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Thanks to persistent lobbying by 9/11 victims, the 9/11 community, their advocates, and their attorneys, it became unavoidably clear that something had to be done to alleviate the unfair wait that Ground Zero survivors have had to endure to secure an appointment with the WTC Health Program. Survivors include more than 350,000 Downtown residents, office workers, former students and teachers who lived or worked in Lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001 or anytime during the eight months that followed. They were exposed to the same deadly toxins as the first responders and, not surprisingly, they are developing the same insidious diseases, including 68 cancers, as the responders.
The World Trade Center Health Program recently opened a new clinic at 156 William Street Manhattan. Aimed specifically at survivors of the September 11th attacks, it is hoped that this new “surge clinic” will reduce the serious backlog that now exists in providing sick residents and office workers the treatment they need and deserve. It will also enable them to be certified for their WTC physical illnesses so that they can then receive the compensation that they are entitled to from the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund (VCF).
When Congress passed the 9/11 Zadroga Act into law in 2010, it created both the WTC Health Program and the Victim Compensation Fund. But Ground Zero survivors, especially those who lived or worked Downtown, have struggled to take advantage of this support, in part because the WTC Health Program’s clinics at Bellevue Hospital and Governors Island have been swamped with patients and have not been able to see all of them yet. There are currently 2,800 people who have enrolled in the WTC Health Program who haven’t yet seen a doctor to be certified for the Victim Compensation Fund.
The goal is to reduce this backlog significantly. The new facility has the capacity to see up to 750 patients each month. As a result, survivors with respiratory symptoms (or cancer) will soon be able to get an initial doctor’s visit to confirm that their illnesses are the result of their exposure to the toxins at Ground Zero between Sept. 11, 2001 and May 30, 2002. Thanks to the results from NYPD Detective James Zadroga’s autopsy, which discovered benzene, chromium, lead and a host of other carcinogens in his lungs, there is now a presumption that these illnesses were in fact caused by exposure to the WTC toxins.
Advocates for the 9/11 community have widely praised these plans. As Ben Chevat, the executive director of the advocacy group 9/11 Health Watch, notes: “While it is sad and tragic that there are so many responders and survivors who were exposed to toxins at Ground Zero and are now sick, the good news is that there is a WTC Health Program that it is going to be there for them for the next 70 years.”
Michael Barasch, Managing Partner of Barasch & McGarry, also lauded the news. His law firm represented James Zadroga, who lost his life due to WTC-linked pulmonary fibrosis, and now represents more than 11,000 WTC responders and survivors and has recovered over $2 billion for its clients from the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund.
“We have long understood how important it is that those exposed to the 9/11 toxic dust receive free medical treatment. Since innocent civilians were exposed to the same toxins as the responders, they deserve be treated equally. This clinic gets us one step closer to giving them justice,” said Barasch.
Barasch & McGarry offers free consultations regarding the health program and how to get compensation from the VCF at 888-351-9421, or 911victimfund.com.