Paralyzed Detroit firefighter to lose health benefits due to city bankruptcy

Paralyzed Detroit firefighter to lose health benefits due to city bankruptcy
The city of Detroit is facing a money crunch as its bankruptcy saga develops, but a severely injured local firefighter is seeing the tragedy unfold before his eyes now that he’s been told his medical coverage is coming to an end.

Back in 2010, firefighter Brendan Milewski suffered a serious injury when, on his first shift, a building collapsed and he was struck by a chunk of limestone “the size of a parking block.” He’s now a T6 paraplegic, and has relied on the city’s medical coverage to get by for the last three years.

Just recently, Milewski received a letter stating that his coverage would end at the start of 2014, and that he has until December 15 to find a new insurance plan. If not, he’ll be given a monthly stipend of $200.

"It's a complete loss of identity for me, to be in this position now and not amongst my peers, and seen as weak and feeble and handicapped and disabled,” Milewski told the local Fox 2 News. “I hate all these words. I hate that they describe me."

As the Motor City Muckracker noted last week, unlike other public employees, Detroit’s firefighters do not qualify for Social Security, meaning they rely on the city’s medical coverage and retirement benefits when they leave the force.

However, proposed cuts to city pensions are threatening to leave many retired firefighters on unstable territory. Without their benefits, firefighters may be pushed into welfare programs like food stamps and Medicaid.

"I definitely feel discarded,” Milewski said. “It's disheartening that guys like me put ourselves on the line everyday. These Detroit firemen, they put their lives, their bodies, on the line every day. 

"I do nine hours of physical therapy a week to keep from atrophy from my muscles shrinking up, losing mass and shriveling away. I have to insert a plastic tube in my penis so I can pee for the rest of my life. That costs money.”

The proposed pension cuts are being floated by Detroit’s Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, appointed by the state of Michigan, who said they are necessary to trim the city’s substantial debt.

Detroit firefighters have already suffered layoffs since the city declared bankruptcy, and even those who were kept received a 10 percent pay cut. Milewski said that for firefighters who served decades to lose their benefits is simply wrong.

"The benefits that we got, they weren't given to us. They were earned,” he said. “These guys worked their asses off for said 30, 40 years, sacrificing life and ... health. The least they could do is have some sort of security after they're gone, after the fires are out."