2015-08-19 / Political Page

U.S. Sen. Gillibrand "Extend Zadroga Act"

By John Toscano

Standing at the headquarters of the Zadroga 9/11 treatment center in Staten Island, United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, surrounded by permanent Zadroga advocates and World Trade Center first responders, survivors, and doctors and others who are backing Gillibrand’s legislation to pass a permanent extension of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.

“Our first responders answered the call of duty when our nation was under attack, and deserve to be treated by Congress as the veterans they really are,” declared Gillibrand passionately.

“We cannot abandon the men and women who now suffer as a result of their sacrifice, and must pass a permanent extension of the programs they rely upon.

Gillibrand continued, “These heroes should not have to walk the halls of the Capitol to beg for the benefits they’ve earned, and I will proudly walk with them until we secure the health and compensation programs they deserve.”

Surrounding the senator were Staten Island Borough President James Oddo; Pat Lynch, Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President; and John Feal, founder of the FealGood Foundation, along with the aforementioned former 9/11 first responders, survivors, doctors and supporters.

Two of the original Zadroga Act’s critical programs – the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program and the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund – are set to expire next month and October 2016. Gillibrand, along with a bipartisan group of senators and members of the House of Representatives in April introduced the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act to permanently extend these programs.

The original Zadroga Act
had passed in 2010, under the bipartisan sponsorship of Congressmembers Carolyn Maloney (D–Queens/Manhattan), Jerrold Nadler (D–Manhattan) and Peter King (R–Long Island).

Participants in 9/11 Health Programs are living in all 50 states and 429 of 435 Congressional districts.
Gillibrand explained, “Nearly 14 years after September 11, first responders and survivors are battling serious health conditions resulting from exposure to toxins at Ground Zero. More than 33,000 9/11 responders, as well as survivors of the attacks, including area residents, workers and children, have an illness or injury caused by the attacks or their aftermath, and over two-thirds of those have more than one illness.

So far, says Gillibrand, 4,385 cancers have been found among 9/11 responders and survivors, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control. Many first responders are disabled and can no longer work, and suffer from a host of chronic diseases: asthma, obstructive pulmonary disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease, cancer and many more, caused by exposure to toxins and carcinogens at Ground Zero.

Responders came from all over the country to aid in the response to the attacks, Gillibrand related. And some area survivors, including area residents, workers and children harmed by the disaster, have since moved and are currently receiving care in cities and states across the country.

Speaking in support of the still-ailing survivors and their families, and addressing it as “not just a New York issue,” Staten Island Congressman Dan Donovan recalled voting for the original Zadroga Act, which he said may have been his first vote in Congress.

Donovan also thanked Gillibrand, and Congressmembers Maloney, Nadler and his “other colleagues” for their “steadfast leadership on the issue.”

PBA President Lynch, recalling the large number of NYPD members who died during the attack, said, “There is no clock running on the diseases that afflict hundreds of police officers today as a result of their exposure to the toxins and carcinogens during the rescue recovery and cleanup from the attack.”
Lynch added: “the men and women of the NYPD asked no questions when the call came… during our country’s moment of need.” But now, “the nation has an obligation to care for all the first responders who came from every part of America and who suffer today from exposure-related diseases.”

Vice President James Slevin, United Firefighters Association IAFF Local 94, and Board Member of Citizens for the Extension of the James Zadroga Act, stated: “thank you Senator Gillibrand for leading the fight for medical treatment and compensation for 9/11 responders and survivors.”

More than 80 NYPD and over 100 FDNY personnel have reportedly died from their 9/11 illnesses since September 11. More police officers have died from 9/11-related illnesses than perished on 9/11.

John Feal, founder of the FealGood Foundation said, “Anything short of permanently extending this life-saving piece of legislation for 70,000-plus Americans is a failure on every level and a reflection on poor leadership in [Washington] DC.”

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act passed by Congress in 2010 helped ensure proper monitoring and treatment for thousands of men, women and children that face potential life-threatening health effects due to the toxins released at Ground Zero in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

Currently, more than 33,000 responders and survivors across the nation have at least one illness or injury while many have multiple 9/11 conditions and are receiving critical treatment and medical care through the WTC Health Program. Over 70,000 first responders and survivors are receiving medical monitoring. The program treats responders and survivors for many chronic diseases and respiratory illnesses, including asthma, sinusitis, obstructive pulmonary disease, and gastroesophageal reflux disease.

The WTC Health Program continues to be a critical lifeline for many, particularly when the number of 9/11-related cancer cases among rescue workers and responders has increased over the past decade and continues to grow. Approximately 3,700 first responders have a 9/11-related cancer. Since 2012, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has added several types of cancers to the list of 9/11-related illnesses covered by the WTC Health Program. Studies show that 9/11 workers have gotten certain cancers – including prostate, thyroid, and multiple myeloma – at significantly higher rates than the general population.

The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF), which was reopened under the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Bill, provides compensation for economic losses to 9/11 responders and survivors and their families for physical injuries as a result of involvement in Ground Zero, including breathing in toxins. Since 2013, the VCF has deemed 5,636 injured 9/11 individuals eligible for compensation.

Numerous studies have documented the health effects of the WTC attacks, which include lower and upper respiratory, gastrointestinal, and mental health conditions. These illnesses have caused major financial strains on many of those exposed who are subsequently no longer able to work and would be forced to pay the high price of health care without this federally-funded national program.

The new James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act would:
Continue the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program.  The World Trade Center Health Program administered by NIOSH would continue medical monitoring for 9/11-related illnesses for over 62,000 9/11 first responders and treatment for over 8,475 injured 9/11 survivors.  Over 33,000 responders and survivors have at least one or more medical conditions as a result of their 9/11 exposure.  Most of these conditions require chronic care. These conditions include severe respiratory diseases, chronic sinus problems, and psychological conditions such as PTSD. Over 4,385 incidences of WTC-related 9/11 cancers have been certified in program participants, including over 950 among people working for the NYC Fire Department, and more are expected.

Continue to Provide Monitoring and Treatment for Communities Throughout the Nation. The program would continue to provide medical monitoring and treatment for responders to the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the Shanksville, PA crash site who live outside the New York metropolitan area. This legislation would continue that treatment for over 8,475 injured and ill 9/11 responders and survivors including responders who came to New York to provide assistance after 9/11 and those from New York who have moved out of the New York Metropolitan area. There are currently responders and survivors who are participating in the WTC Health Program from every state and from 429 of 435 Congressional Districts.

Continue the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF).  Under the bill, the fund, which is scheduled to close on October 3, 2016, would remain open and be fully funded to provide compensation for economic damages and loss for responders and survivors who were injured by exposure to the toxins at Ground Zero. To date, the Fund has determined 11,770 claimants eligible and has made compensation decisions for 5,636 injured and ill 9/11 responders and survivors for $1.3 billion dollars in compensation. More are expected in the coming years due to the delayed onset of cancer from 9/11 exposure. But without legislation and sufficient funding, 9/11 injured responders will face having their compensation reduced by perhaps 50 percent and those who are diagnosed with cancer in future years would have NO compensation.

Make the programs permanent. Many of the responders and survivors have chronic WTC-related illnesses requiring long-term care. Some will have delayed onset of illnesses, especially cancers, due to 9/11 exposures. They will continue to need medical care and compensation. Making the programs permanent would be similar to legislation that was enacted providing medical and compensation benefits for workers at our nuclear facilities.

Continue the New York City’s Cost Share. The City of New York would continue to contribute a 10 percent matching cost share of the total costs of the World Trade Center Health Program.
Continue to Research New Conditions. The legislation would continue research in diagnosing and treating WTC-related illnesses.

The current WTC Health Program and the reopened September 11th Victim Compensation Fund expire during the 114th Congress. If the legislation is not extended, these vital programs will end.

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