Op-Ed: 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund isn’t just for First Responders

BY MICHAEL BARASCH

There is a common misconception among many 9/11 survivors that the 9/11 Zadroga Health & Compensation Act was established to provide health care and compensation only for first responders. That is not true.

Attorney Michael Barasch

It was also established for Michal Novemsky, who was a 15-years-old student at Stuyvesant High School on 9/11. She was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, at age 30.

“When we returned to school the week after 9/11, there was dust everywhere. The air and dust after September 11th definitely played a part in my developing breast cancer. I know this because I was tested for 49 gene mutations for breast cancer and found negative for all,” said Ms. Novemsky.

Barasch McGarry is a boutique law firm just two blocks from the World Trade Center. Its 50 attorneys and case managers represent over 10,000 responders and survivors, including over a dozen former students with cancer who returned to their schools in the exposure zone — five of those students were at Stuyvesant High School.

In 2015, Congress reauthorized the Zadroga Act — named in honor of Barasch’s client, NYPD Det. James Zadroga who died of pulmonary fibrosis — and made clear that it is meant to help all those injured by exposure to toxic dust and fumes around Ground Zero. The Reauthorization extended the World Trade Center Health Program for 70 years and the Victim Compensation Fund until December 18, 2020. Doctors have now linked many respiratory illnesses and 68 cancers to the WTC toxic dust.

It is important to know that survivors who worked, lived or went to school south of Canal Street between Sept. 11, 2001 and May 30, 2002, could be eligible for both free health care through the World Trade Center Health Program, and significant compensation through the $7.3-billion VCF.

In order to be eligible, survivors must prove:

1) that they were in the exposure zone (in Manhattan, south of Canal Street). They need to show that they were caught in the dust cloud and/or returned to work or their home for at least 2 weeks between Sept. 11, 2001 and May 30, 2002, and

2) that they have had their illnesses certified as a 9/11-linked illness by the WTC Health Program.

The WTC Health Program will only certify cancers that were diagnosed after what is called a “latency period.” That is the amount of time that the medical community deems necessary to link an illness to environmental toxic exposure. It is important to understand that not all cancers have the same latency period. In order to have a cancer linked to the toxic dust, blood cancers (leukemia and lymphoma) need to have been diagnosed after July 11, 2002, and thyroid cancer after March 11, 2004.  All “hard tumor” cancers (including skin cancers, prostate cancer and breast cancer) need to have been diagnosed after Sept. 11, 2005.

All survivors should register with the WTC Health Program by calling 1-888-982-4748, or do so online at https://www.cdc.gov/wtc/index.html

There are strict deadlines to register claims with the Victim Compensation Fund.

It’s heartbreaking when cancer survivors, or family members of those who died of cancer, call our firm and we have to tell them that their claims are time-barred. Please be aware that the date that a cancer is certified by the health program starts the two-year window to register a VCF claim. And, if a 9/11 survivor passes away due to their cancer, their families must assert a claim within two years of their death.

For further information, please visit the VCF website www.vcf.gov, or our law firm’s website, www.wtclawyers.com.

Michael Barasch is a managing partner at Barasch McGarry.

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