This time of year, a perfect batting average of 1,000 could make you cheer. But if that average is for the number occupational disability claims approved for workers, it could make you cry.
That's how the federal and New York State governments are feeling after the Railroad Retirement Board, an independent federal agency, approved almost 100 percent of claims by Long Island Railroad (LIRR) employees, some white collar, even after changes made to avoid abuse of the system, according to an ongoing investigative report by The New York Times.
The claims are stipulated to be for permanent mental or physical conditions caused by occupational hazards related to railroads, even though some employees who filed claims are office workers.
The changes included adding additional scrutiny for claims, including additional medical evaluations and pension award reviews. However, in the 6 months since the changes were made, 64 of 66 of new claims for retirement were approved, says the Times , and 73 of 74 other retirement cases were continued (the 74th recipient had died).
According to Progressiverailroading.com, claims for occupations disability payments by LIRR workers were 12 times those from the other commuter railroad under the Railroad Retirement Board.
A study by the General Accounting Office (GAO) showed that almost all requests (97 percent) to the Railroad Retirement Board from other railroads were also approved. Since 2000, around $250 million in pensions have been approved.
A spokesperson for the Railroad Retirement Board, quoted by the Times, said while the changes “have not significantly affected the percentage of awards … it is too early to draw any firm conclusions.”
LIRR President Helena Williams said the railroad has conducted employee ethics training and instruction about legitimate reasons for disability retirement claims. However, she noted the railroad is not involved in the approval of disability pensions by the federal board.
Now, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the House Transportation Committee, and GAO have become involved in looking into the matter.
Sources: New York Times and Progressiverailroading.com