Zadroga World Trade Center Worker Health Bill Goes Down in Senate

As feared, the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, the bill that would provide health care to <"">World Trade Center rescue and recovery workers, is being held hostage to politics. Today, Republicans in the US Senate successfully filibustered the measure by a vote of 57-to-41. The Zadroga bill vote divided the Senate mostly along party lines, with even some Republican’s who favored the measure voting against it. The defeat was all part of a GOP Senate strategy to block any legislation until the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy are extended.

The Zadroga bill would provide long-term health care for those who became ill after working at Ground Zero in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and re-create a victim compensation fund to make cash payments to sick workers or their survivors. The Zadroga bill was approved in the House of Representatives this past fall, but still needs to make it through the Senate before it can become law.

Today’s Senate vote doesn’t mean the Zadroga bill is entirely dead, but it is on life support. However, if the Zadroga bill is not passed during the current lame duck session of Congress, it’s feared it will never become law.

“The United States Senate embarrassed itself today. It made a mockery of the political system that we believe in – and they failed us,” John Feal, a Ground Zero construction worker and founder of the FealGood Foundation, told the the New York Daily News. He also compared Republican Senators to clowns.

According to the Daily News, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the filibuster “a devastating indictment of Washington politics, a tragic example of partisan politics trumping patriotism.”

The defeat of the Zadroga bill could mean that thousands of workers sickened by toxic dust at Ground Zero may never get any help. While a settlement of thousands of Ground Zero toxic dust lawsuits was approved last month, that deal only covers around 10,000 people who filed suit. The settlement does nothing for the 30,000 people who received some form of treatment – let alone the estimated 90,000 people who rushed to the toxic scene.

And then there are the 325 Ground Zero workers who did file suit, but who will have no part in the settlement because of its arbitrary deadline – a deadline most weren’t even aware of until it passed. Attorney Matthew McCauley, whose firm <"">Parker Waichman Alonso LLP represents more than a dozen such claimants, recently told The Wall Street Journal that the Zadroga bill may be the only chance such claimants have for compensation because “they’re seeing the court dismiss every claim they put in.”

These forgotten heroes include Richard Dambakly, who as a Verizon employee at the time, ran cable to set up temporary communication lines for police and firefighters. According to a report on WWAYTV3, Dambakly worked 12 to 16 hour days at Ground Zero, seven days a week, for four months. During his time there, he developed a severe cough. He later was diagnosed with B-Cell Lymphoma, a blood cancer that may have resulted from Dambakly’s exposure to toxic dust at Ground Zero. He’s being penalized because he missed the settlements deadline by a mere 14 days.

After five months of extensive chemo, Dambakly’s cancer is in remission. But he worries about what could happen to his five children if the disease returns.

“If I get cancer again, who’s gonna pay my bills? Who’s gonna pay the bills for chemo? Realize how expensive it is for chemotherapy? Hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Dambakly said.

There is still a chance the Zadroga bill could be resurrected. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid ultimately voted ‘No’ to reserve the right to bring the measure back to the Senate Floor, according to the Daily News.

In the House of Representatives, backers of the Zadroga bill – including some Republicans – may try to have the legislation added to the very tax package that Senate Republicans want so much. Forty-five House members have already signed a letter sent to Speaker Nancy Pelosi asking her to attach the Zadroga bill to any tax legislation. According to the Daily News, the thinking is that Senate Republicans – even those opposed to the Zadroga bill – wouldn’t vote against it if that meant giving up tax breaks for the rich.

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