Amidst all the coverage the New York Times has given the Long Island Railroad disability claim scandal, I believe today is the first time the paper has given the story front-page, middle of the page, big ol’ photo treatment. “The Railroad Disability Board That Couldn’t Say No” is the latest cobblestone on the path to Pulitzer glory for Walt Bogdanich and Nicholas Phillips.
As the name indicates, it shines a light on the dodgy Railroad Retirement Board, a federal outfit in Chicago that green-lights nearly every disability claim that comes its way–to the tune of $250 million paid out in the last eight years.
As the story notes, LIRR President Helena E. Williams wanted to meet with the RRB to see exactly why so many of her employees were retiring early and living on disability. She inquired about attending the next RRB meeting, then found out the $34 billion Railroad Board had not met in two years, with no next meeting on the schedule. The three board members, full-time presidential employees earning about $150,000 a head, communicate via email when they have to.
The article isn’t so much about the LIRR and its larcenous disability record, but about the various bureaucracies who set out to fix the broken system, but ultimately gave up after deciding it would take too much effort, or because they figured some other outfit–consultants, Social Security, Congress–was taking care of it.
One gem the reporters unearth: the Railroad Board took 50 years to update what were supposed to be temporary standards for disability, so archaic conditions such as “cretinism,” “imbecility” and “middle-class moronism”–not to mention having a “repugnant scar”–were all deemed legit disabilities for railroad workers.