FIGHT­ING CITY & CAN­CER

Sick­ened by dust from WTC, EMT bat­tles raft of red tape in ef­fort to get dis­abil­ity pen­sion

New York Daily News - - NEWS - BY THOMAS TRACY NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

The city is kick­ing Jen­nifer Dougherty while she’s down.

First the proud city EMT — di­ag­nosed with ovar­ian can­cer from Ground Zero toxic dust — was forced to re­tire in June af­ter she used up all of her sick leave to fight her lifethreat­en­ing ill­ness.

Now the city is drag­ging its feet on au­tho­riz­ing her dis­abil­ity pen­sion, claim­ing that she “hasn’t been sick for a year yet,” her at­tor­ney told the Daily News.

“I’m feel­ing like I was kicked twice,” Dougherty, 59, said. “I worked for this city and I al­ways gave them ev­ery­thing I could, but it’s not good enough.”

Strug­gling with tears, Dougherty said the process of prov­ing her dis­abil­ity was ex­haust­ing.

“They need on­go­ing ev­i­dence, but the on­go­ing ev­i­dence will last the rest of my life,” she said. “I will al­ways have can­cer and would al­ways need can­cer care.”

On Wed­nes­day, the New York City Em­ployee’s Re­tire­ment Sys­tem told Dougherty’s at­tor­ney, Jef­frey Gold­berg, that they are de­fer­ring their de­ci­sion un­til they re­ceive a re­port from her sur­geon — a re­port that won’t be gen­er­ated un­til af­ter an ap­point­ment in Novem­ber.

It was an “ab­surd” de­fer­ment, Gold­berg said.

“With the can­cer she has, she could be dead within six months,” Gold­berg said. “Do they want to wait for her oneyear an­niver­sary be­fore they ap­prove her?”

Dougherty, who for weeks was ex­posed to toxic dust at the Fresh Kills land­fill in Staten Is­land as work­ers combed through de­bris from the twin tow­ers look­ing for re­mains, was di­ag­nosed with can­cer in Fe­bru­ary.

In June, she was forced into re­tire­ment when her sick leave and va­ca­tion time ran out.

“I feel like I was co­erced into re­tir­ing just so I could keep my health ben­e­fits,” she told The News in July when she of­fi­cially put in her pa­pers.

Un­like cops, fire­fight­ers and city San­i­ta­tion work­ers, EMTs and other city em­ploy­ees aren’t given un­lim­ited sick time when they suf­fer a li­neof-duty in­jury or ill­ness, such as the ones that can be linked to 9/11.

Dougherty’s liv­ing on her $26,200 yearly pen­sion, which is about half of what her reg­u­lar salary was when she was work­ing, and a grant that was given to her be­cause of her 9/11 ill­ness.

“She’s barely get­ting by,” Gold­berg said. “That shouldn’t be her con­cern at this emo­tional time.”

A dis­abil­ity pen­sion — which is tax-free and about 75% of her reg­u­lar salary — would help ease that suf­fer-

ing, Gold­berg said.

But NYCERS is hit­ting the brakes.

“Its crim­i­nal what they’re do­ing,” 9/11 ad­vo­cate John Feal said about the de­fer­ment. “Jen­nifer’s fight­ing some­thing worse than can­cer, some­thing called in­com­pe­tence, poor lead­er­ship and bad pol­i­tics.”

“Shame on any­one who is not giv­ing her what she de­serves,” he said.

Ad­vo­cates said Dougherty re­peat­edly tes­ti­fied at hear­ings for a bill that would put EMS, mem­bers of the Trans­port Work­ers Union and other city em­ploy­ees left sick fol­low­ing 9/11 on equal foot­ing with cops, fire­fight­ers and san­i­ta­tion work­ers.

The bill, spon­sored by State Sen. Marty Golden (R-Brook­lyn) unan­i­mously passed the se­nate, but a sim­i­lar bill spon­sored by Assem­bly­woman Stacey Ph­ef­fer-Amato (DQueens) never made it to the floor af­ter the de Bla­sio ad­min­is­tra­tion sent an op­po­si­tion memo to Albany leg­is­la­tors.

The memo, while cred­it­ing the city em­ploy­ees who helped in the res­cue and re­cov­ery ef­forts at Ground Zero, said the bill “has an un­known cost to the city” and “pro­vides for a vague se­ries of ad­min­is­tra­tive de­ter­mi­na­tions” that would likely cre­ate con­fu­sion.

“This bill does a poor job of trans­lat­ing a par­tic­u­larly com­plex process to the con­text of ac­tive ser­vice,” the memo notes.

Ad­vo­cates es­ti­mate that roughly 15,000 city em­ploy­ees, in­clud­ing po­lice and fire­fight­ers, went down to Ground Zero in the days fol­low­ing the ter­ror at­tacks — but only a hand­ful of first re­spon­ders were cov­ered with un­lim­ited sick leave.

A City Hall spokesman said of­fi­cials have reached out to Dougherty.

“Jen­nifer Dougherty and every­one who re­sponded to 9/11 and its af­ter­math are he­roes,” city spokesman Raul Con­tr­eras, who added that the city was work­ing “with unions to come to a so­lu­tion that will pro­vide th­ese he­roes with the paid sick leave they de­serve.”

“We ex­pect to have a so­lu­tion soon,” Con­tr­eras said.

KEVIN C. DOWNS

Jen­nifer Dougherty says she feels like she’s been “kicked twice.”

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