Police Medical Bd. Finds Sleep Apnea Not 9/11-Related

DISABLED, BUT NO PENSION FOR IT: Although former Police Officer Patrick Triola has three diseases linked to time spent at Ground Zero, the Police Pension Fund Medical Board rejected his application for a disability pension after concluding that his debilitating ailment is sleep apnea, which is not covered under the World Trade Center disability bill.

Four former cops who worked at Ground Zero following 9/11 have sued the city after they were denied disability benefits for developing sleep apnea, which is not included in the World Trade Center disability bill. Retired cops like Patrick Triola have found that it has become increasingly difficult to get line-of-duty benefits for World Trade Center illnesses as the Police Pension Fund Medical Board has become more selective.

'Gotten Harder to Get Approval'

"I do not know whether only a certain number of disability pensions can be approved per month or per year, but it seems to me to have gotten progressively harder to get approved over the last couple years, for both 9/11 and non-9/11 disabilities," said Mr. Triola's lawyer, Chet Lukaszewski.

The Medical Board denied Mr. Triola on three separate occasions because they said his main disability resulted from sleep apnea. He argued his other illnesses, such as asthma, Reactive Airway Disease (RADS) and Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disorder (GERD), were just as debilitating.

"From what I understand they are not really giving that bill to anybody," Mr. Triola said. "This is a growing problem, and it's getting worse."

Mr. Triola, like many of the other first-responders at Ground Zero, does not have time to watch the situation deteriorate. After being forced into retirement, he is now 46 and on Social Security with four children and a mortgage. Recently, he lost a kidney to one of his many ailments.

Reject Link to Ground Zero

But the Medical Board has denied him a pension equivalent to threequarters of his salary despite his claim that his ailments stem from working 23 16-hour days at Ground Zero.

It was the finding of the NYPD Medical Board that Mr. Triola was not disabled by RADS, GERD or asthma, which the Board acknowledged were WTC-related, but rather by sleep apnea, a condition which it found had absolutely no causal connection to his exposure at Ground Zero.

Mr. Triola presented the Medical Board with a report by Dr. Stanley L. Rabinowitz of Island Pulmonary Associates, linking all his conditions, including sleep apnea, to his World Trade Center exposures. A July 30, 2007 report said Dr. Rabinowitz diagnosed Mr. Triola as suffering from "World Trade Center Syndrome presenting with reactive airways disease, chronic re-current bronchitis, acid reflux and obstructive sleep apnea."

Dr. Rabinowitz went on to indicate that Mr. Triola "is felt to be completely disabled related to World Trade Center syndrome." On Aug. 1, 2007, Dr. Rabinowitz stated, "We have noted a marked increase in the incidence of obstructive sleep apnea in patients with World Trade Center syndrome." He said Mr. Triola "is completely disabled for his occupation and continues to have chronic symptoms from World Trade Center syndrome."

Medical Board Unconvinced

The Medical Board ruled the testimony "did not reveal that these conditions are severe enough to warrant disability. To the best knowledge of the Medical Board, there is no causal relationship between exposure to the World Trade Center toxins and the development of the sleep apnea syndrome."

Mr. Triola, though, is not the only one to believe that Ground Zerocaused sleep apnea has been debilitating enough to force early retirement. Bill Dement, a retired police Lieutenant, was hospitalized seven times in 2008 but denied a disability pension because his main symptom, according to the Medical Board, was sleep apnea. "The Medical Board is trying to say the sleep apnea is the only thing that is severely debilitating," he said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Dement has been forced to go on Social Security Disability. "It's terrible," he said in a phone interview. "I live in New Mexico. I don't leave the house. I don't do anything. I don't have much quality of life."

Mr. Lukaszewski argued in the lawsuit and before the Medical Board that sleep apnea was recognized as a WTC illness by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment programs, and should be regarded as such by the Medical Board.

'Doesn't Mean Disability'

The Police Pension Fund Board of Trustees, which hears appeals of the Medical Board, found, however, that Mr. Triola's other symptoms did not warrant a disability pension. "The Medical Board concedes in their medical minutes that the Police Officer has symptoms which are probably related to World Trade Center exposure, but objective evidence does not reveal these rise to the level of a disability," stated the Board of Trustees in their referral back to Medical Board, which denied the claim.

Mr. Lukaszewski said Mr. Triola's case plus three others point to a trend that cannot be ignored. "To know you have at least four cases that I know are all analogous; they all have the RADS; they all have the GERD; they all have the sleep apnea—I just think they are burying their heads in the sand to save money," he said.


Success through Knowledge, Experience and Litigation Prowess…