Oh, my aching back
Well, I wasn't going to write about this one, but - as my friend Valerie pointed out - it was just too good to be true, so here goes.
Albert Arroyo is a Boston firefighter whose case is being closely followed by the Boston Globe.
He had been out of work and collecting his salary tax-free since March, when he reported suffering a back injury that no one witnessed at a fire station where he was not assigned to work.
The injury was ostensibly so severe that his doctor wrote that he should be granted an accidental disability retirement because he is "totally and permanently disabled."
Hey, I know what it's like to hurt your back falling down stairs.
Maybe ten years ago, I was heading out to work right after an ice storm.
My husband and I got our parade order a bit screwed up.
He was behind me with the bag of Halite to throw on the stairs; I was in the lead.
"Be careful," he said.
"It's fine," I replied, and proceeded to fall down the stairs, bumping my back on each step and finding myself sprawled on the ice sidewalk.
While I didn't miss any work because of it, I did endure 6 months of extremely painful sciatica. Of course, I was working in an office, not as a firefighter. So, while I had to occasionally strain my brain, and do a lot of metaphorical pushing and shoving, I never had to carry a 200 pound man down a ladder, or smash through any walls with a Halligan.
Come to find out, Arroyo didn't, either.
His job was to inspect home and businesses to see if they were up to code.
Still, that job presumably involves walking up and down stairs, and if you've got a really crippling back injury, that's probably more than you can handle.
Problem was, while Arroyo couldn't handle work, he was able to handle his hobby as a bodybuilder.
In fact, he handled it so handily that, in May, he finished in eighth place in the 2008 Pro Natural American Bodybuilding Championships.
Arroyo has been ordered to return to work today. It will be interesting to see if he shows up.
"If he can lift barbells, he can lift a clipboard," Boston Fire Commissioner Roderick J. Fraser Jr. said yesterday.
According to his lawyer, Arroyo was just following doctor's orders.
"My understanding is that a doctor certified him as being totally and permanently disabled, and if that's the case, then he needs to follow the directions of his doctor," said [James] Dilday.
Firefighters who suffer on-the-job disabilities can retire at 72 percent of their salary, tax free.
Surely, no one would begrudge a firefighter who's risked life and limb, and been injured because of it, his disability pension.
But Arroyo's case does seem a bit shady. And since this is Boston we're talking about here, the problem isn't a one-off:
The Globe reported in January that 74 percent of Boston firefighter retirements between 2005 and 2007 were granted because of accidental disabilities. Cities of similar size reported disability retirement rates of less than 30 percent.
Apparently, there's also a grand jury investigating abuses of the disability system.
It will be interesting to see what the grand jury comes up with.
I'm guessing that this one won't be a false alarm. Where there's this much smoke, there's bound to be some fire.