A former airline dispatcher who helped guide hundreds of flight to safety on 9/11/2001 is now fighting a battle to obtain health benefits from the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund. Michael Winter recently told CBS News that he desperately needs Zadroga Act compensation to pay for therapy to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but so far his pleas for help have been denied.
“Although Mr. Winter was not physically present at one of the designated crash sites, he certainly was a First Responder to the terrorist attacks on September 11th,” said Matthew J. McCauley, an attorney with Parker Waichman LLP, a national law firm which is representing Winter pro bono. “In the early developments of September 11th, Michael’s involvement with clearing the airspace over the sites to ensure public safety, as well as his direct involvement with Flight 93 until its conclusion, truly links him to the very purpose of the Zadroga Act, to assist those in need of care and treatment who suffered injuries as a result of these attacks. His involvement spans all 3 three crash sites.”
According to CBS News, Winter was working in a Chicago operations center on 9/11 where he was responsible for supervising 40 air traffic controllers. It was Winter who sent a dispatch to hundreds of United Airlines flights warning pilots to secure their cockpits because of several highjackings. One of the flights that received the dispatch was United 93, which would soon crash into a Pennsylvania field following a heroic attempt by its passengers to retake the aircraft. Unfortunately, by the time Winter’s dispatch went out to United flights, Flight 93 had already been hijacked.
Winter told CBS News that in the years since 9/11, he became withdrawn and depressed. Seeking a new start, he quit his job and moved to Florida. Then in 2010, he suffered a serious psychological reaction while viewing a film detailing the events on United 93. Since then, three different doctors have diagnosed Winter with PTSD. He is unable to work because of his condition, and desperately needs therapy to get his life back on track. Unable to pay for that therapy, Winter turned to the Zadroga Act.
The Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which became law in December 2010, reopened the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund for five years to provide payment for job and economic losses for first responders, those trapped in the buildings, and local residents, who suffered illness or injuries related to the toxic dust. Unfortunately, the Fund has so far rejected Winter’s Zadroga Act claim, telling him the Fund is only open to “… responders on site at specified locations related to the World Trade Center disaster, or at the site of the … crashes…,” according to CBS News.
“To think that a bystander to the WTC attack would be eligible for PTSD benefits and yet this man would be shut out is disturbing,” McCauley, the lead attorney in the WTC/Zadroga group at Parker Waichman LLP and a former NYPD Officer and WTC First Responder, said in a statement issued by the firm. “Our law firm strongly believes that Mr. Winter should be eligible for benefits and we have submitted an appeal on his behalf. We will continue to represent Mr. Winter pro bono and will not give up until he receives the benefits that our other 9/11 First Responders are entitled to.”