A recent ruling may make many more Ground Zero volunteers eligible to receive medical compensation following a state appeals court decision.
An Appellate Division, Third Department panel just unanimously ruled that the state Workers’ Compensation Board improperly limited its definition of post-September 11 “volunteer” first responders, to include only those “serving under the direction of an authorized rescue entity or volunteer agency,” according to The New York Law Journal.
The board had rejected a request from an emergency medical technician who was seeking benefits under the World Trade Center Volunteer Fund. The medical technician was not under authorized direction when he volunteered at the Ground Zero site for two days. The New York Law Journal noted that benefits under the Fund are paid in accordance to the schedule of Workers Compensation payments and payments may not exceed $400 a week.
Originally, an administrative law judge found the medical technician eligible because of the health problems he suffered following his exposure to Ground Zero dust and toxins. In an application he submitted in 2010, the medical technician indicated that he suffered from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), depression, anxiety, rhinitis, and sinusitis, according to The New York Law Journal.
The medical technician said that, on the morning of the terrorist attacks, he left his apartment on the Upper West Side with the intention of helping the first responders. He sorted supplies and created a treatment area at the Chelsea Piers, the ruling indicated. The following day, he said that he used his EMT identification to access Ground Zero, where he worked to look for survivors. According to the court, he did not volunteer again. The New York Law Journal wrote that, according to the Third Department, state statues do not address benefits for World Trade Center responders, which could have denied the medical technician’s application based on the workers’ compensation board’s interpretation of a what constitutes “volunteer.”
“Noticeably absent … is any requirement that such individual ‘serve under the direction of an authorized rescue entity or volunteer agency,'” Justice John Egan Jr. wrote for the 5-0 court. “Accordingly, the board’s imposition of such a requirement is, to our analysis, contrary to the plain terms of the statute,” The New York Law Journal reported.
The medical technician, now 42 years old, said in an interview that he believes the ruling could help thousands of volunteers who were exposed to Ground Zero’s toxic dust. “I was there. I saw what was going on. It was mobbed with volunteer responders who weren’t on the payroll or in uniform.” He noted that a lot of the volunteers he knows are angry that they have been denied benefits that could help them through serious illness they allege are the result of their exposure to World Trade Center debris. As for him, he has gone through all of his savings and has had to pull a lot out of his IRA, wrote The New York Law Journal.
Rachel McEneny, spokeswoman for the Workers’ Compensation Board, said the board was reviewing the decision and offered no other comment, according to The New York Law Journal.