San Francisco

Government Grants Benefits to Widow After NBC Report

The federal Office of Workers’ Compensation granted tens of thousands of dollars in death benefits to a Bay Area widow one day after NBC Bay Area investigation aired

The federal Office of Workers’ Compensation approved an East Bay widow’s claim for death benefits one day after an NBC Bay Area investigation revealed her year-long battle for benefits following the death of her husband, Sam.

The government had twice denied Larnie Macasieb’s petitions, but in a stunning reversal last week, the office approved her claim.

“Winning this is something that I know Sam has something to do with,” Macasieb said of her late husband. “He knows because I always dream of him. He was very happy and he hugs me and he tells me ‘I love you’ and I tell him ‘I love you too.’”

Macasieb’s husband died following a traumatic head injury he suffered during his shift at the Postal Processing and Distribution Center in West Oakland in August 2014.

More than a year after her husband’s death, the government has agreed to pay the widow a portion of her husband’s annual salary. The government first denied Macasieb’s claim in August 2014 and again in September, citing a lack of evidence proving how her husband was injured.

The director of the Division of Federal Employees’ Compensation reopened and reviewed the claim in November after NBC Bay Area began asking questions about the denials. A representative from the office called Macasieb’s attorney Cory Birnberg the day after the NBC Bay Area report aired in December to inform him the claim had been accepted.

“It was absolutely amazing. It was as if they had watched the television show, the newscast the night before and they reacted to it,” Birnberg said. “This is the first time it's ever happened. I mean judges don't reverse themselves and it took a director in Washington to review the decision here in San Francisco.”

The NBC Bay Area investigation revealed that from the start, the Alameda County Coroner’s Office noted that a “fall” along with “landing on concrete” could have caused the fatal injury Macasieb’s husband’s suffered. No one inside the postal facility witnessed what happened, but Birnberg argued that Sam Macasieb’s job often involved climbing machinery to clear paper jams. Birnberg speculated he was on top of the letter sorting machine he operated before he fell a distance of more than eight feet.

Birnberg said in the instance of an unexplained fall where there is no medical evidence to prove why a fall occurred, the government is supposed to approve a claim.

The Office of Workers’ Compensation declined our requests for an interview or to explain why the case suddenly went under review. In an email, a spokesperson said when the program became aware of the "denial of benefits...the director ordered a review of the evidence."

In its new decision, the office found “compensation as a result of Mr. Macasieb’s work-related death should be processed.”

Macasieb fought for changes at the United States Postal Service after her husband died. She pushed the agency to revise a national policy that governs how employees can call for help during medical emergencies.

Prior to the death of Macasieb's husband, the USPS policy instructed employees to call postal police, supervisors, or the on-site health office when they encountered a medical emergency. After Macasieb spoke out in a series of NBC Bay Area reports, the agency changed its policy to instruct employees to call 911 immediately. The changes affect some 500,000 USPS employees.

Now, Macasieb has scored a personal victory fighting the government for benefits she believes her family is owed under the law.

This final chapter in a tragic story ends with what Macasieb considers a Christmas miracle; justice for her husband’s death.

“You must fight for justice,” Macasieb said. “You should if you think it’s right, you should go on and continue.”

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