Emotions were tense in Lower Manhattan in the weeks after 9/11, as military units patrolled the streets, and people worried that another terrorist attack could occur at any time.
Yet, within a few weeks, schools from preschools to high schools were reopened – even Stuyvesant High School, which was across the street from Ground Zero.
Within days of re-opening, a barge collecting Ground Zero debris operated right outside the school’s windows. Despite all of the infrastructure in Lower Manhattan, including schools, being heavily contaminated with known carcinogens, the population was urged by the government to resume their lives.
Despite enormous challenges, teachers successfully reassured frightened parents and helped children and young adults continue their academic and social development.
Most importantly, Lower Manhattan teachers – members of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) – kept their students safe.
Today, twenty years later, these teachers are confronted with a different kind of risk – the 68 types of cancer (among them skin, prostate, breast, and lung) and many respiratory illnesses resulting from exposure to Ground Zero toxins after 9/11.
UFT members and leadership worked tirelessly alongside unions, 9/11 advocates, and lobbyists to secure health care and compensation for first responders and survivors with 9/11-related health conditions, including many of their former students.
The UFT was integral in helping to convince Congress to create the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program and the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund (VCF), providing free, comprehensive medical care for 9/11-related illnesses and tax-free awards for pain and suffering, lost earnings, and benefits for surviving spouses and family members.
Yet despite the enormous effort put forth by so many to secure these critical government programs, only about 8% of eligible 9/11 survivors (non-responders) have registered with the WTC Health Program and the 9/11 VCF.
The teachers who protected New York City’s students need to know about these resources. It is our duty to spread the word about these life changing benefits.
If you were in Lower Manhattan on 9/11 or in the eight months that followed, you are eligible to register with the WTC Health Program and the 9/11 VCF – even if you are currently healthy.
Barasch & McGarry, Lawyers for the 9/11 Community, which represents 30,000 members of the 9/11 community, has proudly advocated for union members for more than twenty-five years.