The LIRR 600 Rode into the Valley of Death on the 8:09 (Update x 2)

The  New York Times reports that the Railroad Retirement Board, apparently unable to cut off benefits to former Long Island Rail Road workers on disability fast enough when each form had to be stamped by hand, has decided instead to unilaterally cut off workers en masse.

About 600 Long Island Rail Road retirees will lose their disability benefits after a federal agency voted last week to halt the payments, amid a sweeping investigation into what prosecutors have called a major disability fraud scheme, according to agency documents and officials.

The agency, the United States Railroad Retirement Board, which over more than a decade granted disability benefits to hundreds of railroad retirees based on fraudulent medical evidence with little scrutiny, took the action on Thursday during a five-minute meeting at its headquarters in Chicago. The vote approved procedures under which the board will cut off the benefits, which, officials said, are costing the agency $2 million a month.
The only thing shocking is that it took them a whole five minutes to be this arbitrary and capricious. This is the latest in a series of insults perpetrated by the government on disabled workers. It’s been widely accepted that there are workers on disability scamming the system, though aside from the ones who have already been prosecuted, no evidence has been offered to show any individual retiree to have engaged in fraud. Still, it’s become the accepted myth of the story, and who am I to stir up controversy.

But even assuming that some of the 600 are dirty, there is nothing whatsoever to suggest that all of them are. Indeed, having heard from many of them, there is no question that there are people within this group who are most assuredly disabled and fully entitled to the benefits they receive.  To which the government says, “who cares? If we just cut ’em all off, the deserving and undeserving alike, we can save a bundle and shift the problem onto the backs of the disabled.”

The government, saving us $2 million a month. What’s not to like? And if they let every poor person in America starve, and deny legal representation to anyone who can’t pay for their own lawyer, they can save even more. Pretty soon, you’re talking real money. And as long as it’s not us who suffers, this is a great victory.

The action taken here could not be more arbitrary. Without any basis to suggest that these individuals (and remember that these are 600 human beings, each of whom has to live, eat, survive) did anything wrong, they just cut them all off and let the chips fall where they may. Who cares who was legitimately disabled? The government doesn’t know and doesn’t care.

But neither, it appears, does anyone else in a position to do anything about this.  It seems that this is the culmination of the RRB poking a sleeping giant with a stick to see if it will wake up and fight. Instead, it has just rolled over and played dead.  Where is the union?  Hiding under its contract, praying that it won’t be tainted by the bad press and entrenched hatred of the LIRR and its workers who have humped commuters for decades with their own nastiness and lack of empathy.  Payback is a bitch.

And where are the leaders, the retirees who have the guts to stand up and be heard?  <crickets>

This is where an organization must emerge to fight for the rights of the group, to finance and coordinate a fight against the government’s outrageous denial of benefits to everyone because it’s so much easier than doing the hard work of figuring out who is committing fraud and who is legitimately disabled.  But no leader has emerged from the retirees, who are interested in their own financial survival but fear making themselves a target for federal prosecutors.

Everything about this action by the Railroad Retirement Board stinks of facile capriciousness, enabled by government prosecutors who have no room in their heads for the legitimately disabled whose lives they are wantonly destroying.  And it’s happening without anyone with the guts to life a finger. Not the union. Not the retirees. No one.

To paraphrase, the only thing necessary for the government to arbitrarily terminate the benefits of the LIRR disabled is for good men to do nothing.  And it appears that’s exactly what they’re doing.

Update:  It appears from an  article in Newsday that not only will the 600 retirees whose applications for disability included a medical narrative report by convicted fraudster Dr. Peter Ajemian lose their disability payments, but that the LIRR is also trying to terminate their regular union pensions. 

Bear in mind, while Ajemian may have lied on behalf of some retirees, there is nothing to suggest that the 600 who have neither been prosecuted nor individually inestigated weren’t in fact disabled, and there is no doubt that most were disabled as defined by the Railroad Retirement Board. They have been singled out because of their having used Ajemian, who was promoted by the LIRR at the time as the best choice of physician.

Update 2: In a July 3rd memo to LIRR employees, LIRR President Helena Williams disavows Newsday’s report that pensions are in jeopardy.

As reported in local newspapers and on websites, the RRB has taken an action to discontinue disability annuities for 600 retirees who were treated by Dr. Peter Ajemian. Newspaper headlines and articles are not under our control, and we regret any confusion to employees or retirees caused by today’s press coverage.

LIRR has no information about the identity of the 600 retirees affected by the RRB action or whether these retirees engaged in fraudulent activity while employed at the railroad, and LIRR has made no determination regarding their pension status.

Pension forfeiture for those employees found to have engaged in fraudulent or criminal activity while employed at the LIRR is not an automatic procedure and cannot be invoked without following an administrative process and procedure on a case-by-case basis, including, for those represented employees in the closed plan, an appeal process to an independent arbitrator.

Railroad work is physically demanding, and LIRR employees have distinguished themselves time and again with their hard work and dedication in all kinds of weather and under very challenging conditions. LIRR believes that RRB disability annuity is an important benefit that should be reserved for those railroad employees who are truly disabled.

It appears she has a far better grasp of the issues than the RRB or Newsday. Or, for that matter, some of the annuitants involved.

28 comments on “The LIRR 600 Rode into the Valley of Death on the 8:09 (Update x 2)

  1. Erika

    Reading this made me think of how if there were 600 disabled police officers who were threatened with losing their benefits there is little doubt that the police associations would be going nuts and fighting like crazy – chances are they would soon attract support in the media and the general public and the government would drop the case. That made me wonder since pretty much during my entire life poor working and middle class people have seen their rights and incomes trampled with hardly any sort of fight – with only the police and police unions seemingly willing to fight for themselves.

    the highly depressing explanation i can think of for this is that among working class people the police are the only people who can be sure that the government won’t send the police after them if they try to stand up for themselves.

  2. SHG

    As cynical as that explanation may be, it’s likely accurate. That the LIRR union won’t touch this is utterly disgraceful, and the current union members/employees better take note that when they retire, they’re on their own.

  3. Bruce Coulson

    They’re not saving money; they’re transferring the expense from one government department to several others, and probably losing money overall. The disabled workers aren’t going to conveniently all get well (or die immediately); they are going to be a burden on the public health system, and so that part of the government will be stuck with the expense. So, even the alledged ‘savings’ don’t exist except as PR.

  4. SHG

    How dare you obfuscate government hype with sound logic? The government doesn’t appreciate that, you know.

  5. Honest Ahab

    SHG, as a student of legal history, you should recognize that we’ve come full circle with our justice system and this is merely an obvious use of Trial by Ordeal, with a new millennium twist . . .

    Impoverish first, ask questions later, and leave the rest for G-d to sort out, as she always does, correct?? . . .

  6. Russell Morrow

    I am a LIRR retiree on an occupational disability. Never in my life have I seen such an obvious example of government abuse of power. Let’s be clear: we’re talking about denial of due process, presumption of guilt, guilt by association, ideas which I was brought up to believe are un-American.

    The government claims LIRR retirees suddenly became disabled at retirement, yet I was treated for back and neck pain starting more than 20 years before retirement. The government claims Dr. Ajemian filed false reports, yet I was determined to be occupationally disabled by a RRB doctor. If Dr. Ajemian lied, then so did the RRB doctor. Is the RRB doctor being prosecuted? NO.

    The general public has been lied to. The LIRR has been trying to rout it’s unions for decades. The ratio of management to labor has increased tenfold over the last 40 years. The LIRR president claims not to have known about the disability claims, yet many of her managers, white collar workers and secretaries who never got their hands dirty, who worked 9 to 5 for their entire careers, were awarded disabilities. The LIRR has been “redefining” and “restructuring” it’s management hierarchy for decades, in order to keep the money in the hands of management. LIRR management has become a political patronage job.

    In addition, LIRR management has conspired to keep the truth from the public, that RRB disability payments are funded not from tax money, but entirely from railroad employee payroll contributions. The government claims hundreds of retirees are guilty but has prosecuted only 33. Why? Simply because there is no evidence that the majority did anything wrong.

    The legal standard for the occupational disability under the Railroad Retirement Act is quite low. Most LIRR retirees simply followed the law. In addition, LIRR and RRB managers, (government employees), held retirement seminars on LIRR property, during which retirees were assisted and encouraged to apply for RRB disability annuities. If the government believes the law is flawed, then change the law, don’t prosecute those who follow it.

    If there is evidence against certain retirees, then prosecute. But to deny benefits to hundreds of retirees, benefits those retirees paid for, without evidence and without due process, is nothing short of a witch trial. It is the government which is perpetrating fraud, and those government officials responsible belong in North Korea, not the USA.

    [Ed. Note: Paragraph breaks added to make this comment readable.]

  7. SHG

    Despite the irony of an LIRR retiree explaining law to lawyers on a law blog, a very well stated comment.

    The shame is that there is no one, neither union nor group of retirees, will to fight. No matter how right you may be, if no one is willing to do anything about it, you lose.

  8. SHG

    The mass termination of disability benefits based solely on a connection to Ajemian is outrageous and needs to be attacked directly in federal court. It really should be the union, but since the union won’t touch this out of misguided fear (and current members ought to take note, since their day may come when they need the union and it won’t be there for them):

    And where are the leaders, the retirees who have the guts to stand up and be heard?  <crickets>

    This is where an organization must emerge to fight for the rights of the group, to finance and coordinate a fight against the government’s outrageous denial of benefits to everyone because it’s so much easier than doing the hard work of figuring out who is committing fraud and who is legitimately disabled.  But no leader has emerged from the retirees, who are interested in their own financial survival but fear making themselves a target for federal prosecutors.

    One person can’t manage or finance this suit, but if the cost is spread over the group, it can not only be done, but done successfully. If each of the 600 (and there will be more soon, as we all know) was to contribute $1000, there would be a $600,000 war chest to fight the RRB, and that would be more than enough to mount on hell of a fight. But with everybody hiding under the couch, the RRB and government have already figures out that no one will stand up and fight it, so it can do whatever it pleases to appease the public with impunity.





  9. Russell Morrow

    Thank You, Scott. Every one of us paid union dues throughout our careers for the express purpose of protection from our employer, who in this case, happens to be the government. I believe the payment of union dues amounts to a contract, and the failure of the union to protect us amounts to a breach. I wonder if it would be possible to sue the union on this basis in order to force it to come to our aid. I personally, am willing to contribute to this suit or one against the RRB.
    If an organization were created and funded for this purpose, would you help?

    1. Gill Bates

      Due process only applies if one IS ARRESTED. These scammers have not (yet) been arrested.

      1. SHG Post author

        No, due process applies to any action by the government affecting a person’s rights or interest. Strike one. And “these scammers” aren’t scammers until somebody proves they are, despite what simplistic ignoramuses call them. Strike two. And if they are “scammers,” they’re there for the government to prosecute any time it wants. And yet, they haven’t. Strike three. You’re out.

  10. SHG

    Sue the union? To what end? So you can attempt to get an order forcing the union to represent your interests 5 years from now?  The action is against the RRB, where the immediate issue looms.

    As for the RRB, there are certainly excellent lawyers who would be interested in putting an end to this travesty. As this blog isn’t for marketing purposes, it’s inappropriate for you to ask or me to answer as to whether I would help, as it would compromise my integrity and credibility. In the event that I would, then I would expressly note my involvement and bias.  At the moment, I remain without interest in this matter, and my views are untainted.

  11. Honest Ahab

    What has been described strikes me as something like a quasi or de facto Bill of Attainder and thus constitutes an egregious violation of the most basic of constitutional prohibitions (U.S. Constitution – Article I Section 9, Article I Section 10):

    From Wikipedia: “A bill of attainder (also known as an act of attainder or writ of attainder) is an act of a legislature declaring a person or group of persons guilty of some crime and punishing them without privilege of a judicial trial. As with attainder resulting from the normal judicial process, the effect of such a bill is to nullify the targeted person’s civil rights, most notably the right to own property (and thus pass it on to heirs), the right to a title of nobility, and, in at least the original usage, the right to life itself. Bills of attainder were used in England between about 1300 and 1800 and resulted in the executions of a number of notable historical figures. However, the use of these bills eventually fell into disfavour due to the obvious potential for abuse and the violation of several legal principles, most importantly separation of powers, the right to due process, and the precept that a law should address a particular form of behavior rather than a specific individual or group. For these reasons, bills of attainder are expressly banned by the United States Constitution as well as the constitutions of all 50 US states.”

    Not to mention the obvious Due Process violations under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments and maybe a Takings issue too . . .

  12. SHG

    Apparently, you aren’t paying attention either. The problem isn’t what’s wrong with what they are doing, but that no one will rise up to challenge it.

  13. JJM

    The Brotherhood of Railroad Signalman, which represented a number of retires who are maimed, disabled, hospitalized or dead yesterday took a official stand on the matter.

    From their on-line newsletter:

    “The response from the [Railroad Retirement] Board is fair,” stated Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen President W. Dan Pickett. “It makes certain that our retirement system is no longer being taken advantage of and creates a path for those who are truly disabled to continue receiving the benefits to which they are entitled.” President Pickett also serves as the Chairman of the Railroad Retirement Committee for Rail Labor.

    It must be comforting to those uncharged retired signalmen and their widows to know their union dues supported their families’ being thrown out in the street.

    By the way… There is a six month wait before any money can be paid to a disability applicant. Since a number of those 600 being cut from benefit roles are widows of annuitants and retirees in nursing homes, they too will be put out in the street after their Medicare benefits are capriciously terminated.

  14. SHG

    That’s the view when your head is deep within the buttocks of the government. His checks keep coming, of course.

  15. ngtstme

    I worked for the LIRR for 26 years and followed the rules of safety and passed all the difficult examinations required to assure safe passage. The paper will not fairly print actually duties of personnel in transportation. Nobody will sacrifice 20 to 30 years of service to make up a phony illness. Love to take the public to Jamaica at midnight walking the tracks in cold climbing the ladders required to board equipment. The switches and other mechanical failures that needed to be addressed.

  16. AHogger

    You ask rather cavalierly “And where are the leaders, the retirees who have the guts to stand up and be heard?”

    Most of understand the enormous and limitless resources of the Federal government and their prosecutors. We also have seen virtually every defendant so far plead guilty notwithstanding excellent legal counsel.

    Some are indeed starting to explore an alliance. The issue is not, unfortunately, the truly innocent and who are disabled, it’s the guilty who would seek to exploit others’ innocence to get their “free-ride” on the backs of the innocent. In fact, had it not been for the more “flamboyant” and arrogant, thinking only of themselves, that this mess developed.

    Yes, moves are quietly being made to ally with each other. However, it must be done to prevent those who would continue their dishonesty from affecting the honest.

  17. SHG

    There have been many thoughtful and enlightening comments by LIRR employees, retirees and annuitants. Yours is not among them.

  18. Russell Morrow

    I agree that, as usual, a small number of selfish individuals have managed to create a major debacle for the rest of us.

    But the government has claimed that up to 1000 people are “co-conspirators”. The investigation has been going on for several years with only 33 people charged. The only explanation for this is, there is no evidence that the vast majority of us did anything wrong.

    I believe the vast majority applied honestly and were awarded disabilities properly under the law.

    I believe the government is claiming that the investigation is “ongoing” in order to intimidate us into acquiescing, while the the criminal phase is actually over.

    I have to agree that, up until this point, no one has stepped up and challenged the outrageous conduct of the government.

    That must change.

  19. Rail

    No, the problem is people like you, too busy making excuses, too busy condemning others who (just like you) haven’t been found guilty of anything, too busy buying into BS (excellent legal counsel? Yeah, right) and calling the one question by the one person who has stood up for us when everybody else condemns us “cavalier”.

    If you want to see the problem, look in the mirror. Go ahead and see if all your whining gets your disability back.

  20. AHogger

    I guess I didn’t make myself clear. Of course the government’s actions are atrocious.

    [Ed. Note: Balance of comment deleted due to my policy of not making anyone stupider for having read SJ.]

  21. SHG

    You made yourself abundantly clear. I allowed your first comment to post despite the fact that it was mind-numbingly wrong, in order to allow you to present a differing view. You are entitled to your own opinion, but you aren’t entitled to your own facts. However, having given you the opportunity post it once, repeating the same nonsense is harmful and dangerous.  Dunning-Kruger Effect is unfortunately all too common.

    You (and everyone else) are free to disagree with me, but this is my home. If you persist in thinking that your notions are worthwhile, then start a blog, gain a whole lot of readers, and say whatever you want. I get to make the rules here, and though I tried to be kind to you in response to your first comment, you abused my kindness (aside from foolishly insulting me with your utterly insipid characterization). It’s my fault for allowing it once. You don’t get to do so again.

    My rule is that no one gets to make people stupider here. You make people stupider. You can disagree. Do it elsewhere. What? There is no elsewhere? You have no blog, no readers, no credibility, no voice, nothing?  That’s right. There is a reason for it.

    I credit you with good intentions, even if you lack the capacity to think and are overwhelmed with the importance of your vapid ideas. But the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and there are far too many other annuitants who will suffer for ignorance from people like you to allow it to dirty this place up. Best of luck, but you are utterly clueless and offer nothing of value.

  22. Anonymous

    What makes you completely right and AHogger completely wrong, other than this being your blog?

  23. SHG

    A somewhat fair question. Because I’m a lawyer, not a pseudonymous railroad retiree. Because I actually know law stuff, not claim knowledge far outside my realm. Because tens of thousand of people, from judges to lawyers to journalists to others, voluntarily chose to read what appears here every day, thus subjecting my ideas and writing to constant peer review. Because my view isn’t colored by self-interest, excuses or rationalizations. Because I don’t claim to have any knowledge about how to perform brain surgery, fix track signals or punch receipts, and yet a railroader thinks himself so knowledgeable about law as to assert on a law blog that he knows better than anyone else.

    And that’s the answer.

  24. Eddie

    The Railroad Retirement Board has notified retirees that their disability annuities will be discontinued as of November 1, but that they can re-apply via telephone interview.

    Meanwhile FBI agents are visiting the potential re-applicants and holding half-hour “interviews”.

    It’s unclear what this means, the purpose of the interviews or whether this is a good thing, a bad thing, or a terrible thing and they’re in need of a good lawyer.

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

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