attrition by older workers and get a younger (and less expensive) workforce. Don’t blame the former employees for doing as the LIRR taught them to do.

    So if this a scam, a fraud?  Maybe, but it can only be determined on an individualized, fact specific basis. If the government has reason to believe an individual has engaged in fraud, they should act upon it. Smearing the group, however, isn’t the way we do things in America.

  14. ARTIE O.

    BINGO! WHAT DO YOU THINK? WE’RE SOLVENT AND THEY SMELL THE MONEY.
    HOW ABOUT THE PUBLIC SERVENTS ON 3/4 PAID DISABILITY. ARE THEY OUT OF THE PICTURE FOR NOW?

  15. SHG

    You do realize that using all caps is the internet equivalent of shouting, not merely rude but indicative of a need for an increase in your meds?  Please don’t shout.

  16. jjk

    as a member of the 1500 let me clue u all in to a few FACTS. Fact it is the railway labor act established in 1908 by t. roosevelt. under this act employes of all carriers in the U.S and Canada are covered , the contributions to this system come from employees and the carriers themselves not the general public. the federal goverment has no control over this system which is why it is solvent in addition congress derives a certain amount for there pensions even though they do not contribute into the system, this work by individuals men and women is done 24 7 365 days a year on a railroad which means infrastructure repair ,capital improvement, maintanence of equipment are executed in all kinds of conditions, in addition, damage to the system due to weather must be repaired immediately people rely on the system in needs to run. occupational disability means whatever prevents you from performing your work could qualify you for this benefit. May I remind you all these benefits came at great sacrifice by individuals who have come before us. Rail road work can be brutal personally its come at a cost some surgery already some more to follow. The public falls prey to the spin too bad labor has provided a path to middle class pay and benefits. yea remember those the benefits no one seems to have anymore. Typical ploy have the public turn on people who have and are entitled to recieve benefits they themselves
    do not hav I and the ones I have worked with have given service and did our jobs under any circumstances as required. Are there cheaters sure look around show me an institution right now that does not have them. But to blanket a group based on unsuppoted allegations derived from inept reporting and govermnet spin is sickening. Worse still is the inability of the public to understand what is happening, too bad they are esaly misled. Some of us have worked hard to make the system better spending entire carrers changing the system to demand a higher level of performance and accountability especially where puplic monies were concerned. when i left the lirr had a 900 hundred million operating budget and a 1.2 billion capital improvent programe I and my co workers took that very seriuosly it was after all our monie too. I personally resent uninformed and derisive commentary based on herd mentality tatics. Smarten up do you think your present situation is the result of railroad workers or greedy well conected corporate types working hand in glove with unconcerned govermnet types. If the govermant has a case make it, if they feel a crime has been commited prosecute, if they feel threatened send a swat team. Remember election time is here they all squak about the mmiddle class the only ones that give a damm are your neighbors who have paved a way for those benefits that we all should have aright to. The same right under assult.I am reminded of a founding farthers statement “a goverment big enough to provide all that you need is strong enough to take it all awa

  17. SHG

    While your comment contains many well-founded, substantive points, let me make a few suggestions. First, it’s largely incomprehensible, because of rampant mispelling, grammar, lack of formatting (like breaking it into readable paragraphs) and minimally well-conceived expressions of thought. These things matter when you hope others will read what you write. A huge blob of text that’s painful to read because it’s so poorly written isn’t going to persuade anyone because few will bother to read it.

    More importantly, it is dripping with arrogance. You’re going to “clue u all in to a few FACTS”? This immediately reinforced the anger toward LIRR retirees from anyone not getting a check from the RRB. You aren’t doing them a favor, and if your purpose is to counter the misinformation being used to smear retirees, it would behoove you to behave as if you are and not piss off the very audience you hope to persuade. 

    I’m all for clarifying the misinformation that’s been spread in this matter, but I urge it to be done in comprehensible and useful way. You may have good reason to be angry about what’s happening here, but if you want to help your cause, get the chip off your shoulder and enlighten rather than smack those you hope to persaude.

  18. Eddie

    It is sad indeed that this group is too often represented by those with mouths and egos larger than their brains.

    Any heavy industry requires lots of brawn. The brains behind the scenes aren’t always the most visible in the formula.

    Guys like this as are the retirees’ mouthpeace?

    No surprise that prosecutors rest on fear and innuendo while not permitting any discussion to be clouded by facts.

  19. SHG

    In any large and diverse group, there will be an assortment of people. I’m sure he didn’t mean to come off as he did, and I’m sure he is angry at being part of a group smeared for doing what they believe  they were fully and lawfully entitled to do. Unfortunately, he did not help to illuminate, and instead unintentially reinforced many of the views of his detractors.

    What’s really a shame here is that no group has decided to show the guts to stand up and confront the smear campaign in a thoughtful and persuasive way.  From the union to the retirees, they are all afraid of being on the wrong side of the public relations campaign, to the terrible detriment of their members. It’s a shame that no group has the guts to take the heat.

  20. jjk

    True enough the prose i thought was vetted and there is too much to say in so short a space. Yes it is angry and it is extremely hard to watch and stand by and not fight back. As you rightly point out no one is interested at listening to an angry response written poorly.
    So to be a positive part of the conversation the benefits are available to those who apply. You lose nothing by applying. If the requirements needs adjusting change the law. The bottom line is why would anyone disregard a benefit they were truly entitled too.
    Thank you for correcting the commentary hopefully more of us will speak up but I fear they are afraid. You are right about not helping the perception , given the general roll back in Wisconsin and California against unions in general it will require cooler heads. Thank you again for your considerate constructive criticism hopefully a balanced discussion can be had we shall see.

  21. SHG

    Much better. You are right, it’s far more complicated than the story against the workers, and certainly stories of corruption are far more interesting than stories about people using the benefits for which they paid, to which they are entitled, and from which they get only what an independent board has decided they deserve.

    But if this is going to get straightened out, it’s far better to come from thoughtful people who will explain it calmly than angry people. This second comment is far more helpful, so thanks.

  22. jjk

    as an ada from the state attorney generals office stated the investatgation is not the way to go, the law needs to be changed if the law is in question. I personally dont see the law as the problem, the review process is at fault, an application is made medical documents are submitted and the rail road board reviews it and either approves or not.
    The initial compliant is a conspiracy to defraud does that include the board , i can see the workers and the doctors but the third part includes the board . So its the review process that needs correcting. This law will not get changed anytime soon.
    your comment on low hanging fruit is appropriate easier and cost effective to go after people that have limited means.

  23. SHG

    I think you’re now getting into legal issues that are far outside your realm, and likely very unhelpful to your cause and to others who may find themselves under investigation. You may have gone a step too far.

  24. jf

    SHG Its has to be stressed especially in these times that we have to be very aware of straying from “the way we do things in America”.

  25. Douglas P Perry

    After having just been through this with a client it is clear that any workers named will have an almost impossible time in defending their disability. They retire first and then apply for the disability after having spent the last year or two of employment racking up overtime. They hire facilitators for cash and go to Doctors who write reports that are designed to support the disability. Once signed by the Retiree, they are submitted to the Board. Almost all of the retires named submitted re-certification forms leading to more mail fraud charges. The medical complaints in the forms submitted by the Doctors involved in the process are overstated, exaggerated and wholly i innacurate. The beat advice would have been for them to have taken advantage of the amnesty but it’s now too late. Unfortunately, they were lead down the garden path by a system that was out of control and there will be no sympathy from prospective jurors if and when these cases go to trial.

  26. SHG


    The medical complaints in the forms submitted by the Doctors involved in the process are overstated, exaggerated and wholly i innacurate.

    Whoa. This is a wild extrapolation. If this is the case with any individual defendant, then they should be prosecuted, but just because it may be true for some doesn’t mean you can blindly leap to the conclusion that it’s true for all, or anyone else.  I realize you aren’t a criminal defense lawyer, but each individual’s culpability is based on what he did, not by some inductively reasoned or superficially assumed group culpability. Each person’s case must rise or fall on its own facts, not overbroad assumptions.

  27. A. Hogger

    I am one of the 1500 who received the government’s “invitation”. Am I worried? You bet. I was a locomotive engineer who takes 3 kinds of insulin, has balance problems if my head moves too fast, tinnitus with hearing loss, chronic back pain. What happens if they film me shoveling snow for a few minutes? 50 to life? I may do it one day and spend the next week in bed recuperating. That nobody sees.

    I can see that those who worked for compensation get banged out. From day one, we are told that to do so was illegal and most of all, cause us to revert to the Social Security System. Pigs get slaughtered. But now, with all these guilty pleas, what is the government doing to get them? There are dozens of lawyers – some with big names – representing these folks who for 25-35 years were very hard working law abiding citizens. The railroad used to give print-outs of pension AND disability figures combined. The railroad medical department could “disqualify” people from their jobs for disabilities, often did, and did not offer alternate employment. In contrast, when the RailRoad had liability due to injury, jobs were “found”. This is because the F.E.L.A. made an adversarial relationship in lieu of workmens’ comp. Many people hid their afflictions to avoid being fired. A heart attack would be reported as the “flu” to avoid prying eyes and a pink slip.

    How is the government able to secure all these guilty pleas without anyone fighting back?

  28. DPP

    The government hired a first rate medical expert whose testimony will make it extremely difficult for the physician defendants to defend their actions in terms of approving disabilities. If the medical personnel involved in the case either plea or are convicted, then all of the LIRR workers who they evaluated will be subject to strict scrutiny. If you are one of those workers, you will have to be able to justify your disability as of the time you initially applied and were approved. It’s irrelevant that you may have subsequently developed a disability.

  29. SHG

    Not quite sure where you’re trying to go here, but this is so deeply confused as to require some response. Every target of an investigation comes under scrutiny, and the government never gives targets in criminal investigations the benefit of the doubt. This is nothing new, and there is nothing special about this situation that suggests it would be any different.

    In criminal law, we don’t use the phrase “strict scrutiny,” as its a constitutional term of art. Will the government await plea and sentence to think that the physicians it’s indicted are bad? Not a chance. That ship left the port when they indicted them, and plea or conviction merely seals the deal. The reason for scrutiny has been there from the outset, and outcomes of the physicians’ cases won’t change anything.

    However, if it turns out that the physicians lied in some instances, it doesn’t follow that they lied in all instances, or even in any other instance. Each case is independent, and rises or falls on its own facts. To suggest otherwise is to add to the fear and confusion.

    As for being able to defend the disability as of the time of application, obviously. Has anyone suggested otherwise?

  30. mensa277

    You criticizing people are just jealous because you did not have a good enough union representative on YOUR jobs to create such benefits for you. These blue collar trainmen put up with a lot of ignorant customers. Even the Suffolk County Police Department doesn’t have such smarts. Look at the truckers/teamsters union… These LIRR employees worked 24/7/365 with better delivery than AmTrak.

  31. michele satin

    Just Found this Blog, Awesome Thanks for sticking up for these Guys, Look at my Last Name~ Living threw it.

  32. Pingback: Disabled LIRR Retirees Get Asked The Hard Questions | Simple Justice

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