San Jose doctor faces ouster for questioning police and firefighter disability claims

By John Woolfolk
Santa Cruz Sentinel

San Jose already has a far higher rate of retired police and firefighters on disability than other large California city. And in the three years since a Mercury News investigation documented that trend, pension trustees haven’t denied one of the dozens of claims that have come before them.

But a city physician’s effort to demand more medical documentation of career-ending injuries now has officers calling for his ouster.

Police say Dr. Rajiv Das is holding up officers’ disability retirements — which, unlike regular service pensions, are mostly tax-free.

Though Das merely advises the trustees who decide disability retirements, police complain he takes too long to process their claims, perhaps because he’s overly skeptical or just overworked.

Some on the force call him “Dr. No” — “Especially when it comes to safety persons getting injured,” said Bobby Lopez, head of the politically powerful San Jose Police Officers’ Association.

Das, a board-certified specialist in occupational, pain and rehabilitative medicine who took the job in 2005, admits he’s “a hardliner” who demands medical evidence to support a disability claim. But he insists he’s fair and simply wants documentation before agreeing that an employee has limited capacity to do the job.

“I just want it on paper with the treating physician saying these are the restrictions, this is why and this is as good as he’s going to get,” said Das, a 1992 graduate of the St. Louis University School of Medicine. “If someone can’t lift heavy items, why can’t they? Write it down.”

City retirement officials say the disability form Das is requesting is simpler than those most other large pensions systems, including the California Public Employee Retirement System, demand.

The city’s firefighters don’t appear to share the officers’ concerns: San Jose Firefighters President Randy Sekany called Das’ performance “consistent with the policies of the retirement board.” And Sam Liccardo, one of two city council members who serve as trustees for the police and firefighter retirement plan, defended Das’ professionalism.

“I don’t think Dr. Das is the problem,” Liccardo said. “I feel fairly confident that a doctor of any significant competence is not going to be any more lenient.”

But retired officer David Bacigalupi, the chairman of the seven-member board that oversees police and firefighter pensions, is proposing to shop around for another medical advisor. That discussion is expected to continue next month. Losing the police and fire board business would be a financial hit to Das, as it represents $78,000 in pay and benefits. His total city salary is $215,000. He also consults to the pension board for the city’s civilian retirees, as well as examining city employees for yearly physicals, driving and drug tests.

Oversight of the city’s two pension funds is the subject of an ongoing tug-of-war. Critics argue the undue influence of employee unions over the pension boards has inflated benefits at taxpayers’ expense…

…Das countered that “while I don’t ignore people’s perception of pain, I have to have evidence.” He added that with the availability of desk work for cops, there’s a high bar for saying an officer can’t stay on the job. “You have to be very, very disabled,” Das said, “to say you can’t do an office job.”

The entire article is here.

Comments are closed.