Some jobs come with inherent risks. When most people think about the risks faced by America’s police officers, they think of gun violence, distracted drivers, or even the exposure to opioids or needles. But one NYPD officer has brought a law suit against his former employer claiming he faced a different occupational hazard: weight gain.
Jose Vega, retired from the NYPD at 43. His early retirement was due to his weight, which left him on disability. Now he claims it was the job that left him fat.
“The job is like a tyrant,’’ Vega told the New York Post. Vega, who is 5-foot-10, weighs in at 360 pounds.
“I went from 250 to 395 pounds in one year — I guarantee you, as small as you are, you eat more than me,” he told the Post’s reporter. He claims his weight gain wasn’t triggered by over-eating, but “the slew of health problems caused by the stress of his former police job.”
Before joining the NYPD, Vega was a Marine. When he left the Marines, he weighed just 180 pounds. But his tenure with the NYPD, which began in 1997, turned that around.
“My goal was to become a first-grade detective and homicide detective,’’ he said. But “they brainwashed you. ‘Go out and make arrests.’ The job would emphasize arrests without concern for any officer’s heath.”
Warren Roth, the lawyer representing, Vega says police work isn’t conducive to a healthy life style.
“It’s easier to pull into McDonald’s and wolf something down when you’re busy,” Roth said.
“It seemed once they had a guy like me,” Vega said, “they used and abused you. The more you did, the more they burdened you with.”
Wen Vega did call it quits, the NYPD began paying him a pension of $4,000 a month. That was 2014. In 2015, he claimed that his weight gain was caused by his job and upped his status to 3/4 disabled. That brought him $6,200 a month.
A medical review board disagreed. They argued only 10% of his disability was attributable to his time on the force.
“They acknowledged my condition, but they didn’t care,’’ Vega said.
“I know some people who have gotten disability pensions for a damaged pinkie finger, and here I am with a main organ in my body [the heart] that’s defective, and I’m being denied.’’
In addition to the morbid obesity, Vega also suffers from ventricular hypertrophy. “It’s when you suffer from hypertension,” he told the Post. “Your heart starts to thicken. It’s from stress.”
“I’m not a diabetic. … I don’t eat nothing sweet.”
“I have a green tea at 7 in the morning with honey. At 9, I have a fruit. At noon, I have 4 ounces of lean meat with carrots or broccoli or cauliflower,” he said.
“Then at 4 o’clock I eat the same thing. Then before the night, I will eat an apple or a banana. I snack on peanuts. Not sugar.”
“My cheat days are Mondays.”
The NYPD is taking Vega’s claim seriously, but not responding to questions. The precedent Vega’s case might set could be catastrophic for agencies across the country.