Updated: 12-15-2004 02:26:21 PM

Disabled Portland, Oregon Firefighter Serving In Iraq

Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- Mark Vrvilo has not been able to work as a Portland firefighter since 2001 because of a back injury. But the pain hasn't kept him from serving as an Oregon Army National Guard medic in Iraq.

The Portland Fire & Police Disability and Retirement Fund voted Tuesday to suspend payments to Vrvilo and refer his case to the police and the district attorney's office for possible prosecution for fraud.

The board also said it would try to recover some or all of the $85,267.73 in benefits and medical expenses paid to him by the fund since November 2001.

Vrvilo's wife, Sladjana Vrvilo, said she had asked the fund's trustees to delay action in her husband's case until he returned from duty.

``I'm a little appalled for someone to go ahead and make decisions for someone who is not here to give his side of the story,'' she said.

Vrvilo, 40, worked for the Portland Fire Bureau for about four months before he filed a disability claim for a back injury in October 2001. He said the injury occurred during a training exercise when he lifted a Jaws of Life hydraulic tool, a device used to free people from auto wrecks.

The disability fund's rules require members to fully disclose their medical histories and any outside income they receive while collecting disability benefits.

An offhand comment by a friend of Vrvilo's triggered an investigation by the fund that turned up evidence that Vrvilo had failed to disclose a back injury from an auto accident before he filed his disability claim.

When the fund's staff could not locate Vrvilo, it ran a Google search and found him featured on a Web log as a medic serving in Iraq with the Oregon National Guard. His unit was sent to Iraq in April.

Oregon National Guard officials said Vrvilo went to Iraq with the rank of specialist, which pays $1,558 to $1,891 a month, plus allowances and combat pay.

``I was floored,'' said Portland firefighter Paul Corah, a member of the fund's disability board. ``When someone tries to take advantage of the system, it bothers me so much. I'm a taxpayer, too.''