West Warwick Disability Pensions: Questions Asked of the Pension Board and the Troubling Or Non-Responsive Answers

The news has now broken that not only is the West Warwick pension system in deep trouble but that it may well drag the entire city over the receivership cliff. This would be a good point, accordingly, to post the e-mail exchange between myself and the WW Pension Board of six months ago. (My questions were asked pursuant to Rhode Island’s Open Records law.)
1.) What percentage of all West Warwick pensions are disability (versus ordinary retirement)?

With respect to your request for information #1 concerning a breakdown of the types of pensions within the Town’s Pension Plans covering Police Officers, Firefighters, and Municipal Employees, there are presently 319 retirees covered by the Plans, of which 262 are service retirement pensions, 51 are accidental disability pensions, and 6 are non-accidental/ordinary disability pensions. Thus, 17.8% of the total number of pensions covered by the Plans are disability pensions (i.e. 57 of 319 pensions).

2.) Regarding disability pensions, what is the percentage breakdown between physical and psychological?

With respect to your request for information #2 concerning a breakdown of the percentage of physical versus psychological disability pensions within the Town’s Pension Plans (i.e. of the 57 disability pensions), please be advised that your request is hereby denied as it seeks information exempted from disclosure by the Rhode Island Access to Public Records Act.
Specifically, the Rhode Island Access to Public Records Act, in Rhode Island General Laws §38-2-2(4)(i)(A)(I), states that the following categories of records (i.e. information) are not deemed to be “public records” (with emphases added):
“All records which are identifiable to an individual applicant for benefits, client, patient, student, or employee, including, but not limited to, personnel, medical treatment, welfare, employment security, pupil records, all records relating to a client/attorney relationship and to a doctor/patient relationship, and all personal or medical information relating to an individual in any files, including information relating to medical or psychological facts, personal finances, welfare, employment security, student performance, or information in personnel files maintained to hire, evaluate, promote, or discipline any employee of a public body…”
Because the information that you have requested through your request for information #2 concerning a breakdown of the percentage of physical versus psychological disability pensions within the Town’s Pension Plans could be “…identifiable to an individual applicant for benefits…”, pertains to “medical treatment”, and constitutes “…personal or medical information relating to an individual in any files, including information relating to medical or psychological facts…”, such information is deemed covered by the exempted categories of information listed above, and your request must be denied.
Moreover, your request must also be denied because, in the Rhode Island Department of the Attorney General’s opinions in Palazzo v. Town of West Warwick, (PR 07-01; 2/15/07) and Finnegan v. Scituate Police Department, (PR 96-10B), the Attorney General’s Office ruled that the type of information you are seeking with regard to the Town of West Warwick Pension Plans is also not covered by the otherwise broad provisions set forth in Rhode Island General Laws §38-2-2(4)(i)(A)(II) of the APRA.
Pursuant to the Rhode Island Access to Public Records Act you have the right to appeal this denial to the Chief Administrative Officer of the Town of West Warwick.

3.) Once a disability pension is granted, does West Warwick have a re-certification process? Is the disabled retiree required to prove that s/he is still disabled? If so, what is required of the retiree and how often must it be carried out? i.e., once a year, once every two years?
4.) Has West Warwick observed the requirements of its own re-certification process? When were disability pensions last re-certified?

With respect to your requests for information #3 and #4 concerning the Pension Plan disability pension recertification process, the Pension Plans provide for a so-called “medical disability recertification process” under which the Pension Board may require those disability pensioners who have not yet attained the age and/or date of “normal retirement” under the Plans to be examined by a Board-appointed physician (i.e. paid for from Pension Plan assets) to determine if the pensioner is still disabled from performing his/her previous employment with the Town. However, the Pension Plans do not mandate that the “medical disability recertification process” be utilized, and do not provide specific required time intervals between medical recertification examinations. The Pension Board has in the past several years utilized the medical recertification process on a random basis for some eligible disability pensioners.

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Dan
Dan
11 years ago

Careful. A lot of the “regular” pensions could be disability pensions that were converted due to age or other factors.

Max D
Max D
11 years ago

“Careful. A lot of the “regular” pensions could be disability pensions that were converted due to age or other factors.”
I would bet that was a rare occurrence. Under the old public safety disability act (the real title escapes me now), if it was on the job it was 2/3 for life. Most contracts called for the reduction to 50% if was not job related. Who would keep track of that? They usually wouldn’t even look for these people for the required re-certification. Out of sight, out of mind mentality. In more than one instance, they were problem employees and the city/town were glad they were out of sight and out of mind.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

This is an issue on which I’m not 100% clear, but I’ve read articles stating that disability pensions are sometimes automatically converted into regular pensions due to age, which skews the numbers of disability pensions awarded (believe me – I know the cities don’t recertify the disabilities).
In the few minutes I had this morning, all I could find was a Politifact article that seems to confirm this:
“The Central Falls numbers were easy enough to check; the state had provided The Journal with a list of all retired Central Falls police officers and firefighters receiving pensions. Of the 143 pensions on the list, 52 are labeled disability pensions, which amounts to 36.4 percent, very close to the 37 percent that Lisauskas cited. However, the list indicates 15 of the 52 disability pensions have been converted to ordinary pensions because of the age of the retirees. So, to be accurate, it’s currently 26 percent.”
http://www.politifact.com/rhode-island/statements/2011/aug/18/stephen-lisauskas/consultant-says-37-percent-central-falls-retired-p/

mangeek
mangeek
11 years ago

“…the information that you have requested… could be “…identifiable to an individual applicant for benefits…””
I suppose a -detailed- record would be personally identifiable, but just giving out the ratios should be no problem.

Max D
Max D
11 years ago

I know of at least one collective bargaining agreement that called for the disability to be reduced to 50% upon the member reaching the age of 55 or their normal retirement date (20 years) which ever came first. The FOP contested it because it was contrary to state law and won. I don’t recall if it was a settlement or decided by an arbitrator.

Max D
Max D
11 years ago

I have to say that the state has tightened the restrictions on disabilities. You can get a pension and a job but you can’t exceed 100% of the salary that the disability was calculated on without taking a reduction in your pension the following year. I was talking to a young patrolman who had three shoulder surgeries after an altercation in his station (with an arrestee). He’ll eventually lose the pension once he’s established in his new career. It will be interesting to see if he’s the exception or the rule for the future.

michael
michael
11 years ago

(“Retire and start collecting after twenty years of service”. Complete insanity.)
(expecting most, if not all police and firefighters to work for twenty years without getting hurt, complete insanity.)

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

Everyone gets hurt, Michael. It’s a part of being alive, performing valuable labor, and growing older. Only the select few got a free ride for life with no scrutiny or review as a result of it.
If you can point to even a single private industry sector that had a higher than 30-50% disability rate from 1990-2000, I would like to know what it was. Unless you are claiming that being a municipal firefighter in Rhode Island was literally the most dangerous job in the United States during that period?
You talk about integrity and constantly point out all the useless scum on your EMT runs abusing the SSDI disability system. But as soon as your own department becomes the topic, all of the disability pensions are beyond question and only a wicked troglodyte of a person would even question their legitimacy. How can you not see your own blatant hypocrisy on this issue? You’re like the emperor strolling down the street buck naked.

michael
michael
11 years ago

“Useless scum,” Dan? Who is the naked one here? My blog is what it is, a vivid account of city life as I see it, and I have never labeled a person “useless scum.”
I have addressed the pension system and disabilities countless times, here, the Providence Journal and on Rescuing Providence. You simply do not like what I have to say. That is your prerogative, but continually calling me a liar, cheat and scoundrel is nuts.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

Michael – Yes, those who defraud the SSDI system in order to not work are useless scum. My words, not yours. They are useless to society by voluntarily not working and they are scum for committing fraud. My statement was limited to those individuals only – your op-ed in the Providence Journal entitled “Squalor begets Squalor on the 300 block of Broad Street” goes much further and describes homeless and alcoholics individuals as “infesting” the area and “acting like animals” and uses various other unflattering adjectives to describe them and their behavior. You frequently discuss welfare and disability abuse in this segment of the population on your blog Rescuing Providence. You have *discussed* the disability system broadly, but you have never made a good-faith effort to actually address the disability pension issues raised here or in the Providence Journal, and that is a key distinction. You have never actually addressed the outrageous disability rate of pensioners from your department beyond your one-liners and sophomoric statements like “It’s a hard job.” I never said that you were a cheat, and I never said that you were a scoundrel. I said that you are a dishonest hypocrite on this particular issue with your department and union, which you are. To the extent that you lie, you lie by omission by paving over the hard statistics in favor of emotionally-charged anecdotes and unfounded generalizations, giving the reader a deliberately misleading impression of the functionality and accountability of the system as a whole. You pretend that “only a few” retirees from your department get 5-6% COLAs when in fact half of them do. You pretend that all of the disabilities are for crippling back injuries from carrying people down ladders when many of them in fact occurred under highly dubious circumstances like falling down… Read more »

michael
michael
11 years ago

Problem is, Dan, there is no point continuing this when your information such as 50% of retired firefighters are receiving 5-6% colas. That is not even close to true. If you have the time, and apparently you do, look it up.
One liners are all that work on blogs. People skim these things, most people anyway. As you well know, i could wax poetic about the dangers and pitfalls firefighters encounter, but choose to simply say, “it’s a hard job,” and leave it at that. Nobody cares, anyway.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

Michael – Everything I have read in the newspapers and in public and private reports on the subject states that “around half” of Providence police and fire retirees have been receiving 5-6% COLA. If you have some basis for denying this, then please present your evidence. If not, then I will continue to repeat the information presented by those sources. By all means, present your counter-evidence and correct my misunderstanding.
It seems that your hypocrisy knows no bounds. On the one hand, you frequently castigate the public for being misinformed on these issues, as well as politicians and pundits for pandering to the public through soundbytes, and then you openly admit to engaging in the same practice in support of your own cause. I’m just glad you’ve finally acknowledged that you’re “part of the problem.”
Dismiss it however you want, but saying “It’s a hard job” when presented with what any actuary, judge, or civil jury would consider prima facie statistical evidence of fraud (such as an 80% disability rate in the 90’s) is a form of dishonesty because it implies that those numbers are justifiable. It would be better to simply say nothing if you don’t want to participate in the debate, but clearly you do because you keep writing your posts and op-eds. That’s your prerogative, but don’t tell me you’ve addressed the issues because you have not. You offer creative writing and pave over the available evidence, that’s all.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

Here you go, Michael:
blogs.wpri.com/2011/11/30/cola-means-796871-pension-for-ex-fire-chief-if-he-lives-to-100/
See the graph entitled “Cost of living adjustments for Providence’s 2,923 retirees.” It’s broken down by fire and police pensions. The data is from the City’s actuarial firm.

michael
michael
11 years ago

So, now it’s “around half.” Excellent. I do not have to prove a thing, Dan. The burden of proof is on you, the one making the 50% claims. You have already admitted your “facts” are wrong, so my job is done.
It’s about time you recognized my forte’ is creative writing. We are not all lawyers and analysts. My contribution here is of value, and I enjoy the banter. That’s it.

michael
michael
11 years ago

“McLaughlin is an extreme example, but he’s far from alone. Nearly two-thirds of Providence’s 2,923 retirees got a compounded COLA of 6%, 5% or 3% as of June 30, 2010, depending on when they retired. Here’s how it breaks down, according to Buck Consultants, the city’s actuary”
I guess you got me. I thought everybody got a cola of 6, 5 or 3%.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

More intellectual dishonesty from Michael – quoting only the portion that favors his cause and omitting the data that supports my point that he disputed. The graph clearly supports my original statement that a subtantial number (around half) of Providence fire retirees receive 5-6% COLA. This gets no comment from him, and he offers no correction of his original statement that the number Isn’t even close to that. This is exactly what I’m talking about.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

“So, now it’s “around half.” Excellent. I do not have to prove a thing, Dan. The burden of proof is on you, the one making the 50% claims. You have already admitted your “facts” are wrong, so my job is done.”
Oooooh, I originally said “half” and now I’m saying “around half.” You got me, Michael! Caught in a bold-faced lie!
In any case, I have now met my burden by providing data from the city actuary supporting my assertion that around half of Providence fire retirees have been receiving 5-6% COLA. You made a positive claim earlier that the number is “not even close” to what I claimed, along with an insulting statement that I don’t know what I’m talking about. So now the burden has shifted to you to offer evidence that contradicts my evidence and supports your own positive claim that the number is “not even close” to half.
Run, run away now. Back to your echo chamber of fellow firemen who will never challenge you and will tell you exactly what you want to hear.

Tommy Cranston
Tommy Cranston
11 years ago

I’m surprised no one here or the radio has commented on last weeks Channel 12 story.
A “disabled” CF fireman was whining that his pension was cut by more than half.
The killer-the “disabled” man now works full time for the West Warwick Fire Department.
This state is f*****. Declare bankruptcy and bring in the dictators.

michael
michael
11 years ago

You are reading the graph wrong. And nobody except a troll or two cares about our little exchange. You are talking but nobody is listening.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

“You are reading the graph wrong.”
Gee, that’s helpful. Thanks for the compelling explanation, Michael.
Just go back to writing vampire stories if you don’t care about having a real discussion about disability pensions here. You’re like a kid who walks into a book club at the library, knocks the books off the table while making airplane noises, and yells, “Who cares?! Reading is boring!”
This is a conservative political blog. Some of us care about these issues and find them interesting or important to discuss. If you don’t, then stop coming here and injecting yourself into the discussions, only to then drag them down with “who cares” and “you don’t know anything” statements when people actually try to engage you.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

What would be considered fraud in saner states is perfectly legal in RI. No law that says you can’t collect a disability pension from one RI city while working for another.

michael
michael
11 years ago

Engage me, Dan? That’s a good one. More like luring me into a never ending Danfest. You read the graph wrong, figure it out, I’m not you’re nanny.
Monique, nobody is collecting a disability from one RI fire department and working as a firefighter on another.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

“You read the graph wrong, figure it out, I’m not you’re nanny.”
No, Michael, why don’t you explain it to me? I’m clearly too stupid to see what you see, and I need further explanation. You told me I had to meet my “burden” earlier for making a positive claim, and I did, so now you have to meet your own burden and explain to me why my interpretation is wrong and what your support is for claiming that “not even close” to half of firefighter retirees havee been receiving 5-6% COLA. You will not meet your own standards in either respect, because you are a hypocrite, and you will not explain why my interpetation of the graph is wrong, because you know that it isn’t.
“Monique, nobody is collecting a disability from one RI fire department and working as a firefighter on another.”
More word games and economy with the truth. Is anyone noticing a pattern here? A full and intellectually honest explanation would be as follows: the “disabled” former-firefighter in question is working for the City of West Warwick, but is not filling a “firefighter” position. Is that so hard, Michael?
“More like luring me into a never ending Danfest.”
So when you dodge questions with word games the same questions are raised again… amazing concept. If you treated me with anything but contempt and made a good-faith effort to discuss these issues, I would have no reason to continue this conversation any further.

Tommy Cranston
Tommy Cranston
11 years ago

Monique, nobody is collecting a disability from one RI fire department and working as a firefighter on another.
Posted by michael at May 10, 2012 10:46 AM
Hey genius it was on Channel 12 last week.
Maybe the weasel words in your lie are “working as a firefighter” and West Warwick has him conveniently classified as something else. The story clearly stated he was working “for the fire department”.

michael
michael
11 years ago

Think back to where this all began, Dan, if you can, and take responsibility for your current status, in my opinion, and judging from the lack of any back-up to your never ending attacks, a lot of other people who frequent and contribute to Anchor Rising. You have buried yourself, and are actually kind of a parody of a parody of the stereotypical anonymous online blog commenter.
As for the disabled firefighter working with the West Warwick fire department full time, I was simply putting out a fire before one began. People read what they want, and come to their own pre-conceived conclusions, such as Dan, who is so certain that 1/2 of Providence’s firefighters get 6% cola’s in retirement he can’t comprehend a simple graph.
I don’t know the particulars of the firefighter in West Warwick, but I do believe that there should be a reduction in disability payments if a person is able to find work that makes up some lost income. That might even be how the pension ordinance is written, I honestly don’t know.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

“Dan, who is so certain that 1/2 of Providence’s firefighters get 6% cola’s in retirement he can’t comprehend a simple graph.”
I did NOT say that. There are blatant distortions in this mischaracterization of my assertion.
My actual assertion was that “half” or “around half” of retirees from your department have been receiving 5 or 6 percent COLAs and I provided data from the city actuary supporting my assertion. Anyone is free to read my actual comments and see this for themselves.
You told me that my interpretation of the graph is wrong and the actual number is “nowhere close to” half. When pressed for why my interpretation was wrong or what your basis is for claiming that it’s nowhere close to half, you clammed up and refused to explain yourself any further beyond making personal insults.
You have been given every opportunity to simply present your evidence and your case, but you won’t, because you know you have no basis. You lack integrity so you’ll keep playing word games and distorting and refusing to actually participate.
Now you’ll accuse me of dragging you into a prolonged argument when you could have avoided the whole thing by answering a simple question. More dishonesty.

michael
michael
11 years ago

The graph doesn’t lie. And there is no “anybody,” it’s me and you. And quite frankly, the reason I don’t let you have it and go at quarter speed with you is because I think you may be capable of doing damage to my family, myself, property and reputation. I’m easy to find. You are an anonymous person who appears to be not all there.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

Michael – My request is very, very simple: please explain the logical basis for your assertions that I did not read the graph correctly and not even close to half of Providence fire department retirees have been receiving 5-6% COLA. This is the fourth time I am now making this request without a response.
I have no intention of doing damage to you or anybody else. To the extent that your reputation is or could be damaged by these discussions, it is only because you refuse to give straightforward answers to straightforward questions and consistently mislead by witholding relevant pieces of information. In other words, it really has nothing to do with me at all. If you argued in good faith, these conversations would go very differently. I have respectful disagreements with people on RIFuture, Anchor Rising, and other blogs all the time – you get out of them what you put into them, which is pitful in your case.
Again, you fall back on your juvenile insults – in what sense am I “not all there”? I’m asking perfectly logical questions in a straightforward way. What about that makes me mentally ill or developmentally challenged in your view? And what basis do you have for making such a stupid statement as that you fear for the safety of your family or your property from me? Absolutely none. You were caught making baseless assertions so now you’re throwing a temper tantrum – that’s all there is to this. If I’m wrong, then by all means – present your evidence.

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