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After a lifetime of service, Bonita Springs disabled veteran says the system is keeping him from working

Robert Crystal collects a disability pension from the state. He was told he can't work part-time, despite rising costs of living.
Posted at 9:36 PM, Sep 04, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-04 22:45:56-04

Public service is a calling for Robert Crystal.

The Bonita Springs resident served in the U.S. Navy as a teenager, a police officer in Nashville, TN in his early 20s and then spent 20 years with the New York Police Department.

He retired in 2001, just months before the 9/11 terror attacks.

When the towers came down, Crystal put the uniform back on.

“My job was to go underneath the rubble and look for survivors. Which unfortunately there never were any,” said Crystal.

After months of sifting through the rubble, which Crystal says resulted in severe lung problems, he retired to the Sunshine state and took a job with the Department of Corrections.

Robert Crystal pictured alongside his partner with the NYPD.


But his health forced him into retirement under Florida’s Heart and Lung Bill.

He’s been collecting a disability pension with the Florida Retirement System ever since.

“Since then, I’ve had 3 heart attacks, two massive. My lungs are not good. I do have problems breathing sometimes,” Crystal said.

Despite his health problems, his desire to serve has never gone away.

After Hurricane Ian slammed into Southwest Florida in September of last year, Crystal started working part-time as a security guard at a flooded mobile home park.

“I have always volunteered. I was in Houston for the hurricane. I was in North Carolina (for Hurricane Irene). I went back to Staten Island for Hurricane Sandy,” said Crystal.


2022 brought another storm to his life, a financial one.

With record breaking inflation driving up prices, while he was on a fixed income, Crystal says daily life became a struggle.

“My rent is up $600 from where it was two years ago,” said Crystal. “Quite frankly, my landlord could get more. He’s a nice guy.”

Which is why Crystal says he kept working part-time as a security guard.

Right up until received noticed from the Florida Retirement System, he was making too much money to keep receiving his pension.

“They said ‘they will pull your pension from you and you will lose it if you continue to work.’ I can’t afford to lose it,” said Crystal.

Florida’s Retirement System has rules about how much you can work after you retire.

Former state employees are allowed to work for the private sector and still receive benefits, except for disability pensions.

The online manual says a retiree “cannot receive FRS disability benefits if you are employed. Your FRS disability benefits will be terminated upon returning to work for any employer.”

“I don’t know what to do,” said Crystal. “All I want to do is make enough money so I can offset my bills. I’m not getting rich, believe me!

Robert Crystal served in the NYPD during 9/11 and worked as a security guard in Fort Myers after Hurricane Ian.

Fox 4 Investigates reached out to the state-run retirement system to see if there are any options for someone like Crystal who is feeling the sting of rising inflation.

No one ever responded to our requests.

Different organizations has different rules about how much you’re allowed to work and still receive benefits.

For instance, Social Security allows someone to earn up to $1400 a month and still receive their Disability Income.