More than three years after his death, the widow of an NYPD detective and Sept. 11, 2001, first responder said her husband died because of his time at Ground Zero, but the city is still denying her his medical benefits and pension.
Now, more than 20 years ago, New York City Police Department Detective Mike Hanson rushed from his Highland Mills home to the scene of what would become Ground Zero.
His wife, Cathy Hanson, still remembers that day vividly.
“He arrived before the second building fell, and then he came home approximately a day and a half later for maybe 16 hours, and then we really didn’t see him. He stayed down there the duration until the last pillar was taken out in May,” Cathy Hanson said.
Mike Hanson was a member of the force for 21 years, retiring from the NYPD in 2006. His daughter, Kaitlyn Hanson, is still in disbelief.
“We weren’t unfamiliar with the effects of 9/11 on his body as a whole, but the speed at which things happened and the unknown part was just breathtaking,” Kaitlyn Hanson said.
Mike’s symptoms began showing in 2017 when he had difficulty holding onto items and lost feeling in a finger. The following April, doctors diagnosed him with ALS. He died six months later.
“Mike went from using a cane to a walker to a wheelchair to a bed in six short months and passed away in October of ‘18,” Cathy Hanson said.
Adding pain to tragedy, the day after Mike passed away, Cathy Hanson lost her husband’s pension and medical benefits. The NYPD told her it was because ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, was not considered a 9/11-related illness.
An autopsy later reinforced what Mike Hanson had always suspected in life: His body contained heavy metals likely contracted from being at Ground Zero.
“He had extremely high levels of Antimony, which is known to destroy the nervous system,” Cathy Hanson said. “There are thousands of first responders who have come down with these neurotoxic illnesses.”
Cathy said despite the autopsy and other medical evidence she presented, the NYPD Medical Pension Board denied her husband’s benefits 10 different times. She sued New York City and the police commissioner in early 2021. In January of 2022, a State Supreme Court judge ruled in favor of the Hanson family, but the city is appealing.
“We are sympathetic for this family's loss, but the Medical Board found on the record before it, that Mr. Hanson died from ALS, which is not a qualifying condition for this pension benefit,” a New York City Law Department spokesperson said in a statement.
Cathy said New York City has until Aug. 25 to decide whether they’re going to continue with their appeal or drop it. She said that if the city drops the appeal, she would win the case, and the benefits would be restored. If they continue with it, Cathy said she will keep fighting as long as she needs to.
“Just restore their benefits and give them their pensions back. It’s hard enough to watch somebody you love suffer and pass away,” Cathy said. “Just do what’s right. It’s hard to do what’s right, but I think they should just do what’s right and drop their appeal.”
This family fights not just for precedent, but also for closure.
“They never were asked to go and do what they did. They just did it. We can’t forget their sacrifice,” said Lauren McGrady, Mike’s daughter.