City Retiree Says Forget Disability, He Wants To Work

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(Memphis, 3/1/2012) As the City of Memphis prepares to start a case-by-case review of its $14 million disability pension program, some say there’s an easier fix.

City administrators say the reviews are needed to ensure everyone receiving disability payment is disabled.  But by their own admission, in the last 13 years, only one person has been caught cheating and kicked out of the program.

Now one retiree says if the city is serious about fixing what’s wrong with disability pensions, all that’s needed is one simple policy change.

“I never thought I’d be 34 years old and retired,” admitted Jeremy Lansing.  But after four back surgeries, the former Memphis firefighter says he didn’t have a choice.

“I lost feeling from my waist down for eight months,” recalled Lansing.

He says the problems started when the roof he was standing on collapsed during a fire eight years ago.  Two herniated discs later, doctors told Lansing his days as a firefighter were over.

“I begged the director and deputy director,” said Lansing, “to let me stay on in another capacity.”

That’s when he learned something WREG On Your Side Investigators exposed last spring.

“That person was hired to do a certain position,” explained the city’s benefit administrator in May, 2011.  “If he can no longer perform the duties of that position, the city cannot have them hired.”

Lansing became one of 460 city retirees receiving line of duty disability pensions.  That includes 60% of his pay for the rest of his life.

To combat fraud, the city is planning a yearly review of all cases.

“They spend more money to get people doing something they’re not supposed to be doing, than they would if they would do the right thing in the first place,” said Lansing.

He says in his case, the right thing would be for the city to find him a job he was able to do.

The city’s Chief Administrative Officer says it’s an option being considered.

“I think it makes sense to at least pursue,” said CAO George Little.  “My own experience is you can do it and make it work.”

But Little says any change will have to wait for larger discussions with city unions about pension reform.

In the meantime, Lansing, a father of three, can only shake his head about being forced into a retirement he doesn’t want.

“The mayor always wants to compare us to the private sector,” said Lansing.  “Well, if this was the private sector, the private sector wouldn’t throw somebody out in the street that has 15 years of experience.  They would find a position to use that experience.”

The city’s case reviews were scheduled to begin today.  But Little says the plan is on hold while the city addresses concerns about workload and fairness.

It’s expected to take three to four months to complete the process once reviews begin.