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 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
"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
U.S. Railroad Retirement Board officials declined to comment
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
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
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."
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.
LIRR Head Calls For Disability System Overhaul
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