Chief-Leader
Updated: 4:35 pm, Aug 17, 2015

 

Gillibrand Leads Rally Urging Renewal Of Zadroga Act to Aid 9/11 Troops

Deserve to Be Treated Like Veterans’

By SARAH DORSEY

TREAT THEM LIKE VETERANS’: U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand Aug. 11 called on Congress to permanently extend the Zadroga Act. She appeared at a Staten Island World Trade Center Health Program clinic with local advocates, elected officials and union leaders, along with two sick 9/11 responders, Charles Diaz and Joseph Weibel.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and other union and elected officials last week appeared in Staten Island with ill Sept. 11 first-responders to push for the renewal of the Zadroga Act, saying that while it had Republican support, lawmakers lacked “urgency” about its passage.

The 2010 law provides free medical care and economic compensation for those injured in the Sept. 11 attacks or sickened by the toxins they released. Its provisions are due to expire this October and next. A House bill that would make the benefits permanent, introduced by Democratic U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, had by last week gathered 114 co-sponsors, including 28 Republicans. The corresponding Senate bill sponsored by Ms. Gillibrand had collected 27 co-sponsors, including 4 Republicans.

Deserve ‘Veterans’ Benefits

“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,” Senator Gillibrand said outside the Staten Island Clinical Center, part of the Mount Sinai World Trade Center Health Program, on Aug. 11.

The clinic is one of seven “Centers of Excellence”—many with multiple locations—throughout the New York City area that provide free services by clinicians skilled in caring for survivors of the attacks. Other pro­viders serve survivors outside the region.

Charles Diaz, a 53-year-old retired Sanitation Police Captain, and Joseph Weibel, a 47-year-old retired NYPD Sergeant, spoke of how vital the WTC Health Program was to their health and long-term survival.

“I didn’t want the World Trade Center to beat me,” Mr. Weibel told reporters, according to the Daily News. “These doctors helped me feel better little by little.” He struggled to hold back tears when speaking about the series of respiratory illnesses he suffered after working at the Trade Center site. Mr. Diaz suffers from myeloid leukemia, requiring treatment that would cost him tens of thousands of dollars a month if not for the health program.

What’s Covered

The Zadroga Act provided $4.3 billion for health care and monetary losses, including $2.77 billion to reopen the Victim Compensation Fund. It covers lost wages, out-of-pocket medical expenses, and other economic hardships.

More than 5,600 awards have since been decided, most of them for first-responders. But while nearly half the money has been allocated, just a quarter of the applications have been processed. Advocates say this underscores the urgency of renewal. Without it, awards would likely be shrunk across the board by as much as 50 percent.

But while the original law was passed in the final hours of the legislative session over stiff opposition by fiscal conservatives, the extension bill has much more support and is expected to pass more easily.

It can’t come too soon for many patients living with serious, long-term illnesses, union leaders said at the Staten Island rally.

“The men and women of the NYPD asked no questions when the call came to respond during our country’s moment of need,” Patrolman’s Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch said in a statement. “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.”

DC 37 Among Advocates

Similar testimonies were issued by U.S. Rep. Dan Donovan, Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, Councilwoman Debi Rose and Henry Garrido, the executive director of District Council 37. John Feal, the injured 9/11 worker who formed the Feal Good Foundation to advocate for Sept. 11 victims, said that anything short of permanently extending the Zadroga Act would be “a failure on every level.”

More than 33,000 survivors and first-responders, living in nearly every Congressional district, have at least one related illness or injury. More are expected to emerge since diseases like cancer can take years to form.