Zadroga Bill Passage Hailed by Ground Zero Responders, Advocates

After years of delay, Congress has finally approved healthcare for World Trade Center responders sickened by toxic dust at Ground Zero following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, in order to get the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act past Republican obstruction in the US Senate, the bill was scaled back significantly.

Originally, the Zadroga bill called for a 10-year, $7.4 billion treatment and compensation package. The new scaled-back version calls for 5 years at $4.2 billion. It also reopens the 9/11 Victims’ Compensation Fund to the responders, but caps lawyers fees to 10-percent. Ailing responders also won’t be able to double-dip on payouts from the 9/11 health settlement approved earlier this year.

First, Republicans filibustered the bill as part of a GOP Senate strategy to block any legislation until the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy were extended. Then Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) blocked the bill because of its cost. According to the New York Daily News, Coburn finally relented after Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) produced a letter from former 9/11 compensation czar Kenneth Feinberg proving people who accepted the recently approved 9/11 legal settlement couldn’t “double-dip”

Last night, appearing on ABC News, Coburn defended his stance. “And so we’ve come to an agreement that costs less, doesn’t allow double-dipping, doesn’t allow exorbitant lawyer fees, and we’ve worked it out and so we’re going to take care of the folks, but we’re going to do it in a way that doesn’t punish the people that are going to pay the bill,” he said.

The passage of the Zadroga Act drew praise from Ground Zero responders and their advocates.

“That was a great Christmas present, and it’s going to be a happy new year for many of us that are really suffering and really need it,” retired New York police Detective Barbara Burnette, who was diagnosed with severe fibrosis of the lungs, told The Washington Post.

According to the Post, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement that the bill’s passage “affirms our nation’s commitment to protecting those who protect us” from danger.

“The events of that day were an attack on America by a foreign enemy, and addressing its health impacts is a national duty,” Bloomberg said.

Some however, were taken aback by the bill’s smaller scope.

“If it ever happens again, why would anyone do what we did? To be forced to beg for help for nine years?” 51-year-old Marvin Bethea, a former paramedic from Long Island, NY who suffered permanent lung damage, told the Post. “I’m proud of the fact that I played a role that day, but I’m embarrassed by the way we’ve been treated.”

The passage of the Zadroga Act is especially important to the 325 Ground Zero responders who were left out of the recently approved World Trade Center Toxic Dust Settlement. The national law firm of <"">Parker Waichman Alonso LLP, which represents 13 of those forgotten heroes, is currently appealing the refusal of the United States District Court to enlarge the group of claimants to include those responders.

“While we are happy to see that this Act will provide help to our clients, we remain vigilant in our efforts to make those first responders that were excluded from the WTC litigation settlement eligible. Parker Waichman Alonso’s appeal on this issue before the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit will continue and we expect it to be argued in the coming months,” Matthew J. McCauley, an attorney with Parker Waichman Alonso LLP, said in statement praising the bills passage. “While we know that no Act or Bill can erase the damage that has been done, we are hopeful that it will assist with closure for those injured and their families and bring a little more joy at this time of the year.”

Rich Dambakly, a Ground Zero responder living in North Carolina and one of Parker Waichman Alonso LLP’s clients, also praised the bill’s passage in an interview with Star News. Dambakley now suffers from cancer.

“I thought it would not go forward. It would have been un-American (to not pass the bill),” Dambakley said after hearing the Zadroga Act had passed. “I’m very excited. Everyone’s very excited. It’s the best Christmas present we could ask for.”

The Parker Waichman Alonso LLP statement also praised New York lawmakers US Representatives Carolyn B. Maloney (D-14th Dist.) and Peter King (R-3rd Dist.), and Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer, both Democrats, “for their untiring efforts to ensure that our Ground Zero heroes, who bravely heeded New York City’s call for help following the horrific 9/11 terrorist attacks, are not forgotten in their hour of need.”

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