When vanessa rodríguezFirefighter from New York, USA, spent nearly a year collecting body parts at Ground Zero after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, unaware that the toxic dust she inhaled would cause her third stage cancer.
Two decades later, the now-disabled mother of two is preparing to apply for welfare after learning the unlimited sick leave she was entitled to under a 2019 state bill isn’t after all, despite promises from the state Politician.
“I thought the city would take care of us. I feel left out, like, ‘There you go. you did your job Get out now.” It’s so unfair the way they’re handling things,” said Rodriguez, who lost his job in May this year, in an interview with the Post.
Vanessa Rodríguez prepares the application for social security. Photo: New York Post
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Rodriguez, 47, is one of half a dozen members of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) who were told they were being fired because they had been ill for more than a year and sustained injuries related to the state’s 11th public sector employee requirement responded to the terrorist attack.
By the time the FDNY informed workers that they would be fired if they did not return to work, many were in the midst of lengthy legal battles with the New York City Employees Retirement System (NYCERS).
But requests have been denied, some repeatedly, and experts say court battles can drag on for years for FDNY members, leaving them caught in a bureaucratic limbo between sick leave and retirement that is ruining their lives financially.
The FDNY said it would be ridiculous to expect a public agency to pay indefinitely for an employee who hasn’t worked for years. Photo: New York Post
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“The population of the World Trade Center has always been viewed as a very, very respected group of individuals,” said Gary Smiley, the World Trade Center liaison for Local 2507, the fire inspectors’ and paramedics union.
“I don’t understand why you want to hurt these people any more when they’ve already been hurt,” they responded to what they thought was a plane crash that turned into a nightmare that 21 years later is still a nightmare .
Up to 200 EMS employees who responded to the terrorist attacks and are still working or on temporary furlough due to 9/11-related injuries could also lose their jobs, Smiley said.
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The unlimited sick leave law, signed by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo on the 18th anniversary of 9/11, gave several city employees injured in response to the attack the same unlimited policy that their uniformed counterparts in the NYPD and FDNY had .
State Senator Andrew Gounardes, one of the bill’s sponsors, hailed it as the end of “heartbreaking health battles” and endless negotiations over health services badly needed by first responders after they develop a host of deadly diseases.
The FDNY found that it would be ridiculous to expect a public agency to pay an employee who has been unemployed for years, regardless of whether the injuries are 9/11-related or not.
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The agency said employees facing layoffs had been ill for more than a year and accused the New York City Employees Retirement System (NYCERS) of denying workers their early retirement and forcing them into costly lawsuits at the end of their careers despite his disabilities to have.
“We have been informed that each of these members has applied for a disability benefit through NYCERS and has been denied,” they said.
“If these members wished to return to work, they could return to our Health Services Office tomorrow and begin the reinstatement process and provide them with adequate housing,” an FDNY spokesman said in a statement.
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“We looked at as many options as possible to keep these members on our payroll. We have made numerous attempts to prevent a split and exhausted all our options.”
For his part, Smiley stated that “nowhere in the bill (indefinite sick leave) is it stated that it is not indefinite. Nowhere does it say you get fired after a year. Otherwise the unlimited sick leave bill would not have been called. It would have been called the One Year World Trade Center Bill.”
Tim McEnaney, who runs a law firm specializing in three quarters of New York’s disability benefits, mentioned that EMS members see “disproportionately negative results” when they apply for early retirement with NYCERS compared to “anywhere,” another uniformed duty in the city. ”
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“They must have metastatic cancer or lose a leg or an arm or something so irrefutably disabling that (NYCERS) would be a complete laughing stock of the world (for having the application denied). Besides that, they disown you,” said McEnaney, whose law firm Goldberg & McEnaney represents two of the EMS members interviewed by The Post.
The Bronx EMT’s Rodriguez knows this fight all too well. Since 2014, NYCERS has denied your request for early retirement six times.
In 2008, she was diagnosed with stage three angiosarcoma, and although chemotherapy and radiation later brought her into remission, the cancer and procedures she was battling took a heavy toll on her body.
He still suffers from chronic post-mastectomy pain syndrome, a bone softening called osteomalacia, peripheral neuropathy and degenerative disc disease, he said.
In 2014, the FDNY determined that he had a “permanent partial disability.”
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“Functionally, he is unable to comprehend. She can’t get up. He has problems with tingling and numbness in his fingers and toes. He can’t grab the stretcher,” wrote Dr. KJ Kelly, then the FDNY’s medical director, in a report after Rodriguez was examined.
“He cannot kneel or bend down and would have difficulty performing all the essential duties of a paramedic.”
Rodriguez returned to work as a dispatcher, but when even clerical work proved too strenuous, she took indefinite sick leave in 2019 while continuing to struggle with NYCERS.