WASHINGTON – Payments to federal workers injured on the job are ballooning, nearly doubling since 1981, congressional critics said Tuesday.
“Of all the gravy trains in Washington, this particular train has the sweetest, and the thickest, and the most everlasting flow of gravy,” said Rep. Bill Barrett, R-Neb.
Compensation costs have risen from $946 million in 1981 to $1.85 billion this year, the Labor Department said.
The majority of the costs is the result of reimbursements for lost wages. Federal workers can continue receiving the compensation throughout their lifetimes in lieu of retiring. And the compensation payments are often more than retirement benefits.
The General Accounting Office reported that in June 1995 more than 37 percent of the 44,000 people receiving long-term disability payments were age 65 or older. Sixty percent were 55 years old or older.
Charles Masten, inspector general for the Labor Department, told the House Education and Workforce subcommittee on workforce protections that the government should establish a retirement age for federal disability beneficiaries.
But union officials quickly opposed that idea.
“We’re just flat out against it,” said Charlie Berhardt, a labor relations specialist with the American Federation of Government Employees.
“This notion say `we’ can decide, whoever `we’ is, better than you when you would have stopped working,” Berhardt said in a telephone interview. “It’s age discrimination.”
Masten said another reason for the increasing costs is fraud.
“Over the years, our investigations have uncovered schemes where doctors, clinics, pharmacists … have billed the government for services that were not rendered, filed multiple bills for the same procedure, billed for non-existent illnesses or injuries or overcharged for services,” Masten said.
No further congressional hearings are scheduled on the topic, but subcommittee members signaled an interest in pursuing new legislation.
“Right now, we’re talking,” Rep. Cass Ballenger, R-N.C., the panel’s chairman, said after the hearing.