By Ben Chevat
Executive Director 9/11 Health Watch
Last week, the New York State Appellate Division, 3rd Department in Albany NY ruled in the case of HAZAN v. WTC VOLUNTEER FUND. The court decided that the New York State Workers Compensation Board had improperly withheld benefits from Jaime Hazan, an unaffiliated World Trade Center Volunteer.
In the aftermath of 9/11, the NYS Congressional Delegation worked to get funding for several programs to deal with the aftermath of 9/11.
One such effort was funding for a World Trade Center Volunteer Fund, implemented by the NYS Worker Compensation Board, using federal funds to provide compensation for volunteers who helped out on 9/11 and the days and weeks after and suffered injuries due to their actions.
This was a small step in the long struggle to get the Federal Government to take action to deal with the thousands of Responders and Survivors who were made ill by the toxins at Ground Zero.
Currently, it is our understanding that the program is providing help to just over 400 volunteers who responded to 9/11, who were affiliated with an organization when they were volunteers at Ground Zero.
Last week the 3rd Dept. of the Appellate Division, issued a decision against the NYS Workers Compensation Board about a policy that the Board had implemented which has now been found to have no basis in law.
The case was brought by Jaime Hazan, who was at the time of 9/11 and emergency medical technician who rushed to Ground Zero to help as a volunteer, not affiliated with any organization and is now ill from his exposure to toxins at Ground Zero. His case was taken up by the Bro Bono Appeals Program of the New York State Bar Association and Albany Law School Professor Michael Hutter, who donated hundreds of hours in free legal services to litigate the issue over several years.
The issue started during the Pataki Administration, when the Workers Compensation Board had originally determined that only volunteers who were affiliated with an organization, such as the Red Cross or the Salvation Army would get this benefit. The Board then denied benefits to any injured or ill “unaffiliated” volunteer, many of whom had no alternative resources to turn too.
It is not clear how many injured and ill volunteers were improperly denied benefits by successive New York State Administrations, who are now waiting for the reopened September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) to make a determination on their case.
The State has not made an announcement yet on how it will respond to the court decision. Regrettably, even if the State admits its fault and takes steps to provide benefits to those it denied assistance, it could will take several weeks for the the Workers Compensation Board to to respond properly to the Court’s ruling.
911 Health Watch will urging the State to accept the Court’s decision and to reach out to those who it denied assistance to and will keep you informed as to the progress.
If you were an unaffiliated volunteer at Ground Zero and were denied by the Worker’s Compensation Board or have questions as to whether this ruling would apply to you, please email me at 911Health Watch at [email protected].
Here is a copy of the court’s decision: