Thousands of 9/11 responders will lose their health care and the compensation that the government has acknowledged that they are owed if the program ends
“People will die” if Congress fails to extend the Zadroga Act, a former NYPD officer battling cancer warned a House panel Thursday. David Howley, one of hundreds of supporters of the act who traveled to the capital to plead for its extension at a hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Health subcommittee, said he wouldn’t be alive without the WTC Health Program. Howley was accompanied by a fire officer and two medical experts, all of whom testified about the health program’s benefits — and warned of disaster if it is not extended and re-funded.
The WTC Health Program was promulgated under the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, passed in 2011. The program monitors people for ailments related to the 9/11 aftermath and provides care and compensation for those who become ill. Approximately 33,000 first responders and volunteers who worked around Ground Zero after 9/11, and others who lived near the World Trade Center, receive treatment for a least one WTC-related health issue, ranging from asthma to terminal cancer. Authorization for the $2.4 billion health program expires October 1, 2015.
Dr. John Howard, who administers the WTC Health Program, testified that just the threat of the program ending would stress patients who would have to consider where else they could seek vital care. “It would be a nightmare for me personally. It would be a nightmare for our members,” Howard said. “You can’t abandon a patient.”
So far, there are 88 House co-sponsors — and counting — of a bill to permanently extend the program, including every member of the New York City delegation.
Five years after overcoming strong GOP opposition to win passage of the bill, supporters of extending it said they were pleased by the support they have received to date.
“I’m encouraged,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), a lead sponsor of the original and reauthorization bills. “It’s night and day from where we were five years ago.”
Uniformed Fire Officers Association legislative director Richard Alles who also testified before the subcommittee said “we’ve been very encouraged by the bipartisan support we’ve received and we’re appreciative of the leadership for holding this meeting in a timely manner.” He added, “If the Zadroga Act expires, we have a lot of people who would be in dire straits.”
Bi-partisan Support Lining Up
U.S. Reps Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Peter King (R-L.I.), Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Lee Zeldin (R-L.I.) also attended the hearing to show their support. One of the most powerful Republicans in Washington, Michigan Rep. Fred Upton, has gotten behind reauthorizing the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. As chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, Upton will hopefully be able to persuade other Republicans to allocate money that’s needed.
The Zadroga bill was named in honor of James Zadroga, an NYPD detective who spent over 200 hours at Ground Zero. He passed away in 2006 at the age of 34 as a result of complications related to pulmonary fibrosis. An autopsy confirmed that his disease was linked to the toxic dust. The WTC Health Program certified it as well. More than 111 firefighters have died from 9/11 related illnesses, according to the FDNY. More than 1,500 have retired on 9/11 FDNY disabilities due to their serious illnesses. Most tragically, to date, 1,035 firefighters have been diagnosed with 9/11-related cancers.
Barasch McGarry, attorneys for the Zadroga Family as well as nearly 10,000 other sick first responders and residents, commended the bi-partisan efforts. “The only thing these people did wrong was to believe the pronouncements of the EPA which regrettably assured them that ’the air is safe’. They are paying a huge price and it is gratifying to see the government come together to help them”, said Mike Barasch, Managing Partner of the firm.
“I am so proud to see members from both sides of the aisle coming together to support this vital legislation. This is neither a Democratic nor Republican issue. It really demonstrates the potential good that Congress can do. Convincing other politicians to support the pending bill will hopefully be easier this time since ailing responders now live in 429 of 435 congressional districts”, said Barasch. The House measure currently has sponsors from 22 different states.