How would you define chutzpah? Here are three anecdotes, any of which could appear in a dictionary definition as an illustrative example:
A postal worker who ran marathons found her race times improved after she began drawing federal disability checks for an alleged back injury.
Another disabled federal employee went scuba diving, skied in Switzerland and did flips on a trapeze. She spent part of her $193,000 in disability payments on a boat named ‘Free Ride’ before she was caught.
A Justice Department lawyer collected $90,000 in annual disability checks after claiming the stress of his job kept him off the job. Apparently the cable TV show he began hosting while drawing disability pay wasn’t so stressful.
All three examples come from the Washington Examiner, which in turn culled them an ongoing probe by government investigators into abuses of the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA) disability fund. “The fund created nearly a century ago,” the article notes, “costs taxpayers more than $3 billion per year, including about $2.1 billion in direct payments for lost wages and the rest for things like medical treatment and death benefits.”
But rooting out these cases of fraud, author Mark Flatten adds, is a low priority at most agencies. In fact, ask the Department of Labor, and they will tell you that payouts for bogus disability claims are extremely rare, less than half a percent of all costs. But the department’s Inspector General tells a different story:
OIG investigations continue to identify high amounts of FECA compensation and medical fraud, which appears to surpass the Department’s improper payments estimates.
The Government Accountability Office concurs. It maintains that DOL has long lacked an effective systematic strategy to identify improper payments.
David Williams, Inspector General for the U.S. Postal Service, which paid more than $1.3 billion on FECA claims last year, traces the problem to a lack of incentive for federal agencies to curb disability fraud:
The risk is just through the ceiling. The system has almost inadvertently created a mutating virus for making claims. You can make as many claims as you want.
If your claim is baseless and fraudulent, you can just go again. Even if your previous claim was fraudulent, you are not banned from the program. You just learn and adapt.
The postal service accounts for more than 40% of all FECA expenses, and has a unique incentive to investigate fraud.
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