FIGHTING CITY & CANCER
Sickened by dust from WTC, EMT battles raft of red tape in effort to get disability pension
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.
Jennifer Dougherty says she feels like she’s been “kicked twice.”