September 16, 2014

Begin Push for 25-Year Extension Of Federal Zadroga Act Coverage

Covers Those Sickened by 9/11 and Its Fallout


The Chief-Leader/Michel Friang
STANDING UP FOR 9/11 HEALTH: Uniformed Fire Officers Association President Jake Lemonda Sept. 8 urged Congress to renew the Federal Zadroga Act. The medical benefits it provides are due to expire in 2015, and the Victim Compensation Fund in 2016. To his right stood Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Uniformed Firefighters Association Vice President Jim Slevin and U.S. Rep. Peter King. To his left are U.S. Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler.

IN IT FOR JIMMY: Joseph Zadroga, right, appeared with U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney at a Sept. 8 rally across from the World Trade Center site to call for the renewal of the Zadroga Act. The law bears the name of his son, James, an NYPD officer who died of respiratory illness after spending 450 hours at the Pile doing rescue and recovery work. He said no other families should have to watch loved ones suffer 9/11-related illness without proper care.  

Among the elected officials, labor leaders and advocates who gathered in lower Manhattan Sept. 8 to kick off their fight to renew the Zadroga Act, one had a particularly personal connection with the bill.

Joseph Zadroga, the father of the NYPD officer in those memory the law is named, teared up after telling reporters that his son, who died in 2006 of respiratory disease after 450 hours of Sept. 11 recovery work, was barely able to make it up a flight of stairs in his last days.

James Zadroga didn’t get the care he deserved, his father said, and he didn’t want anyone else to suffer the same difficulties.

Free Medical Care

The 2010 law established the World Trade Center Health Program, which provides free medical care for those sickened by the Sept. 11 attacks, and it also reopened the Victim Compensation Fund, which provides $2.8 billion in economic compensation. The health program expires in October 2015 and the VCF a year later.

The city’s two U.S. Senators, Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and U.S. Reps. Jerrold Nadler, Carolyn Maloney and Peter King, will introduce bills in each house of Congress later this month to renew the program for another 25 years, through 2041.

“No group deserves our gratitude and help more than those who went to Ground Zero in the days and weeks following the Sept. 11 attacks,” Mayor de Blasio said at last week’s press conference a block from the site. “We have a moral obligation to make sure that these heroes and their families get the medical treatment and compensation they deserve.”

Senator Gillibrand, too, cited a “moral obligation,” and reminded listeners of the hard fight she and her colleagues had to wage four years ago to pass the act, as opponents shrunk its proposed pot of funds from $7.4 billion to $4.3 billion.

‘Shouldn’t Need a Miracle’

“So just as our first-responders and survivors worked hard to pass the 9/11 health bill in 2010, tirelessly walking the halls of Congress week after week, month after month, and year after year, we will do everything in our power to get this new legislation passed and signed into law. But it shouldn’t have to take another ‘Christmas miracle’ for Congress to do the right thing,” she said, referring to the original bill’s last-minute passage on Dec. 23, days before the end of the lame-duck Congressional session. “It should simply take listening to these heroes and reflecting on 9/11 and about who we are as a nation.”

The law’s benefits were originally intended to last much longer, but were shortened to five years to ensure passage. It required 60 votes in the Senate to overcome an expected Republican-led filibuster, and supporters secured the votes only after a long, contentious push.

Labor officials at last week’s event included Sergeants’ Benevolent Association President Ed Mullins and State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento, who said that after 9/11, “there was no progressive or conservative, left or right, we were all simply New Yorkers, committed to helping one another overcome a challenge the likes of which we had never seen before...Together, we will succeed once again in securing Federal reauthorization and funding for the desperately needed programs created by the Zadroga Act.”

Cost Has Risen

Providing for ill first-responders and survivors has gotten potentially much more expensive since the Zadroga Act was passed, as more latent disease has begun to emerge and, crucially, more than 60 cancers were added to the list of covered conditions.

More than 2,900 people have developed cancer that’s been certified as caused or exacerbated by the toxins at the Trade Center site. More than 60,000 first-responders are being monitored for health effects from breathing in 9/11 dust, which contained concentrated levels of dozens of carcinogens. And more than 30,000 people have at least one Sept. 11-related injury or illness, with two-thirds of those having more than one.

Particularly common are respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and reflux disease, and psychological effects including post-traumatic stress disorder.

Firefighters and police officers have been hit particularly hard, with at least 130 dying of related cancers. Likely due to the weeks or months that many first-responders spent at the Pile, studies have also found them to be at particular risk for certain cancers, including prostate, thyroid, leukemia and multiple myeloma.

Extend Health Program

The reauthorization act would extend the health program, which is run through the Centers for Disease Control’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Responders and survivors would continue to be monitored for any new illnesses, and research on 9/11-related conditions would continue. Medical monitoring and treatment would also be renewed for those who responded to the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pa. crash sites. The city would continue to match 10 percent of the costs of the health program.

Laments Deterioration

The representatives emphasized that volunteers and responders now live in 431 of the country’s 435 Congressional districts, and they stressed the seriousness of the illnesses that continue to emerge.

“People are running marathons who two or three years later can barely breathe,” Congressman King said. “People today, you see them at their kids’ Little League games in wheelchairs. This is absolutely wrong.”