Over 100 NYC firefighters and other WTC first responders recently marched on Washington to demand that Congress extend the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. The big turnout lobbied Congressional representatives, specifically members of the House Energy and Commerce Health subcommittee, to support the law that supplies health and compensation to sick and dying 9/11 responders.
The 9/11 Zadroga Act provides health monitoring and medical treatment for people who worked at Ground Zero, or lived nearby, and compensation for the thousands who have been diagnosed with illnesses linked to the toxic dust, ranging from asthma to cancer. The Act is set to expire, in phases, starting in October, if Congress does not extend it. The law was named in honor of our firm’s client, NYPD Detective James Zadroga, whose pulmonary fibrosis and death in 2006, at the age of 34, were linked by doctors to the hundreds of hours that he worked at the WTC site. An autopsy revealed glass shards in his lungs, as well as many toxins that were discovered in the air and dust.
In 2011, when the Zadroga Act was first passed, it was an uphill battle to convince lawmakers outside of NYC that this is a national, not local problem. Many first responder groups and labor allies appeared at the Congressional hearing. Among the firefighters and fire officers who showed up were several who testified.
“We’re feeling optimistic because despite the Washington mindset, where there is often bi-partisan bickering, in this case, there appears to be bi-partisan support,” said FDNY Deputy Chief Richard Alles, who is also the legislative director of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association and was among those meeting with politicians.
Alles reminded lawmakers that over 70,000 first-responders, who live all over the country, are registered with the WTC Health Program and they live and vote in every congressional district in the nation. He added that he’s encouraged about the prospects of getting the needed legislation passed and signed into law before existing health care benefits end, although accomplishing this is not exactly a slam dunk due to “pitfalls in the political process.”
“Of course, knowing the Washington bureaucracy for what it is, there are always hurdles that need to be overcome,” he said. “But we will know after the hearing tomorrow whether those hurdles will be easily overcome or if there will have to be additional efforts undertaken.”
Advocates for the bill said the New York lawmakers backing it, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan) and Peter King (R-Long Island), welcome the strong show of support. Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) heard the heart-felt pleas of sick responders. Dozens of responders rallied to encourage him to support the extension. Up until then, he was the only House member from New York and New Jersey who had not signed on to back the bill. After the meetings, Garrett announced his support. Later, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), added his name to the list of supporters after hearing the heart-felt testimony of the sick responders and medical experts who testified.
Meanwhile, responders like Alles promise to keep the pressure on.
Barasch McGarry is honored to represent the Zadroga family, as well as thousands of other sick responders and local residents.