Line-of-Duty Death Benefits for Officer’s Work After 9/11


March 21, 2007

Line-of-Duty Death Benefits for Officer’s Work After 9/11


The New York City Police Pension Fund has approved line-of-duty death benefits for the family of Cesar A. Borja, the police officer whose death in January became a symbol of the plight of those who worked in Lower Manhattan after 9/11.

The fund’s board unanimously approved the benefits on March 14. The decision, which was expected, did not resolve the question of what caused the chronic lung ailment that killed Officer Borja and what role his work in Lower Manhattan might have had in the development of the disease.

Under a state law signed by Gov. George E. Pataki in June 2005, public employees who took part in the World Trade Center rescue, recovery or cleanup efforts are presumed, if they became permanently disabled because of certain medical conditions, to have gotten sick in connection with the disaster.

The law applies to those who worked at least 40 hours between Sept. 11, 2001, and Sept. 12, 2002, at the World Trade Center site, the city morgue, the Fresh Kills landfill or on the barges that ran between Manhattan and the landfill. The conditions covered include respiratory, gastroesophageal, psychological and skin illnesses, as well as late-onset diseases like cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and musculoskeletal disorders.

In August 2006, Mr. Pataki signed a second law that extended line-of-duty death benefits to the survivors of public workers who were covered under the first law and later died from their diseases.

Both laws were approved by the State Legislature and signed by Mr. Pataki over the objections of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who argued that Albany was saddling the city with obligations without providing money to meet them. The city estimates that the first bill will cost the city $53 million a year, and the second bill $10 million a year.

Mr. Bloomberg has lately become more supportive of efforts to provide more aid for workers and residents who say they have become ill from exposure to the dust at ground zero. Today, the mayor is scheduled to testify in Washington before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions about the long-term health effects of the 9/11 attack.

On Feb. 13, a panel appointed by the mayor urged the federal government to sharply increase 9/11 health spending and recommended the creation of a special fund to compensate those who became sick.

Nonetheless, the report stated that the two state laws “do not rely on medical research.” The report said that in some cases, the Police Department’s medical staff and the Police Pension Fund may reach opposing conclusions about whether an injury occurred in the line of duty.

Officer Borja’s case embodies some of the continuing controversy over 9/11 health issues.

It was widely reported that Officer Borja, who died at age 52, rushed to ground zero after the twin towers fell. On the evening he died, Jan. 23, his son, Ceasar, attended the State of the Union address to draw attention to the plight of 9/11 workers.

In an article last month, The New York Times reported that Officer Borja, who was assigned to a tow pound in Queens, did not rush to the disaster site and in fact did not work a formal shift in the area until December 2001, after much of the site had been cleared and the fire in the remaining pile had been declared extinguished.

Officer Borja’s memo book showed him working in Lower Manhattan for 17 days over several months after 9/11. But experts say that depending on factors like genetics, his illness, diagnosed as pulmonary fibrosis, can conceivably be caused by modest exposure to certain toxic substances.

According to city records, Officer Borja retired in June 2003 after 20 years of service to the city. Before his death, he received a regular retirement pension of about $34,000 a year, or roughly half his final salary.

After becoming sick, Officer Borja applied in April 2006 for an accidental disability pension under the 2005 law. The application had not yet been acted on when he died.

The Police Pension Fund has yet to calculate the precise amount of the death benefits, but it will most likely be $69,000 to $74,000 a year, officials said.

A woman who answered the telephone at the Borja residence yesterday declined to comment on the pension decision.