The Familiar Rhode Island Disability Pension Story

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Ethan Shorey reports on an investigation that the town of North Providence conducted of a retired firefighter who appears to be very active in his disabled retirement:

A months-long investigation by the North Providence Police Department shows a former firefighter who won a disability pension three years ago doing manual labor “without restrictions,” according to a police report.

The investigation by Special Investigations Unit Det. Robert Difilippo ran from November of last year to March of this year. It shows disabled firefighter Stephen Campbell shoveling snow in a storm, putting up and taking down Christmas decorations, carrying luggage, and dragging trash barrels, among other activities at his 100 Cleveland St. home.

The chronology of Campbell’s career has a very familiar feel to Rhode Islanders, which makes the whole affair seem (sadly) unsurprising.  Here are some facts from Shorey’s article put in chronological order:

  • Campbell was a one-time volunteer firefighter.
  • At age 48, he put himself on the North Providence waiting list for a job.
  • Former Mayor Ralph Mollis hired Campbell when the applicant was 52, saying it would be “age discrimination” to pass him over.
  • During his first 10 years on the job, Campbell was out of work on injured on duty leave for almost half of his working time.
  • After that decade, a lieutenant took the day off, leaving Campbell to fill his role, and midway through the day, Campbell re-injured his hand (“picking up a small bag,” according to the town’s labor attorney), thus boosting his potential pension $4,000 per year.
  • The state Retirement Board granted Campbell’s disability pension, providing two-thirds of the higher salary, tax free, along with continued benefits.

Now, maybe Campbell’s recent behavior proves he isn’t sufficiently disabled, under the law, or maybe it doesn’t.  Rhode Islanders are also used to discovering that state law is written in a way that legitimizes behavior that seems like it ought to be illegal, especially when it comes to labor unions and government employees.  Whatever the technicalities, though, his story is an unequivocal example of why it’s very difficult not to feel taken advantage of in the Ocean State.



  • Rhett Hardwick

    Recent reports indicate that almost 40% of those receiving SSDI have apparently participated in fraud (while the percentage does not alter, some say the ALJ’s have become to lenient. Many are being replaced). Is it surprising to find considerable fraud at the local level?

  • Joe Smith

    The law should classify those on disability as “limited duty” public workers and assign ratings of work function still capable of being performed. It the pay is 2/3rds (ignoring the tax issue), then the local or state government should be able to assign the person to 2/3rds of a normal work week in whatever areas can use the skills.

    For example, it seems this person could have been assigned to arson duty or even to do school fire drills and inspections. A police officer on limited duty could stil do some of the functions of a school resource officer.

    It’s similar to Maine where the state made able body single adults on welfare show up for work. If you made disability less appealing for the marginal (or fraudulent) claimant by taking back the *time*, you might get less abuse.

    Also, it’s crazy to have the one day promotion in terms of pay – I’m sure it’s in CBAs, but for disability, the state should be able to amend to something like average of last X pay periods.

    • Rhett Hardwick

      The military has “percentage” disability. In living memory, before SSDI became another form of welfare, you were ineligible if there was any work you could do. I believe they offered training assistance. Only 10% of applicants were approved on initial application. This could be significantly improved by two methods. Appeal to an Administrative Law Judge, or have a politician inquire on your behalf.
      A friend’s 92 year old grandfather just got a retroactive check of. $54,000 for hearing loss incident to service as a tail gunner in WWII.
      He never thought to apply for it. He served his 25 missions, then volunteered for 25 more, I don’t think they make them like that anymore.,

  • Raymond Carter

    It is never going to stop until all government “workers” are put into social security. Period.

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