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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.