I want you to watch this very quick video, before we discuss the story of a staple and a screw.
The man in the video you just saw is named Christopher Onesti. He retired from his job as a policeman for the New Jersey Transit Authority at the age of 29. State authorities ruled he was “totally and permanently disabled”, and he was no longer able to handle a gun or perform duties as a New Jersey Transit cop. His injury? While trying to attach a target at a shooting range he accidentally stapled the ring finger of his non-shooting hand. He now collects $46,000 a year from a police disability pension, and will do so for the rest of his life. If he lives to be 80, the state will have paid him $2.3 million dollars for the injury.
In 2006, Onesti was taking a required firearms test when wind blew his target down. The accident occurred when he tried to reattach it with a staple gun, and he pierced the base of his left ring finger with a staple. Testimony indicates the wound was the “size of a pinprick”. A Band Aid was applied, and he successfully completed the qualifying test.
Onesti reported the injury the following day to his superiors, who referred him for medical care. After two surgeries and 18 months of care, his doctors declared he could no longer work as a transit cop. He was awarded an “ordinary disability” pension giving him $27,228 a year, 40 percent of his former salary. However, he apparently believed he was due, and was ultimately awarded, an “accidental disability” retirement for a “line-of-duty” injury, which pays him $45,684 a year, tax-free. That is almost the equivalent take home pay he would have received had he stayed on the job.
That, my friends is the story of the staple.
The screw, well, is metaphorical in nature; as it represents what the taxpayers of New Jersey are getting from this and other lucrative injuries to state employees.
Onesti did not break the law. He did not commit fraud. The system allows and supports awards for this type of injury to state employees. He is not alone. In fact, in New Jersey, “5,500 retired officers pocket more than $200 million a year in disability pay from the Police and Firemen's Retirement System”. From my point of view, it appears to be a damn big screw.
It appears Onesti might agree with this, as he told a reporter for News 4 New York, “It absolutely looks ridiculous”, and “On the face of it, it looks absolutely absurd.” He also apparently indicated that he “absolutely” could be a productive member of a police department today. Yet he remains retired and living off of the taxpayers on disability, and has a rock solid justification for doing so. He says it's the law, and “My lawyer said I was entitled to it”.
Absolutely. Who are we to argue with logic like that?