"When Eric got sick nobody could make a diagnosis," says Denise. "The doctor explained that he was drowning in his lungs as well as having kidney and heart problems, brain swelling and more. At first, Eric had flu-like symptoms and the doctor said it was like he was going through drug withdrawal. The doctors were stumped and we were mortified.
"Eric saw many doctors and eventually we found out that he had high amounts of heavy metal poisoning, including lead, cadmium and aluminum through a hair analysis. He worked at one of the largest power plants in the country with an enclosed boiler system, where ventilation was in disrepair and they were not supplied with self-contained breathing apparatus. Eric worked there from 1991 until December 23, 2002.
And growing up, he only lived a mile down the road from the plant. A chemical spill occurred when he was a kid; it ran down the road right outside his house and the spill contained those exact chemicals. Ironically, his father helped clean it up and he is suffering similar heart and lung issues.
I called his union and his bosses because he was so sick; I wanted to let them know about the hair analysis. He was too sick to work and he was collecting on his sick time. At this point he hadn't applied for disability benefits. Eric blew the whistle on the company regarding the ventilation issues and the chemical spills—he was fired soon afterward.
The doctor said there was no doubt Eric had an occupational illness. By February he was in hospital. A neurologist talked about multiple chemical sensitivity and systematic vital organ damage that had become a neurological disorder. Everything happened all at once and I panicked.
The union and HR told us to file for long term disability benefits and Unum was the insurer. We filed but Unum denied the claim, saying there was not enough evidence. We appealed and they denied a second time.
My husband's employer dropped UnumProvident right after his first claim and subsequent appeal was denied. They brought aboard New Hartford as their insurer to replace Unum.
With the second denial, Unum said we filed too late and should have filed with New Hartford. But the plant wrote us a letter saying we had to file with Unum because Eric had a pre-existing condition, before New Hartford took over.
Unum lied, it wasn't too late. Then I found out about the reassessment and we filed. Unum says it 'acts out of good faith'--what a joke. We kept fighting and fighting and talked to a lawyer from social security disability. But mainly we did everything by ourselves; we kept calling. The first reassessment disappeared somehow but by 2007 an Unum case manager fully investigated and somehow, the first two denial cases disappeared. Luckily I kept all the documents, including letters and medical reports.
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We also received retroactive pay back to January 2003 with interest. And they are still paying monthly payments to us. But in the process we lost two homes and went bankrupt.
I want to find out if Unum was in collusion with the plant. The bottom line is that we still suffered punitively and I think some case managers within Unum intentionally denied our benefits---it happened at the same time Eric was fired. Why were we denied at the same time as he was retaliated against for disclosing information about lack of ventilation and chemical spills?