FDNY Marathoner Received $86K Disability Pension for Asthma

Critics Outraged; Nurse Practitioner Says Pension is Warranted

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    NEWSLETTERS

    City Council of NYC
    City Councilman John McLaughlin, from longbeachny.org

    A retired NYC firefighter, and also a marathoner who runs a six-minute mile, received a tax-exempt disability pension for asthma and reduced lung capacity, the New York Post reported today.

    Some critics are outraged by the award, considering his athleticism, but others say that for retired FDNY Lt. John McLaughlin, the pension is warranted.

    McLaughlin worked at Ground Zero for at least two days after the attacks, the Post reports. FDNY spokesperson Jim Long said that McLaughlin "worked more than two days down there," and wasn't sure where the Post got their information.

    Two months after 9/11, McLaughlin retired from the department with a three-quarters-pay, $86,000-a-year disability pension.

    McLaughlin had bronchial asthma prior to 9/11, FDNY medical records indicate. He had been on light duty following the diagnosis and worked in former Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen’s office before 9/11.

    In Long Beach, New York, where McLaughlin is now a city council member and competes in marathons and triathlons, his nicknames include “Johnny Lungs” and “Iron Man,” the Post reports.

    After retiring from the FDNY, McLaughlin ran for the FDNY marathon team in 2006 with a time of just over three hours, and has competed in several other races.

    Some take issue with McLaughlin's pension.  "He [McLaughlin] is a poster child for what's wrong with the pension system. It's hard to believe it's true," head of the Citizens Budget Commission Carol Kellerman told the Post. “Either he had a miraculous recovery or it’s a symbol of a very liberal interpretation of a disability in the Fire Department pension system.”

    But others point out that the environment in which firefighters work every day has adverse health effects, which justifies the disability pension in McLaughlin's case.

    Long told NBCNewYork that firefighting is "a hazardous environment and a contaminated environment--it's a dangerous environment.  If you have a known respiratory illness, entering that environment and working and performing...could be dangerous to that individual and also to the other firefighters around him."

    McLaughlin currently takes three medications daily: a steroid spray, a bronchial dilator and a pill to help manage his asthma, and told the Post  that his vigorous exercise improves his health.

    WNBC Nurse Practitioner Sally Anne Rexach, APRN, points out that “all the chemicals and dust [from Ground Zero]…did have a lot of adverse effects on the rescue and recovery volunteers."  Research indicates that the pulverized concrete in the area was breathed in and remained in people's lungs for long periods afterward.  "Someone from 9/11 will be on medication for the rest of their life,” she said.

    FDNY doctors told the Post that even if firefighters’ diagnosed conditions can’t be conclusively linked to on-the-job effects, state laws oblige them to approve disability pensions such as the one McLaughlin received.

    McLaughlin points out that being a runner and receiving a disability pension don't have to be mutually exclusive. Exercise is a means of enhancing his wellness, but it doesn't detract from the very real illnesses he suffers as a result of his work with the FDNY.

    "The better shape I'm in, the less it will impact my life. Does it impact my life? Absolutely. There are times when I think I could do a workout and I can't," McLaughlin told the Post.

    BBC Sport reports that many athletes, including gold-medal Olympic heptathlete Jackie Joyner-Kersee, have asthma, and use preventative medicine as well as exercise to manage their respiratory conditions.