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Demystifying the Pension Boards

Dealing with the accident-disability-pension process can feel overwhelming. But understanding the process will help to ease the anxieties that invariably come up during this stressful time. We’ll lay out the process and outline some things every member should know.

Before a firefighter is awarded an accident-disability pension, three separate Boards will consider the case.

Phase 1 – The BHS Physician Board

The process begins with the BHS Physician Board, a panel of three FDNY Medical Officers who determine whether a member is fit for full-duty firefighting. In more complicated situations, the case is evaluated by the Full Board, composed of additional Medical Officers at BHS. An order for a BHS Physician Board appearance is initiated by an FDNY Medical Officer. A member may be recommended for an evaluation by this board for any of the following reasons:

  1. The member has an illness or injury that the examining Medical Officer considers disabling;
  2. The member has had extensive surgery;
  3. The member is returning from a prolonged leave of at least one year;
  4. The member has been on light duty or medical leave for more than 60 days; or,
  5. The member has submitted a disability application.

The BHS Physician Board evaluation usually takes place about a month or two after it is ordered by the medical officer. After the evaluation, the minutes of the examination are transcribed, and a final report is completed in about a month. It is very important that the Board has all of the medical records that it needs to render an appropriate decision. This includes hospital records, operative reports, outside physician’s records, and reports of diagnostic testing. It is incumbent on the member to submit any missing documentation. If the Board determines that the injury or illness is temporary, it will schedule a reevaluation for sometime in the future.

If the Board determines that the member is permanently disabled, it will recommend that the member be placed on LSS, or Limited Service Squad. At that point, the member may submit a disability retirement application at the retirement desk. If the member does not submit the application, the Bureau of Personnel will submit a Fire Commissioners’ Letter for the member.

Phase 2 – The Medical Board

The Medical Board is the second board that will evaluate the member. It is composed of three non-FDNY physicians. The Medical Board will evaluate the case to determine whether the member was disabled, and whether the disability was caused by a line of duty accident. If it chooses to, it may send the member for an examination by an independent consultant. The Board may recommend an accident disability pension, an ordinary pension, or it may find that there is no disability.

Once the Board makes a determination, even a determination that is adverse to the member, the file is sent to the Board of Trustees.

Phase 3 – The Board of Trustees

The Board of Trustees meets monthly, and is composed of 6 individuals representing the membership (UFA, UFOA and MEBA), and 6 individuals representing labor (the Mayor’s Office, the City Comptroller’s office, and the Fire Commissioner’s office). The Board of Trustees can come to a different conclusion than the one reached by the Medical Board. In other words, even if a member is denied an accident disability pension by the Medical Board, the Board of Trustees may still award the pension. The Board of Trustees may also refer the member back to the Medical Board for additional clarification, or for a reevaluation. Once the Board of Trustees finalizes the Accident Disability determination, the disabled member may apply for a reasonable accommodation through the Equal Employment Opportunity Office, if desired.

Whenever you are facing the prospect of retirement, you should speak with your union early in the process. They can guide you through the process, and make sure it goes as smoothly as possible. You are also welcome to speak to FDNY Ret. Deputy Chief Richie Alles who works at our firm. He is always happy to speak to members.

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