Newspapers often seize upon scandalous stories of policemen or firefighters who, while receiving a full disability pension, perform feats of physical strength, such as running a marathon. Less often do they focus on the struggles of those who, while injured on the job, must fight for years to get a disability pension approved.
An exception is a recent account of how retired NYPD Detective Sara Salerno of the Bronx has waged an eight-year battle against the Police Pension Fund and the City of New York, which have opposed her request at every turn.
Salerno had a 12-year career with the NYPD, making more than100 arrests while working in patrol, anti-crime and internal affairs. She tore her meniscus during training for a bicycle patrol at the 40th precinct in the Bronx.
In addition, according to court filings, she served at Ground Zero, responding to the attacks and working there for many days.Technically she was on restricted duty, so her name was not recorded in the roll call. The city’s Law Department contests her claim that she was there and says she cannot show that her disabling respiratory ailments and immune system problems are connected to working at the WTC site. Her supervisors and fellow officers, however, have confirmed in writing that she was there.
The case is on appeal. Meanwhile Salerno receives a regular disability pension, which is 50 percent of her salary and is taxable. A full disability pension would mean 75 percent of her last salary, tax-free.
The case is a reminder that recovering one’s rightful pension can be an obstacle course. Even with a strong claim, retirees with job-related injuries need a vigorous legal advocate in their corner to receive appropriate disability payments.