Retired cop will get enhanced disability pension after developing chronic illnesses from working at Ground Zero

Barbara Ross New York Daily News

A retired city cop who developed fibromyalgia after being exposed to toxins after the World Trade Center attack won a five-year legal battle Tuesday for an enhanced disability pension.

The Appellate Division in Manhattan ruled that a fibromyalgia diagnosis qualifies as a “new onset” disease and entitles first responders who served at Ground Zero to a tax-free accident disability pension unless officials can prove it’s not related.

For retired police officer Annmarie Sheldon, 41, that means roughly $2,400 more a month to support her family in Sayville, L.I. She and her husband, also a retired police officer, have two young children, ages 3 and 4.

Fibromyalgia is a disorder which includes muscle pain, fatigue, memory and mood issues.

Sheldon, who joined the force in 1998, worked a security post at Ground Zero for two months after the attack. It made her dizzy, short of breath, nauseous and gave her chest pains.

She was diagnosed in 2002 with having toxic levels of heavy metals (cadmium, lead and mercury), fibromyalgia, asthma, chronic fatigue syndrome and acid reflux.

The appellate judges noted she never had those conditions before working at the WTC site but the Police Pension Fund wrongly insisted there was no proof that her exposure had triggered the disease.

A lower court ruling sided with the city but the appellate court overturned that.

“We find that fibromyalgia qualifies as a ‘new onset disease,’” the judges ruled.

That means the burden fell on the city to prove that Sheldon’s condition was not tied to her service at Ground Zero and they said the city failed to do that.

Sheldon said Tuesday that she was greatly relieved to hear that she is done with her long legal battle which cost her $50,000 — some of which she borrowed from her mother.

She said she was a “perfectly healthy” 28-year-old in the fall of 2001 when she and 15 other cops from the 94th Precinct in Brooklyn were put on a bus every day for two months for the ride to Manhattan where they secured the smoldering site.

In January 2002, she said, she woke up one day with her entire body aching.

The pain combined with extreme fatigue made her think she had the flu but when it didn’t go away, a doctor tested her urine for heavy metals and found she had 100 times the allowed amount.

Sheldon spent the next two years using her days off to get Chelation therapy to strip her body of the metals.

“The doctor said if I hadn’t done it, I would have died,” she said. “I also wouldn’t have had children.”

As it was, she said, the NYPD refused to pay for the $30,000 in treatments or to give her time off to have them. So she did them on her day off — each treatment requiring her to be hooked up to an intravenous tube for more than four hours.

Eventually she also was diagnosed with having fibromyalgia, which causes widespread musculoskeletal pain and weakness and the NYPD pushed her into retiring in 2010 on a normal disability pension, which means she got half of her last salary and it was taxed.

The appellate judges noted that the law allows musculoskeletal diseases to qualify first responders for accident disability pensions (which mean three quarters salary and not taxed) but the police pension fund’s medical board took a “narrow definition” of what that means.

They said Sheldon produced studies showing that heavy metal poisoning can lead to fibromyalgia, but the medical board “without citing any credible evidence …simply stated ‘there is no evidence that (Sheldon’s fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome) is in any way related to her World Trade Center exposure.”

Sheldon’s lawyer Jeffrey Goldberg said the pension fund now must recalculate Sheldon’s pension from when she retired in 2010.

PBA president Patrick Lynch said the court ruling “supports the spirit and intent of the 9/11 disability laws.”

“As we put more and more time between those tragic and horrible days, the city is becoming more stringent in granting these WTC disability cases and this ruling corrects that mistake in one specific area of illness.”

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