LIRR hearing exposes pension irregularities

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Witnesses at a hearing investigating the possibility of widespread disability fraud among Long Island Rail Road retirees said some LIRR managers counseled employees on how to apply for questionable disability benefits from a federal agency.

“There appears to have been a cottage industry, if you will, that developed to expedite the granting of disability benefits,” said New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who called the hearing in Old Westbury, L.I. on Monday.

Of the disability scandal, Cuomo said “everybody sort of knew about it, but nobody did anything about it.”

A physician who was unidentified with his face electronically concealed on video tape testified that many LIRR employees seeking disability retirement obtained medical examinations from him .

“It was clear to me that these patients saw this benefit as an entitlement,” adding that the federal Railroad Retirement Board had never questioned any of his medical evaluations.

The physician was asked whether this was ”disability by appointment” rather than need, the doctor agreed it was,” The Times reported.

The Times and Newsday identified an LIRR official who “investigat­ors said sold advice while on the job on how to get disability payments, including such fine points as paying a doctor in cash for a medical evaluation, the best time to retire and how to avoid outside scrutiny.”

LIRR President Helena Williams said she discovered an e−mail from the official through an internal investigation and turned it over to investigators, Newsday reported. She said the official had been suspended pending the investigation, according to the paper.

U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D−Bayside) said the LIRR had warnings of fraud as early as 2002.

“There were no regulators and no enforcers,” Ackerman said, according to the New York Post. “This is, to me, poor management.”

Meanwhile, the Railroad Retirement Board said it planned to require periodic medical checks of retirees, independent evaluations and better management of the Board’s Long Island office.

The board said it also planned to establish a procedure to try to uncover abuse of its retirement system.

The New York Times first reported the possible irregularities in disability retirements under the federal agency. The Railroad Retirement Board acknowledged approving more than 90 percent of disability applications.

At least four government entities, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, are conducting investigations of the matter.

Employees of the LIRR have received disability payments totaling nearly $250,000 since 2000, The Times reported, and several physicians and insurance companies have been subpoenaed in the investigations.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D−N.Y.) and U.S. Rep. Timothy Bishop (D−N.Y.) offered their help in”an active oversight role.” Both lawmakers had conferred recently with members of the Railroad Retirement Board.

Posted 6:37 pm, October 10, 2011
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