Opinion: Sick 9/11 Responders and Survivors Face Drastic Cuts

Attorney Michael Barasch has represented over 10,000 first responders and survivors sickened after the Sept. 11 terror attack and its aftermath. He speaks at a press conference to raise awareness of the Zadroga Act and its benefits. File photo courtesy of Butler Associates.

Attorney Michael Barasch has represented over 10,000 first responders and survivors sickened after the Sept. 11 terror attack and its aftermath. He speaks at a press conference to raise awareness of the Zadroga Act and its benefits. File photo courtesy of Butler Associates.

By Michael Barasch

Special to the Eagle

Thousands of people who breathed in the World Trade Center toxic dust have been getting sick at alarming rates because of their exposure to deadly World Trade Center toxins.

The Victim Compensation Fund (VCF), which has provided financial help to thousands of injured and ill 9/11 responders and survivors, recently announced cuts in pending claims of 50 percent, and cuts in future claims of up to 70 percent.

This means that thousands of people in the 9/11 community, who live in every state, will not get the full compensation they were expecting and that they deserve. Worse still, if Congress does not act, thousands of others who are diagnosed with 9/11 related cancers will be denied any compensation since the VCF is set to expire at the end of 2020.

Many who have received awards will also be shut out if and when they are found disabled, or diagnosed with new illnesses in the future. These drastic cuts will also affect those who pass away from their WTC-linked illnesses.

Tens of thousands of people are being penalized merely because their illnesses were diagnosed later than an arbitrary date set by the VCF, or because it took the WTC Health Program months to certify their illnesses.

Congress and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) simply didn’t anticipate the explosion of cancers and deaths caused by the WTC toxins. And, as a result, they didn’t set aside sufficient funds.

We have not forgotten that it was the federal government that assured us just days after the attacks that the “air was safe to breathe.” Federal and local officials pushed aggressively to reopen the financial markets, get businesses back up and running, and eventually provided incentives for people to move into the area.

My law firm’s client NYPD James Zadroga’s autopsy proved that it was anything but “safe”.

When he died of pulmonary fibrosis in 2006, an autopsy revealed ground glass, asbestos, chromium, lead, and benzene — all known carcinogens — in his lung tissue. That was the evidence that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the CDC needed to link 68 cancers and a host of respiratory illnesses to the WTC toxic dust.

Now, those very Americans who believed the government are having the rug pulled out from under them yet again with this recent devastating news. Cancer certainly won’t stop afflicting the 9/11 community any time soon, and especially not on before the current expiration date of December 18, 2020. We won't stop fighting until those who receive reduced awards are made whole, and those who get sick in the future are allowed to make a claim. No one should be denied full benefits.

The fund must be extended.

All of us in the 9/11 community can help. Please tell your representatives in Washington to vote in favor of the extension. Visit the Citizens for the Extension of the Zadroga Act website to find out if your Member of Congress is planning to support injured 9/11 Responders and Survivors, and is planning to be a co-sponsor of the legislation to fully fund and extend the VCF. If they are, thank them for supporting 9/11 responders and survivors. If not, tell them that you are one of their constituents and you need them to sign on.

Injured 9/11 responders, survivors and their families do not need speeches, they need action. “Remembering 9/11” should be more than a bumper sticker.

Here are the sobering statistics:

  • More than 10,000 people have now had their cancers certified as 9/11-illnesses, and

  • More than 2,000 people in the 9/11 community have died from their WTC illnesses.

  • The 9/11 community is 19-to-32 percent more likely to develop cancer. Thousands more have developed permanent respiratory illnesses.

Nearly 100,000 people have signed up with the health program and it has been providing free health care to those who need it. So far the VCF has awarded over $5 billion to more than 25,000 people.

The stakes are enormous. Cancer doesn’t just kill people. It can also bankrupt families. A cancer diagnosis often results in substantial costs for health care and lost wages, as well as physical and emotional hardships that are difficult for any individual or family to handle even under the best of circumstances.  

All those who were present near Ground Zero are at risk. I urge everyone who was exposed to the WTC toxins to register with the health program which is in all 50 states. Those who are certified with physical illnesses are eligible to receive compensation from the VCF.  

Both registrations should be done as soon as possible. There are long backlogs to get into the health program and the VCF is set to close next year.

The Most Common Cancers are:

  • skin cancer (basal, squamous, and melanoma),

  • prostate cancer,

  • breast cancer, incl. male!

  • lung cancer,

  • thyroid cancer,

  • blood cancers (lymphoma and leukemia),

  • colon cancer, and

  • kidney cancer.

The PH level of the toxic dust was the same as Drano.  Therefore, go for a full body skin exam.

There is some good news: Claimants don’t waive their future legal rights by applying now for a minor respiratory illness such as Gerd or sinusitis, asthma and sleep apnea. You can always amend your claim should, God forbid, you come down with another respiratory illness or cancer.

The VCF and the WTC Health Program aren’t just for First Responders: Sanitation workers, downtown teachers and students, construction workers, debris removal workers, downtown residents and office workers are all eligible.

Michael Barasch is a partner at Barasch McGarry Salzman & Penson. He has represented thousands of individuals sickened as a result of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.