The two programs were in the process of shutting down after Congress missed a September 30 reauthorization deadline. In the end, 68 Senators and 272 House Members backed the bill.
“Our courageous first responders stepped up when our country needed them the most. During the September 11 attacks, thousands of brave first responders sacrificed their safety for the good of our country and, as a result, have been forced to battle serious health issues,” said U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ). “In New Jersey, over 5,000 survivors and first responders still require medical treatment because of their exposure in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The permanent extension of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act will enable us to give these courageous Americans the respect and care they rightly deserve.”
“As someone who first introduced the Zadroga Act and had to fight to pass it that first time, I am thrilled that we are fulfilling our moral obligation as a grateful nation to support our first responders and send a powerful message to all future first responders that we will have their backs as they do ours,” said U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ). “This should have been obvious from the start. Our first responders are always here for us – and we must be here for them. It would have been unconscionable to go home to celebrate the holidays with our families without finally telling our first responders -- in the name of New Jersey’s Jim Zadroga – that we will never forget what they did for our fellow citizens and this nation that day that changed the world.”
“After months of tireless work by our 9/11 first responders, these brave men and women can finally feel secure that they will have healthcare for the rest of their lives. This victory belongs to them,” said U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “And while this should have been an easy moral question for Congress with an obvious answer, our first responders were more than ready to stand up and fight for what they deserve, and today they won. This is an extraordinary group of men and women, and I am honored to represent them.”
“I thank and congratulate our 9/11 first responders for their tireless efforts, which culminated in victory today. I am proud to have waged this fight with them,” said Congressman Pallone (D-NJ). “With our first responders – at Ground Zero, in the halls of Congress and in the shadow of the Capitol – we let the world know that when heroes answer the call for help when we need them most, our country must have their back.”
As the nation recovered from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, a public health disaster was just beginning to unfold. After 9/11, Americans from all 50 states rushed to Ground Zero to assist with the rescue and recovery effort. Thousands of brave men and women risked their lives to help others, working in extremely hazardous conditions, often without proper protective equipment, while the federal government assured them that the air was safe. Many were injured in the course of this work.
Rescue and recovery workers breathed in a toxic stew of chemicals, asbestos, pulverized cement, and other hazardous substances released into the air when the towers fell and as the site smoldered for months. The dust cloud that rolled through lower Manhattan after the attacks settled in homes, offices, and buildings – exposing tens of thousands more residents, students, and area workers to the same toxins.
Today, more than 33,000 9/11 responders and survivors are struggling with illnesses or injuries caused by the attacks. They live in every state and 433 out of 435 Congressional districts nationwide. Many are disabled and can no longer work. They are suffering from a host of chronic diseases: asthma, obstructive pulmonary disease, and gastroesophageal reflux disease, to name but a few. Medical research has identified more than 50 types of cancer caused by 9/11 toxins. At least 4,166 people have been diagnosed with cancers caused or made worse by 9/11 – a number that is sure to grow in the years to come.
To date, over 94 NYPD police officers have reportedly died from their 9/11 injuries since 9/11 – more than were killed on 9/11 – and more than 110 FDNY firefighters have also died within the years since, with more deaths expected among all the responders and survivors.
Summary of the Final James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization that was included in the Omnibus
World Trade Center Health Program Section (score $3.5 billion):
Extends the Health Program to 2090 with only minor revisions
· Adds a requirement that the Administrator provide for an independent peer review of the scientific and technical evidence prior to adding a condition to the List of WTC-Related Health Conditions.
· Changes the deadline for the Administrator to act on petitions to add health conditions to within 90 days.
· Sets yearly caps for funding for the health program for the first 10 years and then ties future increases to the Consumer Price Index for all urban consumers.
· Allows any unexpended funding in each year to be available for use in future years.
· Requires a GAO report every 5 years to ensure program integrity.
· Other technical changes
Victim Compensation Fund Section (score $4.6 billion)
Extends the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund for an additional 5 years and adds an additional $4.6 billion to pay claims. Revisions:
· All applicants that received an award determination letter before the day of enactment will receive the full amount of their award.
· The following caps and limits will apply to any applicant that has not received an award letter by the day of enactment:
· Codification of the legal definition for the exposure area – the area will be the same as that used by the current VCF program, but it would take an act of Congress to expand the area in the future.
· Non-economic loss awards for cancer claims capped at $250,000.
· Non-economic loss awards for non-cancer claims capped at $90,000.
· The yearly salary maximum for the calculation of economic awards is capped at $200,000/year.
· Minimum payments will no longer be provided.
· The Special Master is required to re-evaluate the policies once a year to ensure that spending and award determinations prioritize those suffering from the most debilitating conditions.
Jon L. Gelman of Wayne NJ is the author of NJ Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thompson-Reuters) and co-author of the national treatise, Modern Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thompson-Reuters). For over 4 decades the Law Offices of Jon L Gelman 1.973.696.7900 firstname.lastname@example.org have been representing injured workers and their families who have suffered occupational accidents and illnesses.