- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2007

The D.C. government’s worker-disability program disburses more than $1 million a year in improper compensation, including payments to workers long after they have returned to the job, according to an audit released yesterday.

A D.C. Department of Corrections employee received $96,558, though a doctor said the worker could return to his job, the D.C. Office of the Inspector General audit stated.

Another employee, at the city’s Youth Rehabilitation Services, hurt his hand in May 2004 and returned to work in May 2005. However, the employee received $36,000 in disability checks during the next 15 months, according to the audit.

“The audit found that the disability comp program continues to be at risk for serious fraud, waste and abuse,” auditors wrote in the report issued by Inspector General Charles J. Willoughby.

The auditors also said poor oversight of the program has resulted in missed opportunities to cut workers compensation costs by as much as $3.3 million annually.

Management of the program has been a problem for years.

In 1999, the inspector general uncovered $2.1 million in overpaid disability claims to employees. In 2000, auditors found another $1 million in overpayments.

The latest report revealed some of the same problems that resulted in past overpayments, including a failure to monitor claims and detect when employees getting benefits return to work.

Since 2000, management of the disabilities benefits program has come under four city agencies. As mayor, Anthony A. Williams, a Democrat, gave oversight of the program to the city’s Office of Risk Management.

Kelly Valentine, interim chief risk officer for the District, did not return phone messages yesterday. But in a written reply to the inspector general, she said officials are working to recover overpayments, including possible legal action through the D.C. Office of the Attorney General.

Miss Valentine also disputed the inspector general’s estimate of annual losses, saying an internal review found $1.1 million in overpayments from 1997 to 2004.

She said officials are working on a plan to eliminate duplicate payroll and disability payments by coordinating the computer systems that handle the payments.

“This will immediately eliminate the possibility of an employee getting both payments after returning to full- or part-time duty after an injury,” she wrote.

However, the idea is not new. In its 1999 audit, the inspector general recommended that officials establish a system to learn when employees were getting payroll and disability checks at the same time.

Miss Valentine said management of the program is improving. In September 2005, she said, the District was paying $722,921 for 2,901 open disability claims. By February, the numbers had dropped to 1,484 open claims for payments totaling $495,657.

“The results show dramatic decreases in the number of open cases and the number of injured employees receiving benefits,” Miss Valentine wrote.

D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz, at large Republican, who has oversight of the risk management office, yesterday said she wants city managers to put an immediate stop to the duplicative payments.

“I share the concerns raised by the inspector general, and I am going to urge the office of risk management to fix the problems and to eliminate fraud, waste and abuse,” she said.

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