2008_10_lirrtrain.jpgAfter the NY Times revealed a stunning number of recent Long Island Rail Road retirees retired with disability payments (as high as 97% one year), Attorney General Andrew Cuomo held a hearing yesterday about the matter. He was unsparing in his assessment of the disability program, "There appears to have been a cottage industry, if you will, that developed to expedite the granting of disability benefits. It was a bad program design to begin with, and it was totally flawed oversight by the Railroad Retirement Board, by the LIRR, by the MTA."

Last month, the Times article showed as soon as LIRR employees hit retirement eligibility, they apply for disability and over 90% since 2000 have received it--and payments have totaled about $250 million in federal funds. Further, the LIRR is losing experienced workers and must expend time and money to train newer ones. Yesterday, state investigators said an LIRR official sent an e-mail message showing his involvement in the scheme. According to the Times, the message suggests he "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." The LIRR has suspended the employee.

One doctor--via pixelated video-- used by some retirees explained how he would fill out their disability paperwork to say they were injured, when they were actually healthy, "These patients said they were counseled on when and how to apply for benefits." The hearing was also attended by members of Congress, including Representative Carolyn McCarthy who criticized Aflac, a seller of disability insurance, for not noticing that many LIRR employees bought short-term policies and cashed them out.

Photograph of an LIRR train by gmpicket on Flickr