Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R Vance Jr announcing that 106 people ndash mostly retired police officers and firefighters ndash have been indicated for a massive fraud against the federal Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits SSDI program that resulted in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars from federal taxpayers

Profiting from Tragedy

Jan. 9, 2014
I can remember exactly where I was on 9/11. I’m sure you can too and I’m certain most U.S.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. announces that 106 people have been indicated for a massive fraud against the federal Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (SSDI) program that resulted in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars from federal taxpayers.

I can remember exactly where I was on 9/11. I’m sure you can too and I’m certain most U.S. residents and citizens remember where they were when they heard the news that planes had crashed into the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.

I, like many people, watched hours of coverage on CNN and other networks, much of which recounted the bravery of the first responders and showed rescue workers tirelessly digging through “the pile,” as it became known, searching for any signs of life. It was heartbreaking to watch their heartbreak and exhaustion, heartbreaking to listen to 911 calls and to learn what was said in the last calls the doomed victims made to their loved ones.

No one argues that the first responders who lost their lives going into the buildings that day were heroes. Or that the rescue workers who gave up weeks of their lives to search through the rubble for bodies and evidence made a tremendous sacrifice for their country and the responders who had been lost.

Here at EHS Today we’ve written a number of feature articles and news articles about 9/11 and the injuries and illnesses suffered by responders who worked on the pile, inhaling all kinds of contaminants. Many of them now are suffering from lung diseases and cancers attributed to those contaminants. So to have the stellar reputation of so many clouded by the actions of a few really irks me.

When I heard about the alleged Social Security scam perpetrated by 106 people – many of them claiming physical and mental illnesses related to 9/11 – I was furious. I was so furious, in fact, that I couldn’t even do any research about it or make any phone calls for a couple of days. I didn’t even want to think about it.

In my role as editor of EHS Today, I’ve heard my fair share of stories about scam artists who play the workers’ compensation system; workers caught lifting heavy objects at home when they’ve claimed total disability because of back injuries allegedly suffered at work and workers who claim mental disabilities who are discovered working full-time while collecting total disability. There was one story I heard about  a worker claiming to be so vision-impaired he couldn’t work who was discovered playing tennis by his boss.

And I also have heard horror stories about true disabling injuries and illnesses – amputations, burns, crush injuries, head injuries, asbestosis, silicosis, cancers, post-traumatic stress-related trauma – and the crushing financial and emotional burden such injuries and illnesses place on workers and their families. It nearly is impossible to place a dollar amount on that suffering.

The police officers and firefighters indicted this week found a way to put a dollar amount on the “injuries” and “illnesses” they allegedly suffered: an average of $210,000. And if photos presented by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office as part of the indictment are any indication, their “disabling” injuries and illnesses didn’t stop them from playing basketball, attending community events, gambling in Las Vegas, deep sea fishing, boating, riding motorcycles or, for that matter, working full-time in new jobs.

If found guilty, the former police officers, firefighters and others allegedly scamming the system in New York will end up returning the money they’ve stolen. If convicted, they could go to prison (an especially frightening proposition for the 72 former police officers who were indicted). They all certainly will loose any future benefits they might have received from their scams and it will be difficult for them to file claims in the future for any legitimate injuries and illnesses because who would believe them?

But that punishment is nothing compared to the physical and emotional pain felt by the 9/11 responders who have legitimate claims, some of who probably worked with or knew the scammers.

As far as I’m concerned, the men who tried to bilk the system out of millions of dollars by claiming injuries and illnesses related to 9/11 are pond scum, the lowest of the low when it comes to workers’ compensation and Social Security scammers. I hope there’s a way for them to loose their police and fire pensions as a result of their actions. It happened recently in a government corruption case where I live.

I don’t care if they served honorably in the years before they retired and made their claims or acted bravely in the line of duty before they decided to steal from taxpayers. They have dishonored the uniforms they wore and the memory of their fellow officers and firefighters, and as they now will learn, there can be no profit in that.

About the Author

Sandy Smith Blog | Content Director

Sandy Smith is content director of EHS Today. She has been writing about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990. She has been interviewed about occupational safety and health for national business publications,documentaries and television programs, has served as a panelist on roundtables, has provided the keynote address for occupational safety and health conferences and has won national and international awards for her articles.

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