ORLANDO, Florida. – A medical evaluation by physicians in pulmonary and oncology medicine convinced the Florida Retirement System to approve “on-duty” disability retirement benefits for Polk County Fire Rescue paramedic Christina Lambert Pierson just 3 months later sharing her battle for cancer benefits with News 6.
The May 24 written ruling gave Pierson new hope in his fight to secure full county benefits.
“Luckily the right door was finally opened and I couldn’t be more grateful,” Pierson told News 6. “We’re making him better known.”
Pierson, who spent 6 years as a firefighter/paramedic for Polk County, was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer on October 3, 2018.
The state law that covers 21 cancers, including lung cancer, was signed by Governor Ron DeSantis 9 months after his diagnosis.
“Right now I’m on maintenance chemo,” Pierson told News 6, “Basically because my oncologist is going to find out what’s next.”
When Pierson learned the state law was going to go into effect, she was sure she would be eligible for medical coverage and a one-time $25,000 benefit, but the county argued that the diagnosis came after the coming into force of the law, Pierson would not be eligible. .
Pierson told News 6 that “big law firms” refused to take his case, but Maitland’s attorney, Geoff Bichler, never wavered.
Bichler, a longtime voice of first responders across the country, was surprised at the Florida Retirement System’s quick decision.
“I think this is going to have a huge impact on firefighters who become disabled with one of these cancers,” Bichler told News 6. “It’s a huge win.”
The win is a first step in legal wrangling over benefits that appears to hinge on when Pierson was diagnosed.
“That’s what’s so unique about Christina’s case,” Bichler said, “You had a diagnosis before the law came into effect, and then you have the confirmed disability after the law came into effect. law.”
In a recent Tampa case, Judge Thomas Ramsberger ruled that cancer benefits under the law “are not limited” if they occurred before the law’s effective date.
So far, Polk County has refused to back down, but Bichler and Pierson have pledged to stay the course.
“I’m not asking for something I don’t deserve,” Pierson told News 6. “I want them to say it (on-duty disability), I’m not going to stop until they get it. not allowed, that’s what I want.”
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