Marian J. McGovern, the recently retired commander of the State Police, has been approved for a tax-free disability pension because she suffers from a heart condition, a state police spokesman said, a designation that will boost her retirement pay by tens of thousands of dollars.
McGovern, 58, of Marshfield, made no mention of her medical condition when announcing her retirement in June. On Wednesday, a State Police spokesman revealed that McGovern was diagnosed with a heart condition in 2009, before her appointment later that year as commander of the 2,200 officers and 400 civilian employees of the State Police.
McGovern is the second State Police superintendent in eight years to receive a disability pension because of a heart condition.
McGovern’s disability is based on a “diagnosis of a serious condition and its continued prognosis into the future,” spokesman David Procopio said. “The pension designation is completely merited by Colonel McGovern’s medical situation.”
McGovern, who retired after 33 years, earned $209,000 as superintendent, and her annual pension will be about $163,000 a year.
Normally, public pensions in Massachusetts are exempt from state income tax, but ordinarily subject to federal income tax. However, when the retiree also has a disability, the pension is also exempt from federal income taxes.
Based on calculations reviewed by several public pension specialists, McGovern may save about $25,000 a year in lower federal tax bills by receiving a disability pension, compared with a pension without disability, depending on her tax bracket.
McGovern’s disability pension was approved by a special three-member board, which reviews only State Police disability applications. All other disability applications across the state are handled by a panel of three independent doctors, but state law requires that State Police disabilities be reviewed by the state commissioner of public health, state surgeon, and State Police superintendent, or their designees.
In McGovern’s case, the State Police superintendent’s designee abstained from voting, Procopio said. The pension was approved by a 2 to 0 vote.
Procopio said McGovern’s condition will “require lifelong medication and management.”
He said he did not know whether diagnosis of McGovern’s heart condition limited or impacted in any way the performance of her duties after 2009. Asked whether State Police in general may continue to work with such a medical condition, he said decisions would be made on a case-by-case basis.
McGovern, a Worcester native, was appointed by Governor Deval Patrick. She was the first woman to achieve that rank. The new commander is Timothy P. Alben, a 30-year veteran.
McGovern’s disability retirement is not without precedent. In 2004, Thomas J. Foley retired at age 50 as State Police superintendent with a disability pension because of a heart condition.
Since then, Foley has run successfully for Governor’s Councilor and unsuccessfully for Worcester County sheriff. He also recently wrote a book about his 20 years of pursuit as a State Police investigator of James “Whitey” Bulger.
Foley said in an interview he would gladly trade his heart condition for a regular, less lucrative pension.
“I got a heart condition, and I got it working the job,” he said. “It limits me. But I live with it, and I am not apologizing for any of my activities.”
“I put myself into some dangerous positions in my career,” said Foley, now 58.
The State Retirement Board is expected to formally accept the pension for McGovern at its Thursday meeting.
Sean Murphy can be reached at email@example.com.