The clock is ticking, and 9/11 first responders who filed lawsuits saying their health was compromised by toxic air only have until Monday, Jan. 2 to decide their next step.
More than 1,600 people have filed lawsuits that are still in the court. They have the option of fighting on or dropping the litigation and applying for benefits under the federal Victim Compensation Fund.
A year ago, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-Queens, Manhattan) and two other New York representatives celebrated passage of the Zadroga Act, which they authored. It provides healthcare and compensation for 9/11 responders and survivors who became ill or were injured as a result of the attacks.
The act includes $2.8 billion in federal compensation funding, but to remain eligible, potential claimants must discontinue any litigation relating to 9/11 health issues by the January date.
“We are delighted that 9/11 responders and survivors now have guaranteed access to healthcare and that those injured by the attacks can now apply for the economic relief they and their families so urgently need,” Maloney said in a statement. “To 9/11 responders and survivors who suffered for so long: help is finally here.”
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said Congress will continue to ensure that the healthcare program for first responders will “meet the needs of our heroes.”
But for now there are restrictions. The fund only covers certain ailments, including asthma and other respiratory ailments. The list does not include any type of cancer, which researchers have not yet definitely linked to toxins at Ground Zero.
However, in September the first major documented evidence was published in the Lancet, a medical magazine, in research done by the head FDNY physician. It showed that firefighters who worked at Ground Zero are 19 percent more likely to have certain types of cancers than those firefighters who did not work there.
Maloney has been pushing for funding for first responder cancer patients and has urged Dr. John Howard, the 9/11 federal health administrator, to consider as soon as possible adding coverage for the cancers discussed in the Lancet article.
In agreement is Dr. Jacqueline Moline, who is co-director of the Queens World Trade Center Clinical Center of Excellence in Flushing, one of five centers in the metropolitan area that monitor and treat first responders. Funding of the centers is through the Zadroga Act.
In an interview in September with the Queens Chronicle, Moline said she believes doctors will see more diseases in first responders in the future, including cancer and scarring of the lungs. She thinks cancer should be part of the medical surveillance program. “I’m not surprised that cancer is turning up in responders because the disease takes many years to develop,” she said.
The physician believes documentation will show higher cancer rates and earlier manifestations of the disease among first responders than among the general population. “The information will speak for itself,” Moline said.
If responders opt for the federal compensation program, they won’t know for years how much money they will receive. The government won’t pay the bulk of the $2.8 billion until 2016, to make sure that everyone who submits a claim gets a fair share.
The fund will compensate people for medical treatment, lost wages and pain and suffering due to the designated illnesses.
For more information on the Victim Compensation Fund, go to vcf.gov or call toll-free: 1 (855) 885-1555.