Auditors say millions may have been wasted sending disability payments to ineligible retirees

IndustriesAssociated Press

Millions of dollars may have been paid in disability benefits to Connecticut retirees no longer eligible to receive them because officials stopped verifying whether they should keep sending the checks, state auditors said Wednesday.

An investigation by the Democratic and Republican auditors determined the State Comptroller's Retirement Services Division stopped conducting required two-year reviews for eligibility, according to a letter to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. The division also did not apply recent decisions from the state Medical Examining Board regarding continued entitlement for the benefits.

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"These actions could have resulted in millions of dollars of payments to retirees who were no longer entitled to a disability retirement," the letter read.

The auditors' probe also revealed how the division did not follow through on the results of a former legal investigator or scrutinize the disability status of retirees who didn't respond to an annual survey.

The investigation was prompted by a whistleblower complaint. Malloy's office said Wednesday it was reviewing the letter.

State Comptroller Kevin Lembo said he shares the auditors' concerns and has been trying for nearly two years to get labor and management to agree on an interpretation of the state's disability statutes.

"Unfortunately, the Office of State Comptroller lacks authority to unilaterally decide collectively bargained matters," he said, adding that he hopes labor and management "can reach a timely decision on these questions."

According to the report, 500 retirees have received disability retirement benefits for more than two years but have not had the required review. That figure includes 164 state retirees who have been receiving benefits for more than four years without a review and two retirees who've been receiving them for more than eight years without a review.

"At a time when Connecticut is facing an incredibly challenging budget, it's even more infuriating to learn about these irresponsible, inexcusable errors," said Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven. "How can we expect the public to take on more burdens when the state fails to control internal waste and watch its own spending closely?"

Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, the ranking Senate Republican on the General Assembly's Government Administration and Elections Committee, called the auditors' report "Exhibit A' of why our state is going broke."