Robins team combats worker’s compensation fraud

  • Published
  • By Kendahl Johnson
  • 78 ABW/PA
In an attempt to reduce fraudulent injury compensation claims, the Directorate of Personnel's Workforce Effectiveness Division here is intensifying its investigative efforts.

"We have people out here who are legitimately hurt and our job is to take care of those folks and make sure they get all the benefits they are entitled to," said Phyllis Johnson, Injury Compensation and Retirement Branch chief. "The problem is that we also have some people who are trying to cheat the system."

Johnson said there are 1,500 open worker's compensation cases, most of which are legitimate claims. She said on the rare instance that someone is committing fraud, it takes valuable resources away from the people who really need it.

"When our office has to constantly deal with people abusing the system - when the evidence just isn't there to support their claims - it kills morale," she said. "It takes up time we could be using to help those people who are really hurt and really need our support."

Worker's compensation costs at Robins exceeded $15.6 million from July 2008 to June 2009, a figure Johnson would like to see decrease. She has the help of two experienced investigators whose sole job is to investigate people who are suspected of trying to defraud the government.

"When it comes to people ripping off the government, I feel I need to do something," said Tom, an investigator at Robins who wished to have his last name withheld. "You really think you are going to do something good for the government, being able to put that money back in the planes and troops, where it should be."

He said although he doesn't necessarily enjoy putting people in prison, saving taxpayers' dollars is his job.

"I have to keep my emotions in check and do what's right for the government. If I catch someone doing something wrong, I have to stop it," he said.

Tom said people need to have integrity when it comes to receiving worker's compensation, and know that if they are able to work and make an honest living, they should. He also said they should realize that taking money that's not rightfully owed is stealing.

"We look at every angle we can to prevent these people from stealing from the government, because that is what it is - theft," he said. "I think if people really thought about what they were doing and how it's hurting others, they wouldn't do it."

With only two investigators in the office, they can't pursue all cases of suspected fraud. But when they do catch someone who is stealing money from the government, the penalties are stiff. Recent felony judgments have included punishments of incarceration, probation, discontinuance of compensation entitlements for life, and steep fines. 

Investigative efforts have also been instrumental in generating payment of more than $350,000 in restitution. Cost avoidance to future base budget authorizations has exceeded $12 million.

"The bottom line is some people commit fraud, and are out there getting money they shouldn't be getting," Johnson said. "It's not just our responsibility to stop it; it's everyone's responsibility."

She said workers who suspect someone of drawing compensation illegitimately can call one of two fraud hotlines at 926-3681 and 926-3769. She said those who report fraudulent activity may remain anonymous, but should provide detailed information that can assist investigators.