Executive Director Update
World Trade Center (WTC) Update
Melanie Whinnery, Executive Director
On November 15, 2017, NYCERS General Counsel Ilyse Sisolak and I testified at a public hearing sponsored by the Senate Standing Committee on Civil Service and Pensions. We listened to the discussion regarding accidental disability applications filed by those who participated in the World Trade Center Rescue, Recovery, and Clean-up Operations. Our goal was to hear the concerns members had regarding NYCERS’ WTC policies and processes. This public hearing has led to many changes here at NYCERS, which I presented at the follow-up Senate Roundtable on February 15, 2018. They are outlined below.
- Since the November 15 hearing, my team and I have met with a variety of stakeholders, including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and her representatives; the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF); the FealGood Foundation; attorneys affiliated with the FealGood Foundation; Dr. Michael Crane, the Medical Director of the Selikoff Centers for Occupational Health at The Mount Sinai Hospital and of the WTC Health Program Clinical Center of Excellence at Mount Sinai; and FDNY Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro and his executive team. We also met with Oren Barzilay, President of the Uniformed EMTs, Paramedics & Fire Inspectors FDNY, Local 2507 of DC 37; Jack Schaefer, his Pension/Grievance Coordinator; and their team, along with Chet Lukaszewski.
- The VCF came in and met with NYCERS’ Board of Trustees and NYCERS staff on January 11 to provide an overview of VCF benefits. This provided a great deal of clarification on the benefits, as well as the criteria and process. We have since had follow-up conversations with the VCF on outstanding questions and have affirmed our commitment to providing any information needed by the VCF for the processing of benefits.
Notices of Participation
- As of December 14, 2017, we had reported that there were 977 outstanding Agency Verification Reports. A representative from the Mayor’s office contacted mayoral agencies and NYCERS continued to contact non-Mayoral agencies to follow up on outstanding Notices. Since that time, we received 51 new Notices from members and 613 Agency Reports from various City agencies. At the present time, 415 Agency Reports remain outstanding.
- NYCERS’ Board of Trustees passed a resolution at its December Board meeting creating two additional WTC Review Committees, for a total of three. These Committees enable more members to present their documentation to the NYCERS Board to be considered for verification of participation in WTC Rescue, Recovery, and Clean-Up Operations when the member’s agency has been unable to verify the member’s participation. One member of the original Committee is participating on each of the committees to make sure there is consistency between the three committees.
- NYCERS changed its policy to permit members to simultaneously file for several types of retirement benefits and enable them to start receiving a benefit as soon as their first application is approved, without hindering the other pending applications. This allows a member to receive benefits and health insurance while additional benefits are still being processed. If the member is later found qualified for a different benefit, the member may choose to retire under this new benefit. The new benefit will be retroactive to the first retirement date or to the earliest date permitted by law.
- In response to clarification of the VCF process and the fact that psychiatric conditions are not eligible for VCF benefits, in situations where a member files a WTC application for both a qualifying psychiatric condition and a physical condition, if the psychiatric condition is approved first, NYCERS is changing its policy to continue to evaluate the qualifying physical condition and render a decision on the physical condition as well. Accordingly, if the applicant is subsequently approved for a WTC qualifying physical condition, the member would be eligible to be considered for VCF benefits. Additionally, if the member passes from the WTC qualifying condition they were found disabled for, it eases the process for the applicant’s statutorily defined beneficiary to apply for an accidental death benefit.
- NYCERS will allow employers to submit additional documentation that provides clarification of an applicant’s duties. This will be reviewed by the Medical Board in addition to the Department of Citywide Administrative Service’s General Statement of Duties and Responsibilities. In the case of EMTs, this additional documentation will provide a more detailed description of the physical and State certification requirements to assist the Medical Board in determining whether the applicant is permanently disabled from performing the duties of his/her position.
- If a member is examined by an Independent Medical Examiner, NYCERS will provide the applicant with a copy of the report after it has been reviewed by the Medical Board for completeness.
- The NYCERS Board of Trustees also formed a subcommittee on WTC to explore potential remedies and any legislative actions they may individually wish to propose directly to the Senate committee.
- NYCERS formed an internal workgroup to review WTC and disability retirement policies and procedures in response to the information received at the hearing as well as the recommendations received in all of the subsequent meetings.
- NYCERS is working with the FDNY and DCAS to ensure that we have the most up-to-date job requirements for EMTs.
- Where members who appear before the WTC Review Committee are found to have other customer service needs (e.g., want to file a disability retirement application, etc.), they are immediately taken to Client Services for a consultation.
- NYCERS is reviewing medical-related brochures and fact sheets to ensure that we are providing the most up-to-date information and to add additional clarification where needed. During this review, we will be considering where to publish the Board of Trustees’ request that members and pensioners be informed that the WTC Review Committee will consider video testimony describing WTC Rescue, Recovery, and Clean-Up activities when the member or pensioner is terminally ill.
- We provided the FDNY and Local 2507 of DC 37 (the EMT Union) with direct contacts for disability, WTC, and death cases to allow for greater communication and collaboration between our agencies.
- NYCERS’ Legal Division has been working with the NYC Law Department to create a list of common issues seen by the courts. With this information, NYCERS will work with the Chair of NYCERS’ Medical Board to improve Medical Board reports.
- I met with the Chair of NYCERS’ Medical Board to discuss suggestions and concerns expressed during our discussions with stakeholders and the Board of Trustees.
- We had a conference with NYCERS’ Medical Board during which we discussed concerns and improvements that can be made. The Chair and the Medical Board affirmed their commitment to provide fair and consistent assessments of all members’ disability applications in a professional manner and provide reports that reflect their efforts.
- We are requesting two additional staff as part of the FY 2019 budget in order to more actively manage and expedite WTC disability applications filed by members and pensioners. This is particularly important, as more than 10,000 WTC Notices of Participation have been filed, and the number of members, retirees, and beneficiaries who file for WTC benefits is expected to rise over time, due to members who participated in Rescue, Recovery, and Clean-up Operations developing disabling conditions.
- We are also requesting additional funds in the FY 2019 budget to accommodate additional independent medical examiners and consultants, which will alleviate some of the backlog we are currently seeing.
Changes to Examination Space
- NYCERS is creating a separate space for Medical Board interviews. When the renovation is complete, there will be an interview space outside of the medical examination room.
- We are also updating the examination room to make it more comfortable for the members.
- Beginning with applications filed in calendar year 2018, NYCERS has changed its system and process for collecting statistics. Over time, we will be able to report in greater detail on the number and types of applications filed by members.
- While the majority of improvements to submitting or receiving documents electronically will happen with our Legacy Replacement Project implementation, we are researching interim improvements that could be made to expedite communication with the applicant and facilitate the submission of documents.
September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF)
- NYCERS and the VCF confirmed contacts for sharing and clarifying information.
- NYCERS worked with the VCF to create a secure data transfer to provide the VCF with member information. This will speed up the sharing of information required by the VCF and lessen the burden on our members. The VCF’s first request for information has been transferred successfully.
- NYCERS provided the VCF with additional information and clarification so they are better able to interpret NYCERS documents.
- NYCERS is also working with the VCF to review their benefit models as they relate to NYCERS benefits.