Retired 9/11 First Responder With Terminal Cancer Battles NYCERS Over Disability Pension

Tags: Currents 9/11, Brooklyn, NY, Faith, Family, Media, Queens, NY

By Jessica Easthope 

Mike Earley walks around knowing his days are numbered. That’s because he has stage four pancreatic cancer and was given one year to live – that was seven months ago.

“It’s debilitating,” Mike said. “I haven’t been able to leave the house much. I have very, very bad weakness in my legs.”

But his battle with cancer isn’t the only one Mike feels like he’s losing. After working tirelessly since June to get the New York City Employees’ Retirement System –  commonly known as NYCERS – to approve his disability pension, Mike was approved. The pension would give him and his family 75 percent of his salary, but his work and his waiting is far from over.

“They’ve been running me in circles since June,” he said. “It’s not fair to the people who are waiting. I made it six months, what if I don’t make it another six months?”

Mike served the city of New York as an EMS captain for nearly 30 years. His cancer is 9/11 related.

“They really didn’t push masks at the beginning,” Mike said, “then it got to the point we had to wear masks. Was it too late at that point? I don’t know.”

Now Mike wants to make sure his wife and two daughters are taken care of when he’s gone. After saying there wasn’t enough proof of just how sick he was, NYCERS could take up to another eight months to get Mike his full pension.

“In six months if I don’t make it past the prognosis date what happens to my family?” he asked. “What happens to the house we just bought, are they homeless? At this point all I care about is my family.”

The agency says 58 percent of applicants seeking disability pensions get an answer within four months. But World Trade Center Liaison for Local 2507, Gary Smiley, who’s also battling NYCERS, says the system is broken.

“In 2021, no one wants to be a World Trade Center first responder,” Gary said. “Every day you’re looking over your shoulder wondering what’s going to happen to you medically. We’re all sick.”

Mike says now all he can do is pray.

“I don’t have the strength to go to church, but I pray to God all day long and I’m a firm believer He knows what I’m going through and He’s going to help me,” Mike said.

His hope is that the city does right by him.

“What more do you need to know? To say ‘okay this guy worked 28 and a half years with the fire department taking care of the city’, how about the city takes care of him? At this point all I care about is my family.”