Railroad Retirement Claim

May 15,2019
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Railroad Retirement Claims Process

The process of applying for Railroad Retirement Disability can be complicated and benefits often take many months to process. Railroad retirement benefits are administered by the Railroad Retirement Board‘s disability benefits program. This program provides specific benefits to current and former United States railroads employees.

Individuals who have sustained a work-disabling injury may be eligible for railroad retirement benefits if they are unable to perform their basic job duties. This injury did not have to be sustained on the job in order for employees to qualify for benefits. Although these workers may be eligible for such railroad retirement benefits, many individuals make the mistake of applying for benefits without the legal assistance of a competent attorney who is knowledgeable about railroad employees’ rights and benefits programs.

A railroad disability attorney can explain that the claims process is very similar to that of the Social Security disability benefits program. The typical claims process begins with an initial application. If this application is denied, the claimant can ask that the claim be reconsidered. Then, if the reconsideration is denied, the claimant can petition for a hearing on the matter. Many claimants do not succeed with their claim until this step. A hearing officer is the adjudicator who decides whether to grant or deny the application. If the claim is still denied, the claimant may try to appeal the decision. Special rules regarding time limits apply at each stage of the process.

Eligibility

In order to recover these special disability benefits, a railroad disability attorney can explain that employees must meet certain criteria. The employee must have been disabled on the job. Additionally, he or she must have worked with the railroad company for enough months to qualify for benefits. The claim may include the disabled individual, the spouse of the disabled worker and the children of the disabled individual.

In order to become eligibility for benefits, you must prove to the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board that you have worked for an eligible employer for a sufficient length of time. The Act broadly defines qualifying employers as those who provide any transporting service, whether property or passenger-based. You must also have worked for a period of at least 60 months with such an employer. You must have worked for 120 months if your employment occurred before 1995. One day of work within a month qualifies as an entire month of service.

Application

An initial application is the first step in the process. Assuming the basic eligibility threshold is met, the claims examiner’s primary focus is on the determination of disability. Because many applicants’ impairments are unique to them and do not fit any pre-defined category, denials are common. An appeal, called reconsideration, may them be filed. This is a very similar process to the initial application but with a different examiner, and again, appeals are not unusual. A third level of appeal, a hearing, in which the applicant may testify, can then be scheduled.

You initiate a claim for Railroad Retirement benefits by contacting the Board’s Field Office and requesting an application. This can be done in person at one of the Board’s field offices, or by telephone or mail. Once you have an application, we will help you to fill it out, and review it to make sure that it is completed, and that it contains all of the relevant medical information necessary for you to win your claim. At Hermann Law Group, we will contact your healthcare providers to obtain the medical records necessary. We will also contact the Railroad Retirement Board on your behalf to request an application, and we will file your application for you.

Reconsideration

If your claim is rejected, or if the Board’s decision is unsatisfactory, you will have 60 days in which to request a Reconsideration. You will not testify at your Reconsideration, but new evidence about your disability may be submitted. We can help you at this stage by providing additional information and evidence to the Board, presenting it in the clearest and most thorough manner possible, and monitoring the progress of your claim.

Appeal

If your disability claim is denied unfairly, you may request that the RRB reviews and reconsiders your case within 60 days of rejection. If you do not believe the decision was fair, you may make another appeal to the Bureau of Hearing and Appeals to present additional evidence. You may then appeal to the Railroad Retirement Board of three members and finally with the U.S. Court of Appeals. The multi-tiered appeals system makes it possible to be heard at multiple levels of the disability system. An attorney may be able to help you navigate each step of the appeals system effectively and reduce the time you spend in court.

If you do not receive a satisfactory ruling at the reconsideration level, you have 60 days to appeal. The appeal will be heard by the Railroad Retirement Board’s Bureau of Hearings and Appeals, which is independent of the units who decide the applications and reconsiderations. This is typically the best opportunity to have your claim approved. At Hermann Law Group, during this stage of a claim we work on developing the medical documentation that may have been incomplete or unclear up to this point. We also enter into discussions with Hearings officials regarding your claim, and we will appear with you at your Hearing before a Hearing Officer. The hearings are frequently conducted via video–teleconference, however claimants have an absolute right to appear in person before the Hearing Officer.

Final Appeals

One final level of appeals remains if you have not been granted a satisfactory judgment at the Hearing. If you file within 60 days, you may have your final appeal heard by a three–member Board. Ordinarily, no new evidence is permitted at this stage, and there will be no new hearings. The three–member Board’s decision is based on the record that existed at the time of the hearing.

What If My Claim Was Already Denied?

Many railroad disability claims are denied. If that happens, you need to be prepared to file an appeal within a short window of time. We can help you file an initial claim for benefits and, if necessary, submit an appeal on your behalf. Few law offices have the skill to take on complex railroad benefits claims, but our team is prepared to deal with the Railroad Retirement Board’s complex rules and procedures. Our railroad disability attorney is happy to provide a case evaluation.

Railroad Disability Income

If you worked for the railroad and are now disabled, you are likely entitled to railroad disability benefits as well as Medicare as long as you are younger than 65. However, some former railroad employees receive Social Security Disability Income instead.

You can start receiving benefits sooner or later depending on how many years you have worked in the railroad industry. Once you have 360 months of service, you may retire on the first full month of turning age 60. If you have less than this amount of time in service, your benefits will be reduced if you file before retirement age. Consult the RRB chart for more information on calculating your annuities. The full retirement has been increasing from 65 to 67, based on the year you were born. Similar to Social Security benefits, delaying retirement past your full retirement age results in increased benefits. The Railroad Retirement Board uses a two-tiered system to calculate these benefits.

Under the Railroad Retirement Act, railroad workers who become disabled are eligible to collect disability annuities. However, there are different types of disability, different levels of benefits available based on past railroad service and confusing application procedures, which often result in a denial of benefits. New York railroad retirement lawyers can be of great value in explaining the process and providing the best opportunity for approval of benefits.

Occupational Railroad Disability Benefits

Railroad workers are entitled to participate in a federal disability program that is administrated by the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) and is similar to Social Security Disability (SSD). The program offers expanded and additional benefits not offered by SSD. For example, if you develop chronic illnesses or suffer debilitating injuries, you are not eligible for Social SSD, but you receive more generous benefits under RRB disability. To obtain these benefits, you must prove how debilitating your medical condition is. A railroad disability attorney who knows what medical proof is required to make a successful claim increases your chances of obtaining disability benefits.

The Railroad Retirement Board provides two types of disability benefits, occupational and total. Occupational disability means that the worker cannot perform his or her regular job duties at the railroad. However, the person must have worked for the railroad for 20 years or 10 years if he or she is over 60. In addition, the beneficiary needs to have been employed by the railroad for a minimum of 12 of the past 30 months prior to receiving the benefits.

Unlike SSA, you are entitled to occupational disability benefits if you:

  • Develop an occupational disease or
  • Suffer an injury
  • That prevents you from working in the railroad industry

This includes any physical and/or mental impairment that prevents you from performing your regular railroad occupational duties even if you are able to perform other kinds of work. To receive these benefits, you must have a current connection with the railroad industry and:

  • Have at least 20 years of covered RRB service, or,
  • Be between the age of 60 and full retirement age with at least 10 years of covered RRB employment

This program allows a railroad worker who cannot perform his or her regular railroad job but can do some other type of work to collect benefits. Eligibility is based on 240 months of service for a claimant of any age or between 120-23 months of service if over 60 years old. Railroad disability attorneys caution that if you have less than 10 years of service, you are not eligible for occupational disability.

Total Railroad Disability Benefits

Total disability under railroad benefits applies if the beneficiary suffers from a permanent condition that prevents him or her from working. The recipient needs to have worked a minimum of 10 years for the railroad although the time restriction might be shortened to five years in some cases. The condition must last a minimum of 12 months, and the condition must prevent the person from performing any gainful work.

You are eligible for total disability if an injury caused a permanent disability making it impossible for you to work in any profession or industry. Your must have a permanent physical or mental impairment preventing you from performing any regular or gainful work. To receive full benefits, you:

  • Must have at least 10 years of covered employment;
  • You may qualify for disability benefits if you worked between 5 to 9 years and earned at least 20 Social Security work credits.

If you have been injured while working in a job that can be considered as railroad employment, you may be eligible for either total disability benefits or occupational disability benefits. However, an award of benefits is based on specific criteria, and denials are common.

A railroad worker or former worker may be eligible for total disability at any age if he or she has 10 years of railroad service or, in certain circumstances, with five years of railroad employment if hired after 1995. Railroad disability attorneys can explain that the determination of disability is very similar to that of Social Security disability:

  • The worker must have a medically determinable impairment,
  • That prevents the worker from performing substantial gainful activity, and
  • Is expected to or has lasted 12 months or is expected to result in death.

Spousal Benefits

If an employee is age 60 with at least 30 years of experience, his spouse may receive spousal annuities once he turns age 60. If he has less than 30 years of experience, he must have turned 62 before receiving an annuity. For any spouse caring for a child under the age of 18 or an adult child who became disabled before age 22, the spouse may receive an annuity at any point as long as the covered employee is receiving benefits.

Survivor Benefits

Survivor benefits apply to widows, widowers and adult children over the age of 18 who are dependent upon a deceased railroad worker. The covered employee must have worked for at least 10 years or 5 years if the employment occurred after 1995. The employee must also have a current connection with the employer, which can be as simple as having 12 of the 30 consecutive months of employment occur immediately before the employee’s retirement or the month of his death. A New York disability attorney may provide more information on whether you qualify for survivor benefits.

Generally, family members of a deceased railroad worker may be eligible for survivor benefits under the Railroad Retirement Act if the deceased individual is considered “insured” under the Act. A New Jersey railroad retirement claims attorney can tell you that this means that the individual must have had at least ten years of service working on the railroad or at least five years of service if those five years of service occurred after 1995 and the employee had a “current connection” with the railroad at the time of death.

There are several ways that family members may show that a deceased railroad worker had a “current connection” with the railroad industry:

  • Individuals that worked for at least 12 months in the railroad industry in the 30 months preceding the beginning of the railroad retirement annuity may be able to establish a current connection with the railroad. Similarly, if the employee dies before collecting the retirement annuity, establishment of railroad service of at least 12 months in the 30 months before the death will show a current connection; or
  • Individuals that have at least 12 months of service in an earlier 30-month period may still be able to establish a current connection to the railroad industry if the individual did not have regular work outside the railroad industry following his or her railroad employment.

You should be aware that any work outside of the railroad industry before the individual collects the railroad retirement annuity or date of death has the potential of cutting the current connection thereby making family members ineligible for survivor benefits.

However, if you are able to establish a current connection by the time the railroad retirement benefits start or date of death of the employee, a New Jersey railroad retirement claims lawyer can tell you that the employee will not lose the current connection.

Sickness Benefits

You may be entitled to sickness benefits if you:

  • Suffered a temporary injury that requires weeks or months to recover.
  • Are a female railroad employee who is unable to work because of pregnancy, miscarriage or childbirth.

Benefits After 1995

However, you might still be eligible for total railroad disability even with just five years of service if your disability meets the criteria according to Social Security. The SSA has a system of earning credits in the previous 10 years of railroad employment. While a beneficiary can receive benefits even if he or she does not work the full amount of time, the benefits will be less and the retirement amount will be reduced. Those who receive total disability can also receive Medicare two years later. Someone who receives occupational disability can only receive Medicare if they turn 55 and are blind or if they cannot work at all for at least a year. He or she is then eligible for benefits 29 months after the freeze date.

Differences Between SSDI and Railroad Disability Benefits

As of 2009, a Social Security recipient receives about $1,125 monthly while a former railroad worker receives more than twice that amount or an average of $2,800 per month. However, the similarities between the two groups are numerous, including their eligibility for Medicare 24 months after they receive their first check for total disability. Someone with chronic kidney disease is also an exception; he or she is eligible for Medicare just three months after beginning dialysis or five months from the start of the disability until the payment begins. A disabled railroad employee also needs to provide supporting paperwork of the disability with verification from physicians, hospitals, and their employer. A Social Security disability lawyer can provide additional clarification on disability benefits for railroad workers, so talk to an attorney if you are uncertain about your disability status.

Railroad Disability Attorney Explains What to Do After an Injury

According to our railroad disability attorney, fatal injuries while on the job with the railroad were twice as high as those in other industries. The report found that 38 percent of those killed in incidents related to railroads were either railway workers or workers in other industries connected to the railroad. After a workplace injury, it is sometimes confusing to know what should be done next. These tips can help anyone who has been injured in a workplace accident, whether a railroad accident or another workplace incident, protect their rights under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA).

Seek Medical Treatment

The first thing to do after being injured in a workplace accident is to seek medical treatment, even if you believe your injuries are minor. Although some employers may have medical professionals on staff, such as a nurse, it is important to see your own doctor for a thorough evaluation. Some injuries do not present themselves until hours, or even days, later. You should also be honest with the doctor about any pain you are experiencing or any difficulties since the accident, including mental anguish. Keep all doctor bills, medical records and other information regarding your treatment as you will need to present those should you file a claim.

Report Injuries

As a railroad disability attorney will advise, most employers have a process for filing injury reports. Be sure to complete the forms as required and file them with the appropriate department as soon as possible after the accident. Just as you did with your doctor, include all issues you may be having, such as pain or mental difficulties that could be related to the incident that injured you. Keep a copy of the report for yourself as well as copies of all documentation received from your doctor. It is recommended that you keep a journal that documents pain levels, psychological problems and anything else that occurs after the accident. Be sure to include names of witnesses and any tools or other items that were being used when the accident occurred.

Keep Track of Missed Work

One of the most important things to document is the time you miss from work. This includes time you missed due to your injury, follow-up doctor appointments as well as time you spend talking to officials, whether police or company investigators about the incident. If you are unable to work due to psychological problems related to the incident, be sure to document those days as well as they can be used as part of your claim.

Railroad Retirement Disability Attorney Discusses FELA Claims

If you have been injured on the job site, or plan on filing for railroad retirement disability, it is recommended that you first schedule a consultation with our knowledgeable railroad disability lawyers to help you. The Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) is an act that has been put in place to help workers like yourself. The following information provided by your railroad retirement disability lawyers discusses the FELA and how it applies to the employees who have been injured while on the job. If you have any further questions about the FELA or your railroad retirement disability, contact your attorney for further assistance.

When you have been injured while working for a railroad company, you may need to get the help of a railroad disability attorney. Railroad worker claims are covered by the Federal Employer’s Liability Act, or FELA, instead of the state’s workers’ compensation laws. Railroad companies are adept at defending themselves against FELA claims to try to deny or minimize their compensation to injured workers. There is also a statute of limitations for filing FELA claims, meaning you have to file your claim in a timely manner, or you will forever lose your right to do so. Here is what you need to know about filing your FELA claim.

What Is The Federal Employers Liability Act?

The Federal Employers Liability Act was established in 1908 and helps to provide a compensation fund for United States railroad workers who have been injured on the job. The majority of accidents that occur at the railroad workplace are cover by the FELA. This act will even cover those employees who work for the rail system, but not on the actually railroad site. In addition to providing a compensation fund for those injured on the job, FELA also has established legalities that must be followed by the railroad and its employees in order to prevent accidents from happening. The railroad is required by law to provide a safe working environment for the employees. This includes having all the necessary tools and safety equipment needed to do their job properly. It is also expected under the FELA that the railroad performs periodic inspections of the working environment to check that safety rules and proper procedures are being followed by the employees. It is also expected that employees are properly trained before being allowed to do the job. While the FELA may seem similar to a workers compensation program, there are some major differences. The workers compensation system are set up to be “no fault,” which means that any injury that an employee sustains is considered to be covered and the employee will not have to prove that there was any fault on the employer’s part. Under the FELA, the injured employee will have to show that their accident was due to negligence from the employer. However, the negligence that has to be proved by the employee is minimal. As long as the employee can prove that the railroad was negligent in some small way, then FELA will be satisfied. One of the ways that the injured employee or their attorney may be able to prove that the railroad was negligent is by showing that rules or regulations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) were broken. Finding that OSHA regulations were broken by the employer are reason enough to claim negligence. The compensation received from the FELA fund will completely cover the injury that the employee sustained at work. This includes not only medical bills, but also lost past and future wages, future medical expenses, pain and suffering, as well as the estimated cost of future medical expenses.

Training and Supervision

A major factor in creating a safe atmosphere for workers is making sure they are adequately qualified to perform their jobs. All of the employees should have the necessary training and experience for the job that they are assigned to do. Safety regulations need to be enforced. The employees’ activities and work conditions should be supervised to confirm that everything is in compliance with federal standards. When employees overextend themselves, they are prone to getting injured. Therefore, the railroad companies need to make sure they establish reasonable work quotas for their employees. If an employee must perform a task that exceeds his capabilities or physical limitations, the railroad company should give him the assistance or help required to successfully complete the work.

Safety Hazards and Unsafe Work Conditions

According to FELA, there are several steps a railroad company must take to create a reasonably safe working environment for its employees. Some of the duties of a railroad company include performing inspections and ensuring the equipment is properly maintained. Railroad companies are also responsible for fixing and warning employees of any hazardous conditions that exist on the premises. They must use reasonable means to prevent workers from committing crimes and other intentionally harmful acts in the workplace.

Common Injuries of Railroad Workers

Working for a railroad company is a dangerous occupation. You could get seriously hurt from a single incident or you may sustain injuries from years of performing repetitive tasks and being exposed to toxic conditions. Your injuries can have a devastating impact on your life physically and emotionally. You may not be able to work for a few days or several months depending on the severity of your injuries. If you are permanently disabled, you may never be able to work again. Many railroad retirement disability cases involve injuries such as:

  • Back and neck injuries
  • Shoulder injuries
  • Fractures
  • Brain injuries
  • Knee injuries
  • Loss of limbs
  • Electrocutions
  • Burn injuries
  • Health complications due to exposure to toxic chemicals
  • Permanent disabilities
  • Wrongful death

FELA Claims and Railroad Companies

Because of their companies’ significant experience with defending against FELA claims, most companies have teams of investigators, lawyers and safety officers who work rapidly to mount their defense case when claims are filed. It is in a company’s best interest to pay you as little as possible or to simply try to deny your claim all together. Even if your company agrees to settle your claim, they are likely to offer you a low settlement to try to minimize their losses. A railroad disability attorney can help you by negotiating with the company’s claims agent in order to seek recovery of the maximum amount of damages you should expect.

Why It’s Important to File Your Claim Early

Like all other types of claims, there is a deadline in place for filing your FELA claim. This deadline, called the statute of limitations, is prescribed by the federal law. You must file your claim no later than 3 years from the date you were injured. If you wait beyond that date, you will permanently lose your ability to file a FELA claim for your injury. Waiting to file, even within the three-year period, is also not a good idea. It is much better to file your claim early. This is because witnesses to your injury accident may forget details of the incident that are important. They may also move on and be very difficult to find. Starting early can help your attorney to depose the witnesses to get their observations on the record. With the passage of time, evidence you need to support your case may also be lost, making your claim more difficult to prove. Finally, as time goes on, you may find yourself under increased pressure to accept whatever offer is extended to you, making it more likely that you will accept an offer that is insufficient to cover the losses you have suffered.

Compensation for Your Railroad Disability Claim

You are entitled to receive compensation under FELA if the railroad company you work for engages in interstate commerce and your injuries were caused by the employer’s reckless actions. It is important to discuss your case with an experienced disability attorney because they can investigate the circumstances surrounding your injury and gather evidence to support your claim. If it’s determined that the railroad company is at fault for your injuries, you are eligible to receive compensation for the following damages:

  • Medical expenses
  • Loss of past and future wages
  • Rehabilitation
  • Physical disfigurement
  • Mental anguish

Your Railroad Retirement Benefits Could Be Climbing

Individuals receiving railroad retirement benefits could potentially see an increase as of January 2015 due to a rise in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) between 2013 and the same quarter in 2014. The increase is calculated in a similar manner as Social Security benefits.

Amount of Increase

Tier I railroad retirement benefits were expected to increase by 1.7 percent, which is the amount the CPI rose during the period. Those receiving Tier II benefits should have seen an increase of 0.6 percent, which represents 32.5 percent of the CPI increase. Vested dual benefits are not adjusted based on CPI rise, even though those benefits are paid by the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB). This means that, as of January 2015, a retired railroad employee should have seen an increase of $34 per month, bringing their benefit to $2,537. Employee and spouses should have seen an increase of $48 per month, bringing their monthly benefit to $3,666. Widows and widowers should have seen an increase of $20 per month so that their monthly payment would be $1,210.

Exceptions to Increase

Widows and widowers who are being paid under the Railroad Retirement and Survivors’ Improvement Act of 2001 would not have seen an increase unless their annuity exceeds what would have been paid under the prior law. Approximately 39 percent of surviving spouses are being paid under the 2001 law. In addition, if a retiree or their survivor receives other government benefits, including Social Security or Public Service Pension, Tier I annuities are reduced by that amount. This does not apply to Tier II benefits.

Complicated Formula for Railroad Retirement Benefits

Determining how much of an increase you will get as a result of the CPI adjustment can be very complicated if you have retired from the railroad or you are the surviving spouse of someone who was eligible for railroad retirement. Because there are many exceptions and adjustments involved, it is possible you are not receiving the benefits you are qualified to receive. In order to be sure you are receiving adequate compensation, you should discuss your benefits with a qualified attorney. If you or a loved one is receiving railroad retirement benefits, contact Hermann Law Group, PLLC by calling 914-286-3030 to be sure you are receiving the proper benefits.

If you or a loved one works for a railroad, you should be aware of potential changes to railroad retirement disability after sickness and unemployment benefits were cut. While the law exempts Social Security benefits and disability benefits from the cuts, that might change in the future. Because of an adjusted sequestration rate, railroad unemployment and sickness benefits are supposed to decrease. This began on the first of October in 2015. The United States Railroad Retirement Board, or RRB, planned to reduce unemployment and sickness insurance benefits by nearly 7 percent. This number is down from the previous 7.3 percent reduction and can be attributed to federal budgetary cuts. It will continue through September 30, 2016. Because the benefit rate per day is $72, the reduction in benefits means someone who may have earned $720 in ten days of unemployment will instead earn a little over $671. Some railroad sickness benefits are also being affected by the budget cuts. Benefits that are prone to basic tier I railroad retirement taxes are being decreased by 7.65 percent. The new maximum two-week total for sickness benefits is now just over $619. In fiscal year 2014, the United States Railroad Retirement Board paid roughly $11.9 billion in retirement and survivor benefits to around 562,000 people. Net unemployment and sickness benefits of $84.4 million were distributed to nearly 25,000 claimants. It might be a matter of time before retirement and disability benefits are cut. These reductions are legally required after the Budget Control Act of 2011. The subsequent sequestration order that implemented the cuts sealed them into effect. The law does state that Social Security, disability and retirement benefits cannot be cut by the current law, but that is not necessarily going to be the case forever.

Increased Number of Claim Denials Mirrors a Major Problem with Social Security Disability

About a year ago the New York Times published a report about abuses within the Long Island Railroad Disability retirement program. The gist of the report was that nearly 90% of retirees from the LIRR were supplementing their Retirement benefits with additional payments governed by the Federal Railroad Retirement Board.

Follow up reports by the Times articles authors noted that recommendations have been made to overhaul the Railroad Retirement Board’s Disability evaluation processes and, although there has not been much reported about this issue for the past year, I am sure that some internal investigations have commenced.

What bothers me about the article about abuses and the subsequent follow up is how it hurts the truly needy workers. I can personally attest to the fact that since the Times article was published in September 2008, the Railroad Retirement Board has changed its practices. That is not to say that they used to approve every one of my clients’ Railroad Retirement benefits applications. On the contrary, if the medical and vocational evidence didn’t support a claim, it was correctly denied.

However, whereas the Social Security Administration’s claims examiners seem to be stuck in a culture where they have to deny 60+% of all initial applications for disability, I never got that impression in dealing with the claims examiners from the Railroad Retirement Board. The Board’s claims examiners approved the claims where appropriate and denied the claims they couldn’t justify approving – but without the creative analysis used by SSA’s examiners. Since last year’s article, however, I have noticed more denials where the claims examiners are taking a page right out of the SSA playbook and denying many more Railroad claims.

I certainly understand why they are doing it; it’s just a shame that a Federal agency which actually seemed to be focused on helping their disabled workers is now forcing them to jump through the same hoops that Social Security claimants have been forced to jump through for years.

Railroad Retirement COLA

Individuals who receive railroad retirement annuities may receive a periodic cost of living adjustment to the benefit. A New York railroad retirement claims attorney can explain to you that in January 2014, the railroad retirement annuities were increased by an amount that was tied to the change in the Consumer Price Index, or CPI.

Tier I and Tier II Cost of Living Increase

Both the Tier I and Tier II benefits received a cost of living increase in January 2014. The Tier I benefits received a 1.5 percent increase, representing the percentage of the CPI rise. Tier II benefits received a 0.5 percent increase, representing 32.5 percent of the CPI rise.

A New York railroad retirement claims lawyer can tell you that on average, the regular retired employee will see an increase of $29 per month on their benefits check to $2,459 in total. A married couple would see a $41 a month increase and receive a $3,540 increase. Eligible widowers would also see an increase of $17 a month to $1,279.

Interplay Between Railroad Retirement Benefits and Social Security Benefits Explained by a New York Railroad Retirement Claims Lawyer

Individuals who qualify for both railroad retirement benefits and Social Security or other government benefit may not receive the full amount of the cost of living adjustment. Instead, any increase to a Tier I benefit may be offset by an increase to the other government retirement benefit.

However, Tier II benefits are unique as these increases would not be decreased even if someone qualifies for another government benefit qualifying for a cost of living increase. So, you could benefit with cost of living adjustments to both benefits.

Railroad Retirement Disability Success Stories

M was a 38 year old AMTRAK police officer who was struck by a car in the line of duty. Although his primary injuries were not that severe, the accident exacerbated a congenital condition that M had, causing severe nerve irritation of his spinal cord due to displacement of his skull. As a result of his injury, M suffers chronic headaches, upper extremity pain and cognitive difficulties.

M filed a claim for Disability benefits from the Railroad Retirement Board. Unfortunately, while he had worked for the Railroad long enough to get regular Disability benefits, he had not worked long enough to get occupational disability—that is, Disability benefits due to his inability to do his own job.

M came to Hermann Law Group for assistance in his claim after the Railroad Retirement Board denied his benefits, based on their determination that while he was unable to perform the duties of a railroad police officer, he could perform other jobs. We filed an appeal and requested the Board’s records. On review we noted that although M had told the Board about several treating sources, those records were not in the file. Furthermore, the material in the file focused only on the relatively benign findings directly related to the accident—not the catastrophic consequences that had come about as a result of the injury.

Gabriel Hermann joined M at a hearing before a Railroad Retirement Hearing Official at which time M detailed how, as a result of the exacerbation of his congenital condition, he cannot sleep for more than a few hours per night, has chronic headaches that do not subside for days at a time, and cannot concentrate or help care for his children. Soon after that hearing, M was notified that he was awarded three years’ of Railroad Retirement benefits, totaling past due benefits in excess of $60,000.

C is a 53 year old rail car cleaner who worked for MetroNorth for over 25 years. She injured her wrist and suffered a spinal cord injury while transporting garbage, yet when she filed her claim for Railroad Retirement Benefits, her claim was denied. She filed a Request for Hearing before a Hearing Official on her own, but then asked Hermann Law Group to review her file and assist her at her hearing.

During the file review, we noticed that while C’s impairments were correctly identified and she was noted to have physical difficulties, the claims examiner for the Railroad Board had misapplied the guidelines for establishing disability for an individual over age 50. Since C was over age 50 and had been doing unskilled work cleaning railcars for over 15 years, if it was determined that she was unable to perform more than sedentary work, she should have been found disabled automatically. Unfortunately, the claims examiner somehow had concluded that a rail cleaner was a “skilled” job, and that was why the claim initially had been denied.

Hermann Law Group brought this discrepancy to the attention of the Hearing Official, who immediately approved C’s claim. C received a lump sum payment of over $25,000 and has a monthly annuity in excess of $2500 on which to live.

L came to us at age 52 after a long career working for Metro North and then, later on, for Putnam County. As a result of complications following hip surgery, L was unable to continue to work for the County as a worksite supervisor and job coach due to an increased risk for repeatedly dislocating his hip if he continued working.

Although he had not worked for the Railroad for many years, L had sufficient years of service to be eligible for Railroad Retirement Benefits, but since he did not have 240 months of service (20 years), it was necessary to show an inability to work in any capacity. However, because he was over age 50 at the time his disability began, we were able to argue that since he was unable to perform his own job, and the maximum exertion he could manage was at a sedentary job, he was eligible for Disability. We filed L’s claims on his behalf and provided documentation showing that he couldn’t work. Within 5 months, the Board approved his claim, granting him monthly benefits of $1350.

J actually contacted our office to inquire about Supplemental Security Income benefits. He told us that he had been denied SSI because he had had assets that exceeded the maximum permissible under SSI. After reviewing his Social Security earnings record, we noted that although we could make a strong case for him to receive SSI, in fact he had sufficient years of service to be eligible for Railroad Retirement Disability benefits. A claim was filed with the Railroad Retirement Board with the two issues of disability and onset date pending.

While J had some earnings even after the alleged onset date of his disability, we were able to convince the Hearing Officer that his post-onset earnings did not exceed the threshold for Substantial Gainful Activity and that he was thus eligible for disability from a date well before the date initially established by the Board. Incredibly, although the hearing Officer wrote up in his determination that J’s post-onset earnings were not substantial gainful activity, the effectuation branch of the Board insisted for 6 months that they could not pay him from the date of his disability due to his post-earnings income. After we finally convinced the appropriate supervisors that J’s post-onset earnings should not be counted, they released an additional $20,000 above J’s initial lump sum payment of $8,000

Hire a New York Railroad Disability Attorney

If you or a loved one was injured in a railroad incident or other workplace incident and are unable to work, contact Hermann Law Group, PLLC to learn what rights you may have under the law. You can contact them by phone at 914-286-3030. Contact them today to set up a consultation with a railroad disability attorney who can advise you whether you are eligible for a claim under personal injury statutes.

If you are unable to work due to sickness or disability and you work in the railroad industry, you need an experienced railroad disability attorney who knows what proof is required to successfully establish your claim. Our attorneys package the information into a persuasive application, including:

  • Proof of eligibility
  • Relevant medical records, including doctor statements, medical history, diagnosis/medical condition, objective evidence (e.g. radiological findings, physical examination, test and/or laboratory results), treatment notes, and prognosis.
  • Proof you are unable to continue performing your duties in the railroad industry and/or any profession that would bring you sufficient income.

You may be eligible for Railroad Retirement Disability Benefits. Hermann Law Group knows how to help.