Reports are saying disability pension applications for police and firefighters have greatly increased since the state Supreme Court loosened standards in 2007 and 2008.
Governor Christie told the Statehouse Bureau, “This is something we need to tighten up with the Legislature. Nobody wants that stuff going on, especially the police and firefighters who want their pension.”
He said tougher disability requirements would protect the already underfunded pension system. Under June’s reform measures, annual cost-of-living increases for retirees will be eliminated until pension funds have enough funding to cover 80 percent of their long-term costs.
The Asbury Park Press reports that many recent disability applications came from relatively routine situations. A 48-year-old police sergeant, filed and won disability last year from hurting his back while moving a park bench.
Another application was just approved last year when a 51-year-old officer filed in 2008 from a 1997 slip-and-fall accident. Other applications were approved from falls on a screw from a computer, falling on black ice, or something as simple as getting up from a desk.According to NJ.com, John Sierchio, head of the pension board overseeing the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System, 19 percent of New Jersey’s law enforcement officers were out on disability in 2010, and he expects the number to rise. Sierchio says the average disability pension is paid at age 40, coming to about $50,000 per year.
A 2007 decision said that a worker receiving a pension must be permanently disabled from any event that was identifiable and unexpected that occurred on duty. A year later, psychological injuries were added to that.
The Press says Police and Fire Retirement System paid $91.5 million in accidental disability in 2010, up 35 percent since 2007, when they paid out $68 million.