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Anxiety over stress claims

February 18, 2002

Police brass can see it coming - a blue wave of post-traumatic stress disorder claims stemming from the horrific World Trade Center attack.

But because the claims - seeking tax-free, line-of-duty injury pensions - are based on psychological rather than physical injury, the department itself may face trauma in how it deals with them.

"What you are going to see is a few people with post-traumatic stress disorder," says one official involved in the process. "A few are really legitimate. But if the department gives it to one, what do you say to the other 40,000? They [the department] are not going to open the doors for the first one."

At issue is how the police culture - not unlike that of Tony Soprano's cohorts - regards psychological issues. Discussing personal problems or worse, seeking counseling, is viewed by many as weak and unmanly.

This attitude is reflected by the Police Department's two medical boards specializing in psychological conditions. Over the years they have awarded but a handful of disability pensions.

Attorney Jeffrey Goldberg, who specializes in line-of-duty injury cases, says he can recall only three officers ever awarded such pensions for psychological disabilities. A recent case involving a female officer raped by her partner, he says, was so egregious the board had virtually no choice but to agree to her filing.

A second case, involving Officer Salvatore Gribberly, who committed suicide in 1999 after he was criticized for a decade-old shooting, was rejected even after he killed himself.

Gribberly's widow was awarded his disability pension only two months ago, after the police pension board overruled the medical board.

To be fair, the Trade Center attack has brought a new level of awareness to the NYPD. The department, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association and the nonprofit Police Foundation all have publicly acknowledged the psychological problems cops faced from the attack and have encouraged officers to seek counseling.

The foundation, working with the department's Personnel Bureau, has established a hotline and counseling services.

Executive Director Pam Delaney says a "significant number" of cops have been calling each day.

"The receptivity has been amazing," she says. "There has been no resistance."

As many as 2,000 cops have gone through the two-hour sessions, she says, adding that "the clinicians have found the groups to be very high quality."

PBA President Pat Lynch has spoken publicly of the need for cops to seek counseling based on what they saw - and what they were not able to prevent.

Lynch spoke of his horror at seeing people jumping from the Twin Towers' highest floors and of his being powerless to prevent it and of standing next to a police officer friend who was killed.

Nevertheless, the new-found awareness is certain to butt up against the long-term cynicism in the NYPD regarding line-of-duty injury pensions, which pay three-quarters of an officer's final salary, tax-free.

Says a retired three-star chief: "I can see thousands of cops putting in for three-quarters. They all see the Lotto. They all say, 'Here is my opportunity.' "

The Trouble with Tibor.
Former Deputy Commissioner of Administration Tibor Kerekes was one of the cronies of Bernard Kerik rewarded with a Medal of Valor by the former commissioner for accompanying him to the World Trade Center Sept. 11.

Now Kerekes, who has known Kerik since the two served as canine trainers in military service in Korea, has told officials he plans to file for a line-of-duty pension because of injuries suffered at the site.

A top police official says Kerekes has spoken to him about heart and lung problems. Sources say that since the attack, Kerekes had been at the site every day, working the bucket brigade thru Dec. 31. They cite his determination to return each day and his refusal to leave until Kerik's last day in office.

People who have seen Kerekes recently say he does appear ill and has lost lots of weight. Attempts to reach Kerekes, who is now assigned as a detective in former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's security detail, were unsuccessful.


No More Mode. Jan. 14 - mark the date in the NYPD history books. That is when former Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Marilyn Mode went off the department roster. Mode, who served under ex-Commissioner Howard Safir, left her post when Safir left office in August 2000.

For the next 14 months, she remained on the NYPD payroll, working at the city Office of Emergency Management at her same $110,000 salary and with a city car, though she rarely showed up.

She stopped drawing pay in October but remained on the NYPD books on "extended sick leave."

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© 2002 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.