ALBANY — Tom Wilson, a 48-year-old career cop from Bellport, is trying to protect former New York City police officers like himself who worked through the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and later went to work for Long Island police agencies — only to find themselves running out of sick leave as they face cancer and other illnesses.
“I am fighting through the pain,” Wilson said. “I want to stay active. . . . For me, the therapeutic part is work.”
The bill would provide unlimited line-of-duty sick leave benefits to former NYPD officers now working in other departments who are verified to have worked on the rescue, recovery and cleanup of the terror attacks and are suffering from cancer and other maladies from that service, according to the bill.
The state would pay the cost of additional sick days without a charge to the Nassau, Suffolk or other police agencies where the former NYPD officers work. A few hundred officers who haven’t yet retired or taken disability leave are believed to be affected.
The urgency is that under their new employers, the officers are quickly using up their sick days for treatment. That forces them to decide whether to lose daily pay, go on disability leave or retire to treat their 9/11 cancer, Wilson and legislative staff said.
Some of the officers are surviving on sick days donated by their colleagues; others would expend their sick days before the legislature returns to session in January if no action is taken this month, the advocates said.
Wilson, now a Suffolk County police officer, left the NYPD in 2002 after working at Ground Zero and at the Fresh Kills landfill and was diagnosed with cancer in 2008. He says he is suffering from bone damage from radiation treatments.
“I don’t want to go on disability,” Wilson said in an interview. “Work is my therapy. . . . If there is another 9/11, I want to go.”
On Wednesday, he met privately with Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport), Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), Senate Democratic leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) and Senate Independent Democratic Conference Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) in a rare audience with all the top legislative officials to push for action by June 21, the scheduled end of session.
Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) said it appeared that just a few hundred officers might need the benefits of the bill, although a potential cost hasn’t been projected.
“I’m talking to guys who don’t have that much time,” Kaminsky said. “Many are losing a lot of money they shouldn’t be losing, especially when they were told the air was safe and especially when they were doing the most important duty they could at the time. We owe it to them to do the right thing.”