March 29, 2018
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- NYCERS is also working with the VCF to review their benefit models as they relate to NYCERS benefits.