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Charlotte Amalie
Friday, March 31, 2023
HomeNewsArchivesGERS Administrator Firing: Another View

GERS Administrator Firing: Another View

Dear Source,
This is an open letter to all those individuals who feel compelled to uplift and glorify the GERS Administrator, Mr. Laurence E. Bryan, while castigating the GERS Board of Trustees on his recent firing. Contrary to the belief of some of his supporters, especially those who as of 11/21/2004, feel a need to continuously call my phone to harass me, the shoddy shepherd, Mr. Bryan, needs to share the blame for his own demise.
Having followed all the media hype, which lauded his integrity, his professionalism, and his management operations, I wonder where I went wrong. Could this be the same Mr. Bryan or the same Board, joined at the hips, which has left my life stagnant for the past five years?
I have been a contributing member of GERS since August 1983. For the record, I was a Health and Physical Education Teacher/Department Chairperson from August 1983-1987, and 1990-1998. I was a dedicated employee of the V.I. DOE until August 18, 1998, when I was injured on the job.
To date, I have followed all procedures requested of me, where I have seen over 25 doctors ordered by various government agencies: Labor Department, Social Security Administration (SSA), GERS, and three personal doctors. Approved visits by Worker's Compensation to Licensed Board Certified Physicians in their respective specialties (Radiology, Neurology, Orthopedic Surgeons, etc.) included several trips to physicians on St. Thomas, Puerto Rico, Miami and Clearwater, Florida. More specifically, I was directed to the Florida Spinal Institute, where I spent six weeks receiving rehabilitative and pharmaceutical treatment. The finding, which has prevented me from working in my previous job or any subsequent jobs similar in nature, is a permanently disabling progressive disorder.
After exhausting many avenues and based on my finding, I applied to GERS for a Duty-Connected Disability Annuity on 7/8/99. I also applied to SSA at the written encouragement of the Benefits Director of GERS. Drs. Boniface Abba, Guy Slowik (STT) and M. Guzman Acosta (P.R.) were selected by GERS to evaluate me while SSA selected other physicians. Both agencies concur with the following guidelines for a disabling condition:
1. The condition must be mental or physical or both
2. The condition must be total and permanent in degree; and
3. The condition must prevent the applicant from returning to the work done prior to injury state or from adapting any other work in a similar capacity.
Weren't the requirements met? If SSA and Ray Charles could see it, then can anyone else? Documented below is the quagmire I found myself in with the person I know, Mr. Laurence E. Bryan, as the shoddy shepherd leading his flocks, the GERS Board.
-In 9/99, SSA ruled that I was totally and permanently disabled according to the guidelines and Medical/Disability Review Board on the Mainland.
-On 8/31/00, Attorney Alfonso Nibbs, (GERS) stated in a letter that GERS DISQUALIFIED two of the reports. Subsequently, Mr. Bryan informed me via certified mail, on 12/14/00, that "the physicians' findings indicated I was not totally and permanently incapacitated from service, and therefore not entitled to benefits." Wow! This is certainly a blatant disregard for medical and legal rulings! A man of many hats, this led me to appeal the shepherd's decision on 1/30/01, within the 45-day requirement.
-5/9/01, Attorney Nibbs wrote in another letter: 'Ms. Smith was seen by physicians whose medical expertise was not commensurate with the field of medicine most closely related to the range of medical complaints.' Documented is that they never found 'qualified' doctors to evaluate me; and to paraphrase his words, "mitigatory efforts are in progress to avoid the slightest appearance of impropriety and prejudice to Ms. Smith."
-On 5/17/01, Attorney Nibbs prepared a Stipulation referencing the aforementioned facts and others in clear violation of my Civil Rights. Prior to appearing at the Appeal Hearing, on 6/8/01, and present, this stipulation has only Attorney Nibbs' signature and not mine. Incidentally, the terms of office of all but two Trustees expired on or before 6/8/01; thus the Board Chairman informed me on 6/9 that nothing could be done. Are you seeing the similarities of the Board acting while members are expired? Yes, it happened to me!
-How could GERS, on or around 7/6/01, without a standing Board in place, grant the wife of Administrator Bryan a Duty-Connected Disability Annuity? It is public knowledge that five new members were not confirmed by the Legislature until 11/6/01.
-On 2/21/02, while waiting to present my case to the new Board, the GERS Administration met on St. Croix without my knowledge. Transcripts of the meeting show they met both in Regular and Executive Sessions, voted three times on the Motion to affirm Mr. Bryan's decision to deny me benefits, and did not stop until Mr. Bryan got his way. The records show I won the decision of the first and third vote; however, it was only through manipulation of Mr. Bryan’s insistence, that the last vote displayed inconsistencies. After the majority of Trustees voted favorable on my behalf, Bryan, the Board’s Secretary, challenged the results and used his manipulative skills in getting two members to change their votes from positive to negative thus resulting in me not receiving any benefits.
In this small community, where is the justice and equality? Where is the adherence to the laws of the land? We have legislators publicly calling for investigations and castigating the Board for firing Mr. Bryan. Imagine wasting taxpayers' money paying for two attorneys — one for the Board and one for GERS — where they violated my rights. Their actions bordered on professional misconduct and lack of ethics. Where was the American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct being followed in this case? There had to be a serious problem for GERS flocks to fire their shepherd. Remember, Mr. Bryan also served as Secretary of the Board.
If the Legislators want to do what's right, try the following;
-Change the composition of the Board as it relates to Medical Disability Reviews. There is absolutely not one Board member with a Medical background; however they sit in judgment of applicant's medical conditions.
-The medical evaluations can be accepted from one or more physicians selected by the GERS Board only.
-Cut the Selective Media Sensationalism. You are there to serve all of us! Remember, you have a hand in this mess.
To Mr. Laurence E. Bryan, I wish you an enjoyable extended vacation. Now you can truly enjoy quality time with your family. While you and your cronies found time to scrutinize and harass me, you never hid nor were reluctant to be seen on the parade route with your wife as active participants in your favorite Carnival Troupe and Steel Orchestra. That was truly unbecoming of you, as an administrator within a system hell-bent on denying others similarly deserved benefits, along with retiring people with a Virgin Islands' flavor of nepotism. You have lost your flocks, but hopefully, not your stocks.
Merlene Smith
St. Thomas

Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.

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