NEW YORK - Saying she could not stand idle as Long Island Rail Road" href="/topic/economy-business-finance/transportation-industry/railway-industry/long-island-rail-road-ORGOV0000002.topic">Long Island Rail Road employees continue to abuse a flawed pension system that grants disability benefits to nearly anyone who applies, railroad president Helena Williams yesterday called for widespread reforms both at the federal level and in her own agency.

"Something is not right, and I think that's why I'm here saying it cannot be business as usual at the railroad," Williams said at a news conference at the LIRR's Jamaica headquarters. "We have to get to the heart of the system. Why is the system allowing for what you and I would say appears to be, at the minimum, abuse [and] certainly waste?"

Williams outlined a multifaceted plan to curb apparent abuses of the federal U.S. Railroad Retirement Board occupational pension system, which has come under fire after published reports revealed that an alarmingly high number of retired LIRR employees receive disability benefits on top of their LIRR pensions.

Williams yesterday sent letters to members of Congress urging them to overhaul the railroad retirement system. She recommended more involvement and input by employers on individual disability claims, closer scrutiny of employees' claims by independent medical experts, mandatory physical rehabilitation when applicable, and a more stringent review of disability claims filed by administrative employees whose work does not involve physical labor.

"The goal is to ensure that only those who are truly deserving of a disability pension get a disability pension," Williams said.

The retirement board also recently reported that it approves 98 percent of all its disability applications nationwide. Internal audits have criticized the board for relying on little or faulty medical evidence in approving claims. Several state and federal agencies have launched investigations into the board's practices.

U.S. Railroad Retirement Board officials declined to comment yesterday.

Among the internal reforms Williams said she will enact is additional ethics training for LIRR employees, aimed specifically at stressing compliance "with both the letter and spirit of the law" governing disability eligibility.

Also, the LIRR will establish a new unit that will act as a disability-claim watchdog and will communicate directly with the retirement board. In addition, the LIRR will distribute posters reminding employees and commuters that they can contact the Metropolitan Transportation Authority inspector general's hotline with any reports of possible fraud, waste and abuse.

Several members of Long Island" href="/topic/travel/long-island-PLTRA000031.topic">Long Island's congressional delegation, including Hillary Clinton" href="/topic/politics/government/hillary-clinton-PEPLT007433.topic">Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-Mineola), Steve Israel" href="/topic/politics/steve-israel-PEPLT003176.topic">Steve Israel (D- Huntington) and Tim Bishop" href="/topic/politics/government/tim-bishop-PEPLT007487.topic">Tim Bishop (D- Southampton), heralded Williams' call for reform.

"Clearly, the railroad retirement system is off the tracks and changes must be made," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), adding that he is reviewing Williams' suggestions and would work with all parties to "forge a better system."

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) agreed that "legislation is certainly needed" and said he is intent on making "sure we get it right."

McCarthy said she "applauded" Williams, adding, "It is important that measures are taken sooner rather than later to learn if and where any wrongdoing took place."

Clinton said she is working "to determine if there has been an illegitimate use of federal funds and to examine the most appropriate ways to prevent any wrongdoing in the future."

A spokesman for Israel said he has "called for hearings on the matter, and we're hoping that will happen and we're hoping we'll have the chance to investigate it." Meanwhile, a spokesman for Bishop said he "appreciated the LIRR's legislative suggestions as well as the steps they have committed to take to stop any abuse" and said all findings from pending investigations "will be incorporated into any future legislation."

A spokesman for Attorney General Andrew Cuomo called the matter "an extraordinary case of financial abuses" and said the office's investigation "is moving rapidly and will continue to pursue this matter aggressively."

Staff writer Melanie Lefkowitz contributed to this story.