City is denying 9/11 first responders disability pensions

Fire Department paramedics and EMTs who responded to the 9/11 attacks and now suffer from medical illnesses say the city is forgetting about them.

The medical first responders, who are employed by the FDNY, breathed the same toxic air at Ground Zero as firefighters and many have been diagnosed with the same respiratory diseases and cancers.

But sick paramedics and EMTs are denied the more lucrative, three-quarters, tax-free disability pensions at a far higher rate than firefighters, New York City Employees Retirement System records obtained by The Post show.

“It’s a crime what they’re doing to EMTs and paramedics who got sick. It’s a game of attrition,” said Gary Smiley, 53, a retired paramedic with asthma and PTSD, whose disability claim was rejected by NYCERS. “They want you to go away and die.”

While pensions held by paramedics and EMTs are governed by the NYCERS system, firefighters and officers are under the auspices of the FDNY Pension Fund.

The NYCERS board has rejected nearly half of the disability claims filed by EMTs and paramedics — 56 out of 116 over the past year.

By comparison, the FDNY Pension Fund has approved 75 percent of disability claims stemming from the World Trade Center attacks, a spokesman said.

The average disability pension benefits are $75,043, while the average for a regular service pension is $44,659.

Nearly two-thirds of firefighters and officers who retired last year had pensions of more than $100,000, many of them for disabilities.

EMTs whose disability claims have been denied are crying foul, and the state Senate is now investigating the disparity.

Smiley was one of the first paramedics on the scene on 9/11 and became trapped for two hours by the crumbling north tower.

A judge ordered the NYCERS board to reconsider the denial of Smiley’s case. By law, a judge can’t impose a disability payment, because it would overrule recommendations of medical doctors.

NYCERS, Smiley said, denied his disability claim a second time.

EMT Mike Abramowitz, 56, who was also at Ground Zero, was diagnosed with restrictive airway disease and gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.

“I was told I was done. I had to retire,” said Abramowitz, whose claim was denied by NYCERS.

Although denied disability pensions, both men were deemed disabled by the federal government and qualified for Social Security disability assistance, they said.

Asked about the criticisms, NYCERS general counsel Ilyse Sisolak, said, “NYCERS has no comment because it is confidential, since the inquiry pertains to medical conditions of its members.”

Sen. Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn), who chairs the committee that oversees government-worker and pension legislation, is investigating the claimed disparity.

“Why is this happening?” he said. “Why do EMTs have a 50 percent rejection rate There’s something wrong with this picture.”


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