Why are NFL Disability Benefits Denied?

The NFL Players Association and the NFL Owners have told us that pension funding is a priority.  But they are also concerned that the Retirement Plan could be depleted if too many players are successful in receiving benefits.       

In an article that appeared in the Washington Post Magazine, former executive director of the NFLPA, Gene Upshaw, said that if disability payments “go to any borderline cases out there,” the floodgates will open, and there “might be thousands” of claims from NFL reitrees who will “say they hurt somewhere on their bodies…. Heck, a lot of guys have little things.” He said that the league couldn’t endure such a press of claims. “We couldn’t afford that,” he said. “And the [active] players wouldn’t go for it…. The players right now give up $82,000 a year [on average] to fund all the things we’re doing with disability [payments] and pensions…. We can’t pay for everything for all the [retirees] asking for it. We want to protect money for the retired players who really need and deserve it.” 

If that were really true, then guys like Conrad Dobler and Dave Pear would be getting Total and Permanent Disability payments. I’m not sure how DeMaurice Smith feels about this issue. We haven’t really heard about any specific changes they would like to see in the Disability Plan, but he did appointed Robert Smith to replace Tom Condon as the player rep on the NFL Retirement Board which oversees the NFL Disability Plan. So what do we know about Mr. Robert Smith? I can tell you that former player Kyle Turley is not a fan. Here is an exchange between him and Robert that you might find interesting.

From July 1, 1993, through June 26, 2007, 1,052 individuals applied for LOD or T&P disability benefits: 428 applications were approved; 576 were denied; and 48 were pending. 

To my knowledge, there has been no update of this information for over three years.  

In the 2008 CRS (Congressional Research Service) Report entitled: Former NFL Players: Disabilities, Benefits, and Related Issues, the writers gave Congress, the NFLPA and the League some good advice.  They said The reasons applications are denied, which are not publicly available, might shed some light on why applicants decide not to appeal, or otherwise challenge, adverse decisions. Some applicants may have missed a deadline or were not been able to provide satisfactory documentation, or applied for T&P benefits while already receiving a retirement plan pension (a player who is receiving a pension is not eligible for disability benefits). Information on the reasons for denial possibly could be useful in identifying processes, policies, or guidelines that could be improved. Information on the reasons for denial, particularly if made available to former players (if not to the public as well), could provide some transparency and possibly facilitate accountability.” 

Have NFL alumni received this transparency and accountability?   No.  

The CRS also recommends that “Benefit program  evaluation efforts also might be enhanced by a survey of retired players. Considering that the disposition of applications for disability benefits is a sensitive issue, detailed information that shows how many applications were denied, and why, at each step of the LOD application process and at each step of the T&P application process might be useful in explaining how the application process works and why applications were denied.”  

Have NFL Alumni received this type of detailed information and survey?  No. 

Maybe it’s time to go back to Congress and see if they can do some more arm  twisting.


About Jeff Nixon

Jeff was a first team consensus All-American from the University of Richmond in 1978. He is 7th in NCAA history with 23 career interceptions. Played for the Buffalo Bills 1979-1984. Led the team with 6 interceptions in Rookie Year. Holds Bills record for 4 takeaways in a single game - 3 interceptions and a fumble recovery. Tied Bills record with four consecutive games with an interception. After 5 knee surgeries Jeff retired from pro football in 1985. He worked for 13 years (1988-2000) as the Youth Bureau Director for Buffalo and Erie County. He has worked for the past 11 years as the Youth Employment Director for Buffalo. Plays guitar and was voted best R&B guitar player by Buffalo Nightlife Magazine in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Posted on February 10, 2011, in NFL Alumni News and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Why are NFL Disability Benefits Denied?.

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