NEW YORK (AP) -The NFL and its players association are updating their disability plan for retired players in the hopes that it will make it easier for them and for disabled players to get their benefits more efficiently and quickly.
It includes a medical director to advise the claims committee; medical panels in metropolitan areas; specialists who can help players apply for benefits by phone; and other updated procedures, including a prescription drug card for all retired players vested in the pension plan.
The plan, first reported by The New York Times on its Web site, comes in response to repeated complaints by retired players about the current system.
It was confirmed Tuesday evening by union spokesman Carl Francis.
The change comes a day after the league and union announced that 14 hospitals around the country had been designated to treat retired players who need joint replacements.
It also comes on a day when Mike Ditka, the most outspoken critic of the union's handling of retirees, announced in Minneapolis that he would dissolve his Hall of Fame Assistance Trust Fund following a report that it had given only a small amount of money to former players in need.
USA Today reported last week that Ditka's fund had collected $1.3 million since it was formed in 2004, but netted only about $315,000 after expenses and distributed just $57,000 to former players.
Ditka disputed part of the report, saying the trust has actually given away $159,000.
Ditka said Tuesday the fund's balance of more than $600,000 would be divided equally between Misericordia, a residential facility for developmentally disabled youth, and Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund, another fund that helps former professional football players in need.
``Terrific,'' The Times quoted Ditka, a Hall of Fame tight end and former coach of the Bears and Saints, as saying of the new plan. ``That's the greatest thing in the world. Get rid of the red tape. If they do that, that's the greatest thing in the world.''
Ditka was joined by several former Vikings in Minnesota as well as current players Kyle Turley of Kansas City and Matt Birk of the Vikings. Turley has pledged a game check of $25,000 to the fund.
``As players today, we definitely stand on the shoulders of those that have come before us,'' Birk said. ``We're reaping a lot of the benefits of the price that was paid by those players. We can't forget that.''

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