We recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of the signing into law of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. With his signature on Jan 2 of last year, President Barack Obama helped us give a much-needed holiday gift to the thousands of Americans who are suffering ill health as a result of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. While this was the sweetest of victories, we are continuing to work to ensure that everyone sick or injured from the attacks gets the care they need.
The collapse of the World Trade Center towers took 3,000 lives in an instant. Sadly, the giant plume of dust and debris that billowed so unforgettably through the streets of lower Manhattan ended up taking the health of more than 30,000 more in the months and years that followed. The Zadroga Act, which we authored, provides health care for those exposed to the toxic plume —which lingered over ground zero for months— and reopens the federal Victim Compensation Fund to provide economic relief to those harmed by the attacks.
Regrettably, it wasn’t easy to get Congress to help those suffering from the worst-ever attack on our shores. We introduced the first versions of the Zadroga Act in 2002, and none of us could have ever imagined how long the road to victory would be. Indeed, there were many times when it seemed like the Zadroga Act would never pass.
In the final hours of the last Congress, with the clock ticking down and many in Washington wanting to go home for the holidays, we finally had our “Christmas miracle” and passed the Zadroga Act through both the House and Senate.
Over the course of the last year, we have worked extensively with the Obama Administration to put into practice the health and compensation programs provided by the Zadroga Act, so that they can begin helping people.
On July 1, the health programs provided by the Zadroga Act went into effect and $1.5 billion in guaranteed federal funding began flowing to the WTC Centers of Excellence established at Mt. Sinai Medical Center, Bellevue Hospital Center and other locations in the tri-state area, as well as at specialized clinics nationwide. The World Trade Center Health Program, which is headed by Dr. John Howard, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, provides medical monitoring and treatment for those who became ill as a result of the attacks, and conducts research into emerging 9/11-related health conditions.
In light of recent scientific studies linking certain types of cancers to the attacks, we have petitioned Dr. Howard to consider covering cancers under the Zadroga Act. Dr. Howard and his advisers are expected to reach a decision on our request in the next few months. Definitive cancer studies may take years to complete. 9/11 responders and others exposed to the deadly toxins may not be able to wait that long. We know that they were exposed to deadly carcinogens, and we already have evidence that their cancer risk is increased. We urge Dr. Howard to follow the procedure included in the Act and add cancer as a covered condition.
On Oct. 3, the reopened 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, which the Zadroga Act provided with $2.8 billion in federal funding, opened its doors for business and began informing potential beneficiaries of their rights under the law. In general, 9/11 responders and survivors have until Oct. 3, 2013, to file compensation claims.
We are proud of all those who worked with us —until, literally, the 11th hour— to do the right thing and pass this long-overdue assistance for the living victims of 9/11. We will be forever grateful to our colleagues in the New York congressional delegation, including New York’s senators, Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer, who worked diligently to strike the deal that got the bill through the Senate. And to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, members of New York’s labor community, John Feal of the FealGood Foundation and the hundreds of 9/11 responders and survivors who fought like hell to make sure the bill became law —thank you. We could never have passed the Zadroga Act without you.
But our work is not yet done. As part of the deal we struck to get the bill through the Senate, we reduced from 10 to five the number of years for which the bill would be authorized in law. Sadly, no one believes that those suffering as a result of 9/11 are suddenly going to get better four years from now. We and our partners in the fight to pass the Zadroga Act stand ready to work to make sure this lifesaving care is available for as long as the heroes, heroines, and survivors of 9/11 need it.
The Zadroga Act is historic, but not unprecedented, legislation. In the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attacks, Congress passed the War Hazards Compensation Act of 1942, which provided health care and financial relief to civilians who helped recover the dead and salvage what remained of our Pacific fleet.
If you or someone you know would like more information about the World Trade Center Health Programs, you can call 1-888-982-4748 or visit www.wtcexams.org . You may also contact the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund at 1-855-885-1555 or through the Fund’s website, www.vcf.gov.
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