Changes coming to city of Milwaukee's duty disability program

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- New requirements are coming for Milwaukee city employees who try to apply for duty disability. City leaders say a number of police officers facing internal or criminal investigations have successfully won disability retirement before they could be fired.

On Monday morning, November 25th, the pension board for Milwaukee's Employee's Retirement System adopts a series of changes to the way city workers can apply for duty disability retirement.

"We made the changes accordingly. The board voted almost unanimously. The chairman of the committee voted against it, but those changes will be reflected immediately," Alderman Michael Murphy said.

The changes come in response to a string of police officers applying for and receiving duty disability. The benefit allows disabled employees to retire, receiving 75 percent of their salary tax-free.

The problems is officers like Jason Blakewell, Anthony Bialecki and Rodolfo Gomez just so happened to apply for duty disability after becoming the subject of internal or criminal investigations.

"One of the concerns we have is that amendments, substitute information being provided to the physicians that may have resulted in them being confused over some of the parameters," Alderman Murphy said.

Alderman Murphy and Police Chief Ed Flynn say the applicants are misleading the medical panel to believe they're unable to perform limited duty.

That's why from now on, applicants "must establish the department does not have any employment for the individual based on his or her permanent restrictions."

The changes also target the man who's helping officers apply Bradley Debraska, the former head of the Milwaukee Police Association.

Debraska was convicted in 2009 of forging documents.

The city attorney advised the board that "if any individual accompanying any applicant" interferes with the application process, they can be removed from the hearing.

A statement came in from the current president of the MPA, Michael Crivello, saying "The changes made to the program illustrate that our collective bargaining is not an impediment to change" adding "all we ask is for care of our officers that have sacrificed mind and body for the security of our community."

In addition to these changes, the city is conducting a full audit of the duty disability retirement program.

Alderman Murphy says that audit should take about three months.