Urge Those Eligible for WTC Health Aid To Seek Coverage

Sarah Dorsey, Chief Leader

There are many reasons why some city workers who toiled at the World Trade Center site after September 11 failed to file a form notifying their retirement system that they were there, but refusal to believe that they could get sick surely ranks near the top.

Robyn Cotrona, the counsel for State Sen. Martin Golden, talked to several constituents who were simply unaware that they had to affirm their September 11 work separately with both the state Workers’ Compensation system and their retirement fund. The paperwork for each agency was nearly identical.

‘Thought It Wouldn’t Hit’

“Life got in the way,” Ms. Cotrona said. “A lot of them thought they had already done it. A lot of them thought they weren’t gonna get sick.”

One woman told her she’d been in the hospital much of the time with a 9/11-related illness. Paperwork wasn’t her first concern.

But there is good reason to pay heed: under the state World Trade Center Disability Law, those sickened by their recovery work are eligible for lifelong enhanced disability payments upon retirement, and their families can receive benefits if they pass away.

In 2013, Mr. Golden and Assemblyman Peter J. Abbate Jr. co-sponsored a bill that extended the deadline to file the Notice of Participation until September 11, 2014 for members of a long list of covered groups, including those enrolled in certain tiers of each of the public retirement systems.

New Eligibles

Groups earlier denied September 11-related retirement benefits were allowed to file for the first time, including certain Department of Education workers; those whose pensions were vested after September 11 but were later challenged by the city; and those who developed diseases that weren’t originally covered.

Late last year, another bill sponsored by Mr. Golden and Mr. Abbate extended the deadline again, to September 11, 2015. Those not covered under the 2013 extension will be eligible, according to Ms. Cotrona.

Attorney Jordan Ziegler represents many ill September 11 recovery workers, and said last week that city workers whose claims were denied for failing to file their notices may now be eligible.

“I think all those who worked on this bill should be applauded, and those who voted it into law should be commended,” said Chet Lukaszewski, an attorney who has assisted thousands of police, fire and Emergency Medical Service workers sickened after September 11. “[This will] simply ensure that as few people as possible fall through the cracks.”

Legitimate Excuses

He believes that the vast majority of eligible public employees have filed their forms already. But a few had special reasons for missing the deadline, “whether it be moving out of state, shutting out anything that had to do with the event or, most often in my experience, confusing other filings with this filing or thinking that registration with another entity satisfied this requirement.”

To qualify under the state World Trade Center Disability Law, public employees must show they successfully passed a physical exam to enter public service. If they were injured in the terrorist attacks or can show that they worked at least 40 hours near the site or with contaminated debris, they can file a claim. Certain illnesses, including respiratory, digestive, and skin disorders, as well as psychological conditions and cancer, will be presumed related to their service. A full list of conditions is available at http://goo.gl/g4IFpV.

Potential Benefits Big

Actuaries for each of the public retirement systems estimated that relatively few new beneficiaries will file claims—not enough to create a significant burden for the state.

But for those who qualify, the benefits can be substantial. The size of the payments depends on each worker’s job title, when he was hired and which retirement system he belongs to. But the benefits continue for life, unlike Federal payments under the Zadroga Act.

That bill expires in 2016 and its prospects for renewal are uncertain, particularly in a Congress that has committed to billions in spending cuts since the original version passed in 2010.

September 11 health advocate John Feal, who helped make the case in Congress for Zadroga, said he believed there should be no cut-off date for the retirement law.

“The health of those who risked their lives without prejudice should not have an expiration date,” he said.

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