Brooklyn Daily Eagle - December 22, 2015by Paula Katinas
With a mixture of joy and relief, elected officials and advocates reacted to a vote by the House of Representatives to extend a federal program that provides health care for first responders who contracted cancer and other life-threatening illnesses after working at the World Trade Center site post-Sept. 11. On Dec. 18, the House voted to extend the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. The bill extends the World Trade Center Health Program, a program that the Zadroga Act created, for 75 years at a cost of $3.5 billion. The legislation also renews the Victims’ Compensation Fund for five years and pumps $4.6 billion into the fund.
The Zadroga Act, named after James Zadroga, an NYPD officer who died of a respiratory illness in 2006, was first passed in 2010 with funding set to last for five years. The law expired on Oct. 1, leaving lawmakers scrambling to get it reauthorized.
U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Upper West Side-Bensonhurst), called the House vote “a victory for the responders and survivors of September 11 and for the allies who have fought alongside us for years to reach this moment.”
The Zadroga Act extension bill was important, not just for the first responders, but for the federal government, according to Nadler.
“The survivors of September 11 — the people who lived, worked, and went to school in Lower Manhattan and bravely returned to their homes, offices and schools in the aftermath of the attack — and the responders — the brave police and firefighters who rushed to the World Trade Center in the moments and days after the attack, and toiled on the pile for months in toxic fumes and dust — will never again have to walk the halls of Congress begging for our help. They now know that the government keeps its promises,” he said.
Fire Department Battalion Chief Eugene Kelly Jr., who contracted pancreatic cancer, expressed relief at the bill’s passage and said the uncertainty over the fate of the legislation was stressful.
“I was on egg shells. But now I’m ecstatic. This is the best Christmas present I could ask for,” Kelly told the New York Daily News.
To help push for the bill’s passage, U.S. Rep. Dan Donovan (R-C-Southwest Brooklyn-Staten Island) held a press conference in Bay Ridge on Dec. 11 with U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-C-Long Island) where first responders told their tragic stories of working on “the pile” at Ground Zero in the weeks and months after the Sept. 11 attack, only to become gravely ill years later.
George Taylor, a retired homicide detective, talked at the Donovan-King press conference about being diagnosed with cancer of the vocal cords in 2012. “By 2013, I had my entire voice box removed. I am facing a lifetime of doctor visits and a lifetime of expensive medical bills,” he said.
Jacqui Lopez, whose husband Lt. Luis Lopez died of a lug disease in June, recalled how he spent months working at Ground Zero. “He thought nothing of it. He came home covered in toxic dust,” she said.
Donovan called the Dec. 18 vote “a total and complete win for the heroes who risked their lives to save others after the worst terrorist attack in our history.”
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) said that first responders “can finally feel secure that they will have health care for the rest of their lives.”
New York’s senior Sen. Charles Schumer noted the timing of the vote, a week before Christmas. “This is the Christmas the 9/11 first responders have deserved: some peace of mind for each and every hero,” he said.