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9/11 Responder Denied Enhanced Pension as Disability Is Blamed on Weight

The New York City Employees’ Retirement System (NYCERS) has denied an emergency medical technician an enhanced disability pension, because it claims that his asthma was caused by obesity, rather than his extensive work at Ground Zero. According to a recent story in the New York Post, Michael Abramowitz, whose work at Ground Zero included transporting victims’ body parts to the city morgue, was forced into retirement in 2010 at the age of 56, when doctors declared him medically unfit for duty due to asthma and psoriasis. Doctors certified that his asthma was due to exposure to 9/11 toxic dust.

Unfortunately, the NYCERS medical board blamed obesity, not Ground Zero exposure, for Abramowitz’s medical issues. In a March 2011 decision, the medical board stated “the applicant’s mild restrictive pulmonary disease is secondary to this weight gain over the years.” Abramowitz, who is five foot nine, weighed 225 pounds in 2003, but now weighs 290. On appeal, Abramowitz was denied again in 2014. Abramowitz then sued, and Judge Bernard Graham ruled the medical board’s decision was “not rational.” Armed with this judgment, Abramowitz applied to NYCERS again, but was again denied.

Abramowitz receives Social Security disability benefits, and the Workers’ Compensation Board ruled him 72 percent disabled. But his efforts to get NYCERS to issue a disability pension have been fruitless. The enhanced pension would be substantial: Abramowitz currently receives a $30,000 pension but would receive $45,000 tax free if he was ruled disabled. Abramowitz is taking his case back to court.

At Barasch & McGarry, our 9/11 benefits attorneys have represented numerous clients whose asthma and other respiratory ailments forced them into an early retirement. We also understand there is a relationship between the onset of asthma and subsequent weight gain. It’s common sense that individuals who experience shortness of breath will find it difficult to be active and keep weight down. Unfortunately, there is also considerable medical literature arguing that obesity causes asthma. The fact that Mr. Abramowitz also developed psoriasis could help his case, since psoriasis is an autoimmune disease, linked to psoriatic arthritis, a condition that some 9/11 responders suffer from. Unfortunately, neither psoriasis nor psoriatic arthritis is listed among the conditions that are presumed to be 9/11 related.

But even if Mr. Abramowitz cannot obtain an enhanced pension, he may be eligible for health services and compensation through the WTC Victim Compensation Fund.

Barasch & McGarry helps responders and others affected by 9/11 illnesses get the benefits they deserve. For a free consultation with a lawyer who understands your situation and the law, please contact us online or call 888-351-9421.

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