Op-Ed: Most Downtown residents and workers still not registered for 9/11 benefits

The dust cloud from the collapse of the World Trade Center affected as many as 320,000 people who lived or worked Downtown on or after 9/11, but only a small fraction of them have registered for the WTC Health Program or filed a claim with the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.
Associated Press / Greg Semendinger

BY MICHAEL BARASCH

For New Yorkers who lived or worked Downtown after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, there is no more important date than Dec. 18.

That is because in just three years, on Dec. 18, 2020, the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, the lifeline for the 9/11 community, will shut its doors to new applicants forever. This program provides compensation to people with 9/11 illnesses and to families who have lost loved ones to 9/11 illnesses.

On the other hand, the WTC Health Program was extended for 75 years, underscoring that it is anticipated that people will continue to develop 9/11 illnesses long after their exposure. The WTCHP provides medical treatment when people become sick with 9/11-certified illnesses.

Despite the fact that the VCF has awarded over $3 billion to 14,000 residents, office workers, teachers, students, and first responders, the reality is that only a fraction of those eligible have registered with the health program and filed a VCF claim.

More than 320,000 people lived or worked in Lower Manhattan during and after the attacks. But so far, only 12,000 survivors have had their illnesses certified by the health program. That means hundreds of thousands of eligible Downtown residents, office workers, teachers and students haven’t taken advantage of the medical and compensation benefits available to them.

Most Downtown workers and residents are also unaware of the fact that doctors have linked 68 cancers to the WTC toxins. The WTCHP reports that the most common cancers are skin cancers, thyroid cancer, prostate cancer, and breast cancer. So far, more than 7,000 people have been certified with WTC-related cancers and well over 1,000 have had their deaths linked to their toxic exposure.

The statistics are frightening. A “cancer cluster” is how some doctors are describing the devastating revelation that over 2 dozen students who attended schools south of Canal Street during the 2001-02 school year have been diagnosed with WTC-related cancers.

Contrary to popular misconceptions, the VCF and WTCHP are not just for first responders or Ground Zero cleanup workers, but for anyone who was exposed to WTC toxins in the days, weeks or months following the attacks.

I cannot discuss the VCF without also talking about my heroic client, NYPD Detective James Zadroga. Detective Zadroga developed a deadly pulmonary disease called pulmonary fibrosis. He lost his health, his career, and ultimately his life in 2006. An autopsy revealed ground glass, asbestos, and other known carcinogens including chromium, lead and benzene in his lungs. Detective Zadroga became the namesake for the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, passed by Congress in 2010, signed into law by President Obama in January 2011, and then reauthorized in 2015 after an extensive lobbying effort in Washington, D.C.

Survivors are entitled to free health are if they were exposed to the dust south of Houston Street, and have developed gastric or respiratory illnesses or cancer. People with certified 9/11 illnesses are entitled to compensation if they were south of Canal Street.

I am honored to represent the 9/11 community. I know that our work is far from over. Please help us to spread the word to others who were exposed Downtown about the importance of enrolling in the health program.

It’s simple. Either call 1-888-982-4748 or download an application at https://www.cdc.gov/wtc/apply.html. My firm is happy to register you if you need assistance. Of course, you are always welcome to visit or call us at 212-385-8000 for more information. We are just 2 blocks from Ground Zero. You can also learn more about available benefits by visiting our website, www.wtclaywers.com.

Michael Barasch is a managing partner Barasch McGarry, a law firm that works extensively with 9/11 survivors and their families and was instrumental in lobbying for the passage and renewal of the Zadroga Act.

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