Forgotten Word Trade Center Heroes Left Out Again

Some forgotten World Trade Center first responders may be left without resources for health care, thanks to the recent decision to omit cancer from the list of illnesses covered under the <"">Zadroga Act. This group includes some 9/11 rescue and recovery workers already barred from receiving any compensation via the World Trade Center Toxic Dust Settlement that was approved last year.

Last year, New York City officials, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and a number of contractors agreed to a $625 million settlement to cover lawsuits filed by Ground Zero first responders who claimed to have become ill from exposure to toxic dust at the site. Unfortunately, 325 of those who have applied for the settlement were rejected by the federal judge overseeing the case, because they purportedly waited too long to file their lawsuits.

The April 12 eligibility cut-off date was announced on June 10, 2010, leaving out those who had filed cases between those dates. According to court papers, neither the ineligible claimants nor their lawyers were ever given a heads-up that a cut-off date was being negotiated between the Court and the defense, even though the defense knew their claims were in the works.

Many of those left out of the settlement are unable to work because of their Ground Zero illness, and thus have no health insurance. These forgotten heroes, more than anyone, cheered the December 2010 passage of the Zadroga Act, which among other things, provides funding for health care for sickened 9/11 responders. Unfortunately, as we reported yesterday, those hopes were destroyed for many when the federal government deemed that cancer would not, at least for now, be listed as a covered Zadroga Act illness, due to a lack of hard scientific evidence linking the disease with exposure to toxic dust at Ground Zero. They and their advocates have been left stunned.

“This is not just about compensation, this is also about health care,” Matthew McCauley, an attorney with Parker Waichman Alonso LLPwhich represents 13 Zadroga Act clients, said in a press release issued by the firm. “All of the people who are now barred from obtaining any compensation from the settlement are also barred from getting health care from Zadroga. It’s a triple whammy. Not only can you not work, but now you have developed cancer and you have no access to health care to treat that cancer.”

McCauley’s clients, not surprisingly, are bitterly disappointed.

“I have to tell you I’m not happy about it,” Richard Dambakly, 49, recently told the Associated Press. “You don’t have to do research to know people have gotten sick from working there. I know I got sick there.

According to Parker Waichman Alonso’s press release, Dambakly, a former telecommunications worker who spent four months at Ground Zero setting up communication lines for rescue workers, suffers from B-cell leukemia and has no health insurance.

McCauley and his clients aren’t the only ones angered by the federal government’s decision. According to The New York Daily News, NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said he was “very disappointed” that cancer victims will be excluded from Zadroga Act health benefits. According to Kelly, the NYPD has seen 49 officers die as a result of illnesses they contracted working at Ground Zero or at the landfill at Staten Island.

“Based on the knowledge I have, 46 of those 49 died as a result of cancer,” Kelly said. “So at least from a layman’s view, there certainly looks like there is a nexus, there is a connectivity there.”

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