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Signs protest Palumbo family being denied OH firefighter cancer benefits under the Palumbo Act

Posted at 3:16 PM, May 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-30 10:50:58-04

WILLOWICK, Ohio — After watching our exclusive 5 On Your Side investigation, a Willowick resident found a unique way to protest city leaders' decision to fight providing Palumbo Act benefits to Michael Palumbo’s family.

READ MORE: Palumbo family denied benefits under the Palumbo Act

Angela Vanek ordered 100 signs that read “Justice for Palumbo." Nearly every sign now decorates the lawns of homes around Willowick.

“It's amazing,” she said. “People are actually starting to talk about it. Neighbors that have signs in their front yards are starting to talk to their neighbors about what's going on and those neighbors are contacting me saying, 'Hey, I didn't know this was happening. I want a sign to show my support as well.'”

Vanek was unaware Willowick's leaders refused to give Palumbo’s family firefighter cancer benefits under the law named for him until she watched our investigation earlier this month.

"I think that it's a new kind of wrong that they've done this,” she said. “It's a whole new level of wrong."

When Palumbo lost his battle with brain cancer on May 24, 2017, his wife, Chrissy, filed claims for death benefits from Beachwood, where he worked full-time for 25 years, and Willowick, Mike’s hometown, where he worked part-time for 27 years.

Both cities continue to fight her claims.

The Palumbo Act allows firefighters and their families to receive help from municipalities after a cancer diagnosis.

Ohio named the law the Michael Louis Palumbo Jr. Act after the fallen firefighter who shared his story with 5 On Your Side Investigators in 2016.

During city council meetings, Vanek said city leaders have refused to answer her questions about the city’s decision to appeal Palumbo’s claims.

Mayor Rich Regovich declined our request for an on-camera interview.

Regovich sent the following statement:

"I hope in the interest of fairness you use this statement in the reporting of your story on Captain Michael Palumbo and the claim filed with the Bureau of Workers Compensation. The Bureau of Workers Compensation initially denied the claim and that decision was upheld at the first level hearing at the Industrial Commission before a District Hearing Officer. The appeal filed to the District Hearing Officer’s decision remains pending before the Industrial commission. As a matter of policy it would be inappropriate for my office to provide detailed commentary on a matter currently in litigation.

I applaud the passion and caring that Ms. Vanek and others have for this serious issue, but as stated in previous correspondence, this is a complicated case. It has been alleged that the city of Willowick has denied benefits to Mrs. Palumbo under the Palumbo Act. This claim, however, was not adjudicated initially by either The Bureau of Workers Compensation or The Industrial Commission of Ohio as a firefighter cancer case filed under the Palumbo Act. The matter is complicated further by the fact that Captain Palumbo worked for two different municipalities and separate claims have been filed against both. At this time, we are waiting for the Industrial Commission to set a hearing to address Mrs. Palumbo’s appeal to the District Hearing Officer’s decision.

I know many people have been frustrated with the lack of information in this case, but we are following the hearing process as well as applicable rules and laws. As a state-funded employer, The City of Willowick does not decide who get awarded benefits and we are relying upon the adjudicatory process to arrive at a resolution of this matter."

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