Disabled LIRR Retirees Get Asked The Hard Questions

Not that anyone who isn’t a former employee of the Long Island Rail Road feels the slightest sympathy, mostly because everybody hates the LIRR and is so innately biased against its people that allegations of fraud are par for the course, but their handling by the Railroad Retirement Board has reached a new depth of bizarre.

After unilaterally terminating the disability payments of hundreds of retirees because a doctor who was involved in their application, Peter Ajemian, copped a plea, which only makes the slightest bit of sense to someone deeply inclined to hate the LIRR in the first place and otherwise not big on anything approaching logic, the RRB doubled down when another doc, Peter Lesniewski, was convicted for fraud.  So what if the RRB’s physicians examined every applicant and confirmed their disability. This is no time for facts, when there are heads to roll.

But being a fair-minded government agency, the RRB offered the retirees a chance to get their disability pensions back.  All they had to do was jump through hoops, which apparently turned out to be more doable than the government thought.  So yesterday, they added a new mountain to scale, but this one was special.

The disabled received a supplemental questionnaire with such critical questions as

Do you perform any volunteer work? Volunteer work is any work you perform without pay. For example at a not-for-profit organization, club or gathering place. If yes, please describe what you do as a volunteer and the number of hours you participate per week.

Clearly, no person suffering from a railroad disability should be charitable. Or more damning still:

What do you do for entertainment? Please describe.

I suspect this is the anti-fapping challenge. After all, if you’re disabled, your life should be nothing but misery.

But these questions, ridiculous as they may be, are nothing compared to the questions that raise fundamental constitutional problems. What? you ask.  How about these:

Did you complete your application package with the assistance of an attorney? If yes, provide their name(s) and address(es) below:

Did you complete your application package with the assistance of a non-family member other than an RRB representative? If yes, provide their name(s) and address(es) below:

And best of all:

If you answered to yes to either 1a or 1b above, did you pay for the services provided?

If yes, specify the amount you paid.

And swear to it at the end of the questionnaire.  No one at the RRB has ever been accused of being ahead of the curve, so perhaps they’ve not been informed that the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution made it past the states yet, but people are entitled to the assistance of counsel, and if they decide to avail themselves of that right, the government cannot penalize them for doing so.

So, good buddies at the RRB, what’s the point of asking?  It’s none of your business that the disabled used a lawyer or their kid nephew to help them with your package. It’s none of your business whether they paid them a few grand or in tootsie pops.  It’s none of your business, and it’s utterly irrelevant to anything you could legitimately use in reaching your decision.

And yet you ask. And not only do you ask, but you require the form be complete in its entirely upon pain of perjury, not to mention 18 U.S.C. §1001.

Many of the retirees were working folk. It doesn’t take a post-grad education to do track work. All it takes is a strong back and the willingness to spend eight hours outside in the middle of the night in a blizzard. So they aren’t very good with forms? Big deal. They don’t really understand how to put together their medical history and narratives in a moderately comprehensible format? So what?

These are people who need help to make their way through your minefield of reconsideration and re-application. These are people who are due their disability payments, the ones you took away without bothering to notice that they are very much disabled, as your own doctors confirmed.

But since the government didn’t scare them enough to make them walk away from their disability payments through the fear letters, and your unilateral termination of benefits without any rational basis whatsoever didn’t stop them from trying to straighten things out, now you’re going to try to penalize them for using their constitutional right to counsel?

Of course, since the retirees haven’t shown the gumption to stand up to the RRB, to bring suit to end the madness, it’s no wonder that the RRB continues to spiral into the gutter to find new ways to make the disabled miserable.  If no one challenges the wrongs being done to them, why not?

2 comments on “Disabled LIRR Retirees Get Asked The Hard Questions

  1. David Sugerman

    It never occurred to me that the Sixth Am applies in the context of an application for government benefits. I suppose it’s based on the notion that the applicant’s statements might create criminal liability? You know that better, and I would defer to you and the other smarty-pants criminal defense lawyers who haunt this blog. Beyond Am6–if there is such a thing–the questions pretty clearly invade attorney-client privilege, which exists even if the criminal procedure protections do not. Shameless bastards for all the reasons you note.

    1. SHG Post author

      Had it simply been an app for gov’t benefits, it would be one thing, but this questionnaire has only been required of the select group of people whose benefits have been terminated as an offshoot of the fraud conviction of the doctors upon their reconsideration of benefits. Not as part of the application process in general. Not as part of any other reconsideration application. Just this particular group, who had already been sent a letter by the United States Attorney threatening potential prosecution if they fail to relinquish their benefits. This group is very special.

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