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Tiny Percentage of Ground Zero Responders Receiving Compensation, Treatment for Health Issues

Ground Zero Responders

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For Ground Zero responders still dealing with health problems from the toxic air that surrounded the 9/11 attacks site, government relief has been slow to come and complicated to obtain.  After Congress set up a $2.8 billion compensation fund in 2011, nearly 55,000 people registered for help with their non-cancer health issues. These issues range from respiratory illnesses to digestive problems.  But according to the New York Daily News, registering for help and receiving it have been two different things:

Advocates project that only about half have covered ailments and will qualify.

More than 11,000 registrants have submitted eligibility forms, and the fund has made decisions on about 2,500 of them, deeming 871 claimants eligible.

Awards totalling $27.2 million have been pledged to the 112 claimants who got final decisions.

In a joint statement, prominent New York legislators including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) expressed their disappointment with how the relief effort has developed. “Many of these claimants literally do not have time to waste,” the statement read grimly.

In These Times suggests that the current pace makes it nearly impossible to meet the goals set by the program:  

John Feal, a former Ground Zero demolition worker and longtime advocate for victims, says that the tiny number of claims resolved in this first batch casts doubt on whether the the fund can meet its deadline of paying out $800 million by 2016. As someone who has struggled with medical costs after his foot was crushed on the site and has a claim still pending, Feal knows firsthand how labyrinthine the compensation plan can seem.

“This system that has been implemented to compensate those who are sick and dying from 9/11 and its aftermath—this system is flawed, it’s slow, and it’s broken,” he tells In These Times. Advocates, including Feal, blame the slow pace on the complexity of the claims process as well as the lack of staffing.  

For responders already dealing with cancer (so far more than 1,100 are in this predicament), the deadline to fill out the necessary paperwork is next October.   For these victims there is an added burden: determining — and potentially having to prove — that their cancer is a direct result of their work at Ground Zero. A November Long Island Newsday article about two local asbestos workers addressed this murky question:

The dangers of asbestos were well-documented long before terrorists struck on Sept. 11, 2001.

But immediately afterward, a number of federal and state safeguards for cleaning up hazardous materials were waived due to the ongoing state of emergency. Then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani, backed by civic and business leaders, stressed the imperatives of restarting Wall Street and getting the city back to normal.

During that chaotic time, a union leader said he did his best to protect asbestos workers, but some, under pressure to work swiftly, took safety shortcuts.

“People initially were using asbestos masks, but they got clogged so fast,” said Francisco “Paco” Vega, business manager of Heat & Frost Insulators Asbestos Workers Local 12A.

Unlike emergency responders, some asbestos crews spent years working in the area, Vega noted. The longer exposure intensified the health risks.

“If standard procedures had been used rather than suspended or disregarded, many of the workers would have worn personal protective equipment and been otherwise protected from exposure,” said Columbia University law professor Michael Gerrard, an environmental law expert.

Interviews with almost 2,000 out of the 2,332 known Ground Zero asbestos workers have revealed that hundreds weren’t properly equipped, said Dr. Michael Crane, medical director of the WTC health program at Mount Sinai.

Crane estimates that at least 20 percent either didn’t have respirators or didn’t wear them in the first few days after 9/11, when the health risks were highest.

It has been twelve years since the attacks of September 11th and many responders remain fearful that their health coverage will run out before they can receive compensation from the congressional compensation fund. What was once a mass of debris has become the home of the Freedom Tower.  But rebuilding lives has not come as quickly. The tragedy of the attack lives on in the hearts, and lungs, of workers.


3 Comments on “Tiny Percentage of Ground Zero Responders Receiving Compensation, Treatment for Health Issues”

  1. Through out this latest process, a point in time has been reached when the injured workers, myself included, have been made to feel like undeserving beggars. As much as I need them, I cannot bring myself to apply for food stamps. This being much more in the public eye, the scrutiny has turned it into a totally humiliating de-humanizing embarrassment. I worked 3 months directly on the pile as an Iron Worker. 1/2 my co-workers are dead. It’s only a matter of months before I lose my home. The Firm representing John Feal and The Fealgood Foundation have stopped taking applicants after having been aware of my situation. The site, stopped allowing people to log on since July 2013, that I know of. I can’t get as much as an email reply, from anyone after several attempts. Now, the reply, if any, is: Address Invalid.

  2. I have to live in a small town upstate. I’d rather not see my name associated with this in print, but stand behind every word. It’s hard enough maintaining what’s left of any pride I once had. The NY Workers Comp system took what was left of that, ruling me 100% total permanent disabled Dec. 2012, backdating it to Jan. 2008. That experience was Hell.

  3. Wow, did that come out wrong! I have nothing but the highest respect for the John Feal and the entire foundation. Absolute respect. Against all odds, they got a law passed, despite political attempts to divert a publicly created fund for Corporate favor. As far as the site being down, knowing how one’s life can be controlled when their phone calls and internet and mail are manipulated consistantly, I rather doubt what I said to be true. Living on 23 minutes of sleep nightly doesn’t help. Manipulated records and having it kept from you is worse, often by those paid to stop it And your IP!

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