Six years after answering the call to service at Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan, State Trooper Lawrence W. Lakeman died of pancreatic cancer.
Lakeman’s widow, Audra Lakeman of Lockport, believes her husband’s cancer was caused by his exposure to chemicals at the site of the Twin Towers. Lakeman, a native of Wheatfield, worked for several weeks at Ground Zero over a three-month period.
There are federal and state 9/11 compensation funds set up to make payments to the families of responders whose health was harmed through their exposure to toxic dust and fumes in that area. The federal fund has approved making payments to Audra Lakeman, but the state fund has not.
Come on, New York State. Surely you can do better.
The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund was established by Congress in 2010, and reauthorized in 2015. The $7.3 billion fund, set to expire after Dec. 18, 2020, was set up to compensate families of those who came to harm around Ground Zero.
It took the federal government three years to decide that Lakeman’s cancer was caused by his work in Manhattan, a ruling it made in May. That should lead to a substantial payout to the widow and their two daughters, which is the good news.
However, the state Workers' Compensation Board is balking at paying state death benefits to Lakeman’s family. The state’s compensation law for first responders from 9/11 required survivors to apply for benefits within two years of a responder’s death. Audra Lakeman missed that deadline because she says she was unaware of it. The Workers' Compensation Board for that reason rejected her claim.
A lawyer for Audra Lakeman filed an appeal with the Workers' Compensation Board. The appeal is pending, but to us this seems like a no-brainer: Pay the woman.
Any pot of money that size, of course, could attract would-be scammers trying to dip their beaks. But that’s clearly not the case here. The Lakemans’ family photo album shows a picture of Lawrence at Ground Zero, wearing a gauze face mask.
His presence there is not disputed, and the links between the hazardous materials that responders were exposed to in Lower Manhattan – including aluminum, asbestos, glass and the residue of burned jet fuel – and several diseases have been well-established.
Lakeman, who also was sent to assist with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, began to see doctors for his health problems in January 2006.
The Lakemans have two daughters: Alex, a rising sophomore at SUNY Geneseo, and Sydney, who will be a senior next fall at Lockport High School. The federal ruling may lead to college scholarship money from the state or private foundations for Alex and Sydney. It could be a couple of years, however, for the federal assistance to be disbursed.
In the meantime, the Lakemans deserve a favorable ruling from the state Workers’ Compensation Board. Why should the technicality of a missed deadline get in the way of a widow getting what she so clearly deserves, especially given the traumatic circumstances involved in the service that Trooper Lakeman rendered to his state?