N.Y. Congress members urge Labor Dept. to accept type of cancer as 9/11-linked
A bipartisan group of New York Congress members are pushing the Department of Labor to recognize a specific type of cancer known to afflict 9/11 first responders.
The Labor Department has refused to accept the causal link between chronic lymphocytic leukemia and time spent at Ground Zero — a decision that means federal employees who worked on contaminated sites after the terrorist attacks may not be able to access full benefits.
U.S. Reps. Nita Lowey, Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler, all Democrats from the city, and Congressman Peter King, a Long Island Republican, wrote to U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta Friday to let him know the DOL’s decision conflicts with the determinations of medical experts and other government offices.
In their letter, the Congress members pointed to the case of Special Agent Terence Opiola, whose story was first reported by On the Job in September.
Opiola, 49, was diagnosed two years ago with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The illness joined the long list of his other 9/11-related diseases: acid reflux, sleep apnea, sinusitis, rhinitis and chronic respiratory condition.
The World Trade Center Health Program, the WTC Victims Compensation Fund and the federal Office of Personnel Management all agreed that Opiola suffers from what's known as “9/11 leukemia blood cancer.”
But the Labor Dept. told Opiola — who spent months combing through Ground Zero debris dumped on Staten Island — that his application for disability through workers’ compensation was denied because the link between CLL and 9/11 was unproved.
His case raised concerns for New York’s elected officials, the Congress members wrote to Acosta in their letter.
“The Department appears to be failing its obligation to Mr. Opiola and other 9/11 responders who have medically diagnosed conditions due to their service,” the Congress members wrote to Acosta.
“Taking into consideration the substantial medical and other scientific evidence supporting cancer, including CLL, we ask that the DOL review and reconsider not only Mr. Opiola’s application, but also those of any other similarly situated 9/11 federal responders,” it continued.
Opiola, who worked as a criminal investigator with the U.S. Customs Service on 9/11, was able to retire even though the DOL denied his illness.
But he didn’t get the tax-free, three-quarter benefit that would have been his had the Labor Dept. approved his claim.
Opiola and his lawyer, former NYPD cop and Ground Zero responder Matthew McCauley, requested a hearing with DOL, but have been told the first available time is in January.