Why are so many LIRR retirees applying for a federal occupational disability pension?

Some believe that certain employees have a built-in incentive to apply under a now-closed LIRR pension plan that allowed them to retire at age 50 with 20 years of service. Those employees can retire at 50, collect an LIRR pension, and then apply for a federal disability pension that almost always is approved by the federal Railroad Retirement Board. Once LIRR employees reach the age of 65, the incentive is removed because they would get essentially the same amount of money from their LIRR pension and a federal pension to which most railroad employees are entitled.

Are LIRR retirees and their doctors lying about disabilities?

Not necessarily. Under the retirement board rules, doctors examine retirees but do not rule on whether they are disabled. Rather, they issue a report on the medical condition of retirees. The retirement board then decides whether any physical ailments that a retiree may have fall into an extensive list of occupational disabilities. Critics say the retirement board's standards are too low, and note that only 40 percent of LIRR retirees who meet the retirement board's standards for being disabled would also meet more stringent Social Security standards.

Who is paying for LIRR retirees' federal disability pensions?

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The system is largely funded through railroad employees, who pay into the pension fund, similar to how most people pay into Social Security. Railroad workers do not collect Social Security. Railroad employers, like the LIRR, also pay a portion of the railroad retirement fund through their revenue. About half of the LIRR's revenue comes from customers' fares.

- ALFONSO A. CASTILLO