A 48-year-old career police officer from Bellport, New York was a key figure working for passage of a bill to provide unlimited sick leave for former New York City police officers now with other police agencies who are suffering 9/11-related cancers and other illnesses.
The bill addresses the plight of officers who worked at the World Trade Center site on and after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and later worked for Long Island police agencies, Newsday reports. Some of these officers have since become ill with cancer and 9/11-related disease, including respiratory and gastrointestinal conditions, and find themselves running out of sick leave with their current police agencies. Though their illnesses are linked to 9/11 toxic exposures, they are no longer covered by NYPD benefits.
Legislature Passes Sick-Leave Bill at End of Legislative Session
The state Assembly passed the bill on June 20 and the state Senate pass it unanimously on June 21. The crucial votes came just before the end of the legislature’s session. Without passage of the bill, some of the affected officers would have run out of sick leave before the legislature reconvenes.
The attorneys at Parker Waichman have been involved with 9/11 health issues and compensation issues since the terrorist attacks occurred. Members of the firm worked for the 2010 passage and 2015 reauthorization of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Ac, the law that provided health screenings, care, and compensation for first responders, rescue and recovery workers, and area residents and survivors. The Zadroga Act was named for NYPD officer James Zadroga, who died in January 2006 from illness caused by toxic exposures at ground zero.
The New York bill provides unlimited line-of-duty sick leave benefits to former NYPD officers now working in other departments who are verified to have worked on the rescue, recovery and cleanup at ground zero and are suffering from cancer and other illnesses linked to that service, according to Newsday.
The bill’s supporters explain that the affected officers are using up their sick days for treatment of cancer and other 9/11 related illnesses. Researchers have identified more than 50 types of cancer linked to the toxins released when the twin towers fell. Respiratory illnesses and other conditions developed shortly after 9/11 but many cancers take years to develop and many NYPD officers became ill long after they had left the NYPD.
Under the new law, New York State would pay the cost of the additional sick days without charging the costs to Nassau, Suffolk or other police agencies where the former NYPD officers work. The situation is believed to affect a few hundred officers who have not yet retired or taken disability leave, Newsday reports.
Without the additional sick days, many of the affected officers faced the difficult decision to lose daily pay, go on disability leave, or retire because of a 9/11 cancer. Some of the officers are getting by on sick days donated by their colleagues.
Wilson is typical of the affected officers. He left the NYPD in 2002 after working at ground zero and at the Fresh Kills landfill. Fresh Kills was where debris from 9/11 was taken. NYPD officers were among those who spent months sifting debris to find human remains and items that would help identify victims.
The debris was contaminated with the toxins released in the collapse of the towers and those who worked at Fresh Kills were exposed to potential carcinogens. Wilson, now a Suffolk County police officer, was diagnosed with cancer in 2008 and suffers bone damage from radiation treatments. “Work is my therapy,” he says. He does not want to go on disability but he needs the additional sick leave.
The potential cost of the sick leave has not been projected, but Sen. Todd Kaminsky said many of the officers who need the sick leave “don’t have that much time,” according to Newsday. Kaminsky noted that the officers were told the air was safe, and he added, “they were doing the most important duty they could at the time. We owe it to them to do the right thing.”