Staten Island Advance
August 11, 2015 at 4:30 PM


Editorial

Grateful nation owes sick 9/11 survivors lifelong medical help

John Minchillo
Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said the heroes who risked their lives on Sept. 11 and thereafter searching on The Pile deserve support without having to worry about losing Zadroga benefis.

The ailing heroes of Sept. 11, a disproportionate number of them Staten Islanders, ought not to be left to worry about the future of their vitally needed official health benefits. Making sure these survivors have the security of knowing their health needs arising from their efforts at Ground Zero will always be met is the least a grateful nation can do.

Nevertheless, under the federal government's Zadroga Act, the World Trade Center Health Program for surviving first responders and other sick victims is due to expire in September, the latest in a sequence of expiration dates which Congress has had to extend.

These benefits and the financial support provided by the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund, which is due to end in October 2016, must be made permanent.

"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," New York's Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand pointed out. "We cannot abandon the men and women who now suffer as a result of their sacrifice."

This is perfectly clear on Staten Island, which lost more than its share of victims on 9/11 and has suffered similarly ever since as the medical toll mounts.

THOUSANDS OF FIRST-RESPONDERS ILL

Across America, more than 33,000 responders to 9/11, as well as the New Yorkers who lived and worked near Ground Zero, have a related illness or injury. Over two thirds of those have more than one illness.

It's expected that Congress will renew their WTC benefits, but Washington should not have left those victims waiting for so long for the situation to be resolved.

The WTC Health Program treats many chronic diseases and respiratory illnesses, including cancer, asthma and obstructive pulmonary disease.

About 3,700 first responders have been diagnosed with a 9/11-related cancer. Studies show that workers who toiled in the debris have gotten cancers — including prostate, thyroid, and multiple myeloma — at significantly higher rates than the general population.

To call for the Zadroga health and compensation benefits to be made permanent, Ms. Gillibrand gathered with local leaders a few days ago at the Mount Sinai Clinical Center in West Brighton.

"In the fall of 2001 and in the months that followed, we repeatedly told our first responders we would be there for them," said Borough President James Oddo.

"That obligation doesn't end in 2015. That obligation doesn't end. It's rather simple — we have a responsibility to take care of the 9/11 responders and survivors who are living with illnesses or injuries caused by the attacks and their aftermath. These heroes were there for us then."

NYPD, FDNY HARDEST HIT

Especially hard hit have been members of the New York police and fire departments, whose ranks traditionally have been swelled by Staten Islanders.

Over 100 FDNY members and over 80 NYPD members reportedly have died from illnesses linked to Ground Zero. For police, the total exceeds those killed on Sept. 11.

Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said the heroes who risked their lives on Sept. 11 and thereafter searching on The Pile deserve support without having to worry about losing Zadroga benefis, "There is no clock running on the diseases that afflict hundreds of police officers today as a result of the exposure to the toxins and carcinogens during the rescue, recovery and cleanup from the attack," he said.

Mr. Lynch added: "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.

It is imperative that Congress pass a permanent extension of these critical Zadroga bills that care for those who risked their lives when needed the most."

This includes nearly 1,000 FDNY victims certified for treatment with cancers found to be 9/11 related.

Documented WTC medical problems for responders and others nationwide also include respiratory, gastrointestinal and mental-health issues.

5,600 HAVE BENEFITED

Since 2013, the reopened September 11th Victims Compensation Fund has determined that more than 5,600 individuals are to receive for financial payments.

So far, $1.3 billion has been paid and more claims are pending.

Without federal support the sick heroes of 9/11, many who subsequently became unable to work, would have been left with a mountain of bills.

Participants enrolled in the WTC Health Program for treatment now reside in all 50 states and in 429 of the nation's 435 Congressional Districts.

As Staten Island Rep. Dan Donovan says of the need to guarantee Zadroga benefits, "This is not just a New York issue and it's not just another program on a line item in the budget. It's about helping those who paid a price for helping for us in our darkest hour."

They have earned the permanent help of a grateful nation. Which should be written into law without delay.