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Some 9/11 responders still fighting for workers' comp benefits

When the twin towers fell on that horrific day 13 years ago in September, America’s hearts cried out for all the victims and for the responders who risked their lives to save others. Many of those responders were firemen and police officers, but a lot of us forget that ordinary New Yorkers, unaffiliated with any official rescue group, bravely went toward the sounds of chaos on that fateful day and the days soon after to try to save their fellow countrymen. Sadly, it appears that some of them may have been wrongfully denied workers’ compensation benefits.

In 2003, a fund was set up by New York’s legislature to provide workers’ compensation benefits to disabled 9/11 volunteers. However, the board that administers the fund subsequently created rules that the benefits were only for responders who were officially part of a volunteer or rescue organization, like the Red Cross, at the time of the tragedy.

One brave man, who is a former emergency medical technician, left his home on 9/11 to help the injured and then went out to search for survivors on the following day. He now suffers from severe asthma, rhinitis, gastroesophageal reflux disease and anxiety. These things purportedly have left him unable to hold a full-time job. He was originally granted benefits, but this decision was later rescinded on the grounds that he was unaffiliated.

This case then went to an appeals court. The court ultimately ruled that the legislation that created the fund contains no stipulations that a worker had to have been affiliated to receive benefits, and thus that it was incorrect for the board to have such a rule in place and to deny benefits on the grounds of lack of affiliation.

In light of this decision, advocates for 9/11 volunteers are urging the board to vehemently pursue other cases of wrongful denial and rectify the mistakes.

If you’ve been denied workers’ compensation benefits in New York, you still have rights. An attorney can look at your case and may be able to challenge the denial.

Source: Newsday, “9/11 responders, advocates seek workers' comp benefits,” Ridgely Ochs, June 22, 2014

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