I am pleased to report that workers comp has entered into the informed debate that characterizes our pending national election. It is inspiring to see the national dialogue confront - one by one - the complex issues that face this country as we creep on all fours through the new millenium.
Mike Wooten is a trooper with the Alaskan state police. He was involved in a messy divorce from the sister of Alaska Governor and GOP Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin. Palin and her husband, Todd (AKA "the First Dude") apparently had concerns that Wooten was collecting workers comp, even as he was participating in some heavy (as opposed to "light") duty functions away from work. Palin and the Dude believed that Wooten had gone “snowmachining” during his alleged disability. Perhaps he was just having a good day?
It also appears that Wooten had “applied for and got a ticket to go hunt a moose.” I can't speak for our readers, but I do know that when I strained my back a couple of years ago shoveling snow, my first thought was that it might help to go hunt moose, until I realized that there weren't any in my immediate neighborhood. A number of close friends advised me that the best cure for intense back pain is to go out and shoot something, preferably from a moving snowmachine. It was a compelling argument, which at that time I chose to ignore.
Fraud, Malingering or Politics?
In the fall of 2006, Wooten injured himself in the line of duty when he pulled a body from a wrecked automobile, slipped on icy pavement and injured his back. He underwent surgery and was on “light” duty and had filed for worker’s comp when he could not work. The records do not indicate how long Wooten was on light duty or why this assignment came to an end.
John Cyr, head of the union for state troopers, believes that the guv and first dude were up to no good. “Todd Palin was following Mike around snapping pictures of him,” he is quoted as saying. “Frank Bailey (Palin's director of boards and commissions) was getting people to say that Mike was lying on his worker’s comp form. The governor’s family was following Mike around everywhere. They forwarded that information to the worker’s comp division."
While I'm impressed that the First Dude took it upon himself to run a secret investigation, thereby saving taxpayers the cost of hiring an outside investigator, he might have been better off leaving this to the professionals. Given the magnitude of the fallout from "troopergate," the First Couple might do better next time to "drop a dime" to the insurance fraud bureau through an anonymous call: I'm guessing that they still have pay phones in Alaska.
Regardless of what you think of their politics or their methods, Palin and the Dude have taken a pro-active stance on workers comp fraud and they deserve credit for raising the profile of this under-reported issue. The Insider embraces this opportunity to further the national dialogue on the compelling issues of our time, even as we peruse Craig's List for barely used snowmachines in good running condition.