Whenever an application for benefits is filed on the earnings and service of a railroad employee, the RRB needs to gather information in addition to the earnings and service information that it already has. The purpose of gathering the additional information is to establish the applicant's entitlement, and possibly also, the applicant's continued entitlement to benefits.
- If the application is for retirement benefits, the information will relate to age, earnings outside the railroad industry, or other benefits awarded or expected to be awarded.
- If the application is for disability benefits, the information will also relate to the claimed disability and will include medical evidence in support of the claim.
- If the application is for benefits to members or former members of the employee's family (such as spouses, children, widows/widowers, parents, and divorced spouses), the information will also relate to the relationship of the applicant to the employee.
- If the application is for unemployment benefits, the information will relate to the reasons for the applicant's unemployment, periods unemployed, and efforts made to find work.
- If the application is for sickness benefits, the information will relate to the disabling condition and the period or periods the applicant claims to be disabled for work.
Much of the requested information is furnished by the applicant; however, some information may also be furnished by third parties. Such information may well be in the nature of "proofs" and evidence.
Whenever an application is first filed for benefits under the Railroad Retirement Act based on the earnings and service record of a railroad worker, a claim folder is established for that worker. This claim folder becomes the place where all paper documents relating to that application and all subsequent applications under the Railroad Retirement Act are filed. These documents include the application, supporting proofs, correspondence, award forms computational worksheets, and computer generated forms produced by the RRB.
No comparable folder is established for applicants for benefits under the Railroad Unemployment and Insurance Act. That's because less information is required for determining eligibility for benefits under this act. And also because the paper documentation is considerably less. Folders are established only in special cases where the paper documentation requires it.
Included in the category of application/post application information is the most sensitive information that the RRB maintains on persons in the railroad community. Information that is highly personal and therefore highly sensitive includes medical information (particularly where it relates to a mental condition), information relating to illegitimacy, prior marriages, common-law marriages, and information regarding personal finances. When there is an overpayment and the person who is overpaid requests that the overpayment be waived because of inability to pay, the RRB must obtain detailed financial information form the requester before making a decision on the request. Almost without exception, such highly sensitive information is contained in paper documents that are filed in claim folders.