Zadroga Bill Passage Prompts Joy, Relief, and Some Disappointment

World Trade Center responders and their advocates continue to express joy and relief at last week’s passage of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. Many however, are also disappointed that the version of the Zadroga bill that finally passed was far smaller than what was first envisioned.

Sick Ground Zero workers can start making <"">Zadroga bill claims in July. According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, decisions on administering and allocating the Zadroga bill compensation fund will be made by a special master, to be appointed by President Barack Obama. For the first time, those who have suffered psychological aftereffects from the attacks but no physical symptoms will be eligible for compensation.

The Zadroga bill will provide health care and compensation to responders sickened by toxic dust at Ground Zero in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Passed by the US House of Representatives in the fall, the Zadroga bill languished in the US Senate, a victim of politics. At times, it seemed unlikely it would ever pass. But last week, the legislation was finally pushed through the Senate without a single “No” vote, after its Republican opponents got concessions that reduced the bill’s costs.

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.

“When you risk your life for this country in a time of war, America is there for you. Yesterday we affirmed that tradition. The dream of America is alive and well,” said Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), one of the bill’s sponsors in the Senate, after its passage.

Rich Dambakly, a Ground Zero responder living in North Carolina who now suffers from cancer, called the bill’s passage “the best Christmas present we could ask for.” Dambakly is one of more than 300 responders who have been barred from taking part in the World Trade Center Toxic Dust Settlement approved earlier this year with New York City.

The national law firm of <"">Parker Waichman Alonso LLP, which represents Dambakly and 12 more 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. Even though the Zadroga bill has passed, the firm plans to continue that appeal, according to a statement it issued last week.

“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 bill’s passage.”

Dr. Philip Landrigan, who oversees the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program at Mount Sinai Hospital, told The Wall Street Journal that the Zadroga bill will help ensure sick Ground Zero workers have healthcare, despite its smaller size.

“We’ll be able to recruit and retain top-level staff,” he said. “It is less than was originally proposed, but at the same time it’s very generous and we’re very, very content,” he said.

Despite its passage, some Ground Zero workers are expressing disillusion that the Zadroga bill became part of a political game.

“It was playing politics with human lives,” Ann Marie Baumann, 45, of Lindenhurst, and vice president of the FealGood foundation, told Newsday. Her husband, Christopher, 47, was a police officer who was blinded for almost a year after his eyes became damaged by debris on 9/11.

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