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New Law Offers Disability Help for Providers Sickened at WTC

With a bill signed into law in June by New York governor George Pataki, financial assistance will come a bit easier for many of the emergency-services victims of 9/11.

Serious health problems still plague many EMS providers who worked at the World Trade Center site, and many who can no longer work, their unions say, have had problems getting the Workers' Compensation and disability pensions they need to survive.

The so-called 9/11 Presumption Bill offers them some relief. It provides a legal presumption that public-safety employees who responded to the World Trade Center and later became sick with certain conditions developed those conditions through their efforts at Ground Zero. It entitles them to a 75% disability pension. The presumption covers the airway and breathing problems developed by many who worked the WTC response, as well as various cancers, skin conditions and gastrointestinal and other maladies.

"It covers things that wouldn't have been covered before," says Karen Mazza, general counsel for the New York City Employees' Retirement System (NYCERS), which decides disability claims from Fire Department of New York (FDNY) EMS providers. "And because you may not see things like pulmonary and dermatitis issues until later on, it gives them an opportunity to file well into the future."

Under the new law, an employee must file a Notice of Intent with NYCERS asserting that because of their WTC exposure, they may have developed a health condition or impairment. The deadline for this is June 13, 2007.

This should be a welcome development for FDNY's EMS providers, who, according to their unions, have seen numerous 9/11-related Workers' Comp and line-of-duty pension claims denied.

"We have one group having trouble getting their Workers' Compensation approved," says Marianne Pizzitola, pension coordinator for the Uniformed EMTs and Paramedics and Uniformed EMS Officers unions. "They can't get treatment or authorization for treatment, and they can't get their physicians and pharmacists and physical therapists paid. The other problem is pensions: We have people who are going through the review-board process and being denied for no valid reason. The board is finding them not disabled, even though the fire department has found them disabled. They may be collecting Workers' Comp, they may be collecting Social Security, yet the pension system disagrees."

In making Workers' Comp and disability pension claims, FDNY's EMS workers play by different rules than their firefighting counterparts. Firefighters' cases are heard by the FDNY and the state's Fire Pension Fund, respectively, while EMS cases are decided by the city Law Department's Workers' Comp division and NYCERS.

Both of these offices say EMS claims related to 9/11 haven't been rejected at disproportionate rates. John Sweeney, chief of city's Workers' Comp division, has said about 96% of EMS claims related to 9/11 have been approved, and Mazza says approval rates for EMS performance-of-duty disability claims have been higher than those for other fields.

The 9/11 Presumption Bill doesn't cover Workers' Comp claims, but legislation that would offer similar presumptivity in those cases was introduced in the New York State Assembly in late August.

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