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Railroad Workers Are Also Entitled To Disability Benefits
 by: Evan Zagoria

Railroad work can be hard and dangerous and can result in injury or disability. But railroad workers can also become disabled for other reasons such as illness or disease not related to an on the job injury.

While compensation can sometimes be recovered by railroad workers injured on the job through FELA (the Federal Employer’s Liability Act), there is another route for railroad workers to recover benefits if they are disabled due to a work related injury or a non-work related disability.

Railroad Disability Benefits:

If you are a railroad worker or former railroad worker and are disabled, you may qualify for disability benefits from the United State Railroad Retirement Board. The United States Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) is a co-equal agency to the Social Security Administration (SSA). The RRB is headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. The RRB administers retirement, survivor, and disability claims for railroad workers (and their spouses and minor beneficiaries). Generally, the RRB administers claims for workers with 120 or more months of railroad service. Under certain circumstances, workers with 60 or more months of railroad service can file a claim with the RRB, that is part RRB and part SSA. Claimants with less months of service must apply to SSA for benefits.

The annuity payable to railroad workers is somewhat different than the benefit payable by SSA. The railroad worker receives a Tier I benefit that is the Social Security equivalent. They also receive a Tier 2 component which is largely funded by an additional tax on railroad employee’s wages, paid by the employer.

The RRB has largely adopted the Social Security Administration medical criteria (Listings of Impairments) and Regulations (Section 404.1500, et. seq.) for the evaluation of a disability annuity under the Railroad Act. There are some differences. The provisions of the Social Security Act that preclude payment of Social Security benefits where drug abuse and/or alcoholism are material to a finding of disability are not applicable under the Railroad Retirement Act. The Railroad Retirement Act provides for an “occupational annuity” when the worker has at least 240 or more months of railroad service. The worker need only prove inability to perform his usual railroad occupation over the past 15 years, not all occupations. As most occupations in the railroad industry involved rather heavy work, this benefit can be easier to qualify for. The monthly benefit for the occupational annuity is the same as for the “total and permanent annuity”, analogous to the Title II Social Security disability benefit, however the benefit is fully taxable and does not provide a Medicare entitlement. Workers who have received the occupational annuity at some time in the past can upgrade this annuity to a “total and permanent” category by filing a new claim and proving entitlement under SSA’s criteria, which also includes entitlement to Medicare benefits. The value of Medicare greatly exceeds any legal fees that would be incurred for proving entitlement to “total and permanent” benefits, so it is almost always to your benefit to apply for this upgrade where it is applicable.

If a railroad worker has somewhat less than 240 months of railroad service, he or she can sometimes buy the missing months of railroad service to reach 240 months as part of a Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA) settlement. The advisability of doing this depends on the ability to qualify for the total and permanent annuity. An experienced attorney in Railroad Benefits can help you analyze the merits of a particular claim.

As in the case of SSA disability benefits, it is important to have an experienced attorney from the beginning stages of your claim help guide you and your claim through the bureaucratic minefield.

Attorney fees under the Railroad Retirement Act are not as highly regulated as are those under the Social Security Act. Generally, payment of a fee is a matter to be decided by the claimant and representative. Usually the fee is 25% of the retroactive benefits, the same fee as charged in Social Security Disability cases. No fee is charged unless there is an award of benefits.

About The Author

Evan Zagoria of Provizer & Phillips, P.C.,; (800) 399-EVAN (3826); has spent his entire 30+ yr. career handling social security and other disability matters. He is a former attorney for the Social Security Administration, a member of the Board of N.O.S.S.C.R.


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