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New rules on disability set for NFL

December 13, 2007|Greg Johnson | Times Staff Writer

The NFL and the NFL Players Assn. on Wednesday unveiled new procedures that professional football believes will streamline the cumbersome system that retired players must navigate when they apply for medical disability benefits. The league also said that players vested in pro football's pension and disability plan would qualify for discounted prescription drugs.

The disability plan has drawn increasing criticism from retired players, some of whom suffer from what they describe as significant football-related injuries. Those complaints recently prompted a handful of current players to donate all or part of their Dec. 23 game checks to a nonprofit group that assists down-and-out former players.

The changes announced Wednesday would add input from medical experts earlier in the application process. The disability system will add a medical director who will work with an existing, two-person claims committee that initially screens applications. The system also hopes to reduce travel expenses and speed claims by adding more medical specialists to conduct physical examinations in California, Arizona and other states with large NFL retiree populations.

NFLPA Executive Director Gene Upshaw, in a prepared statement, said that the changes would "improve and expedite the disability claims process." On Tuesday, Upshaw and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced that players who qualify for retirement and disability benefits also would receive financial assistance for joint-replacement surgery.

But Bernie Parrish, a former player and a longtime critic of Upshaw and the union, dismissed the changes as window dressing.

"Goodell and Upshaw threw another handful of pebbles in the ocean of NFL PR diversion and then want everyone to applaud the ripples as they disappear," said Parrish, who added that "calling a new layer of red tape faster and more efficient is more NFLPA/NFL absurdity."

greg.johnson@latimes.com

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