The Good Fight

Tomorrow (Thursday, April 25), Congressman Jerry Nadler, who represents Lower Manhattan in Washington, will host a public information session on the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund (VCF), which recently announced massive cuts in awards, as a result of a shortfall in funds allocated to the program. At a time when hundreds of Lower Manhattan residents are developing illnesses caused by exposure to toxins on September 11, 2001, and the months that followed, Mr. Nadler is leading the charge in Congress to restore full funding to the VCF, and make it permanent.
U.S. Congressman Jerry Nadler: “Deaths from 9/11 diseases will soon outnumber those lost on that fateful day. The Victims Compensation Fund must be extended and fully funded so that everyone gets the justice that they deserve.”

“For tens of thousands of responders and survivors living with and dying from 9/11-related illnesses, and the thousands more who may not yet know they are sick, the tragedy of 9/11 continues,” explains Congressman Nadler. “We designed the Victims Compensation Fund (VCF) to ensure that families battling these illnesses have the resources they need. Already the VCF is running out of money, and those who become sick in the future may not have the security we promised every responder and survivor of that tragic day. It is imperative that we make the VCF permanent, just as the World Trade Center Health Program was made permanent in 2015, and ensure that no one suffering from 9/11-related illnesses is left unable to provide for their family.”

Under its current charter, the VCF is scheduled to shut down entirely on December 18, 2020. In the meantime, Rupa Bhattacharyya, the Special Master who oversees the fund, announced last fall that the $7.3-billion fund was running out of money, and “may be insufficient to compensate all claims.” Her office then implemented a series of cuts in financial awards, ranging from 50 percent for pending claims, to as much as 70 percent for future claims. The fund had already paid out nearly $5 billion to compensate more than 25,000 claims from people afflicted with illnesses related to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, or to their family members in cases where the person made sick by exposure has died.

Michael Barasch, an attorney who represents claimants before the VCF, predicts that, “this dramatic reduction in awards for 9/11 first responders, survivors, and families of those who have lost their battles with these horrific illnesses will have a devastating impact on countless families and requires immediate action by the federal government.” The funding shortfall, he observed, was precipitated by, “an unanticipated explosion of cancers and deaths in the 9/11 community. Many more are expected to get sick as a result of their exposure to Ground Zero toxins in the eight months after 9/11. People were told by the Federal Government that the air was safe to breathe — but the air was highly carcinogenic, with a chemical composition similar to Drano, and mixed with pulverized glass and concrete. The VCF must be extended and fully funded so that everyone gets the justice that they deserve.”

In February, Community Board 1 enacted a resolution noting that Congressman Nadler is sponsoring new legislation, “the Never Forget the Heroes: Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act,” that seeks to fully fund the VCF in perpetuity, reverse the announced cuts, and keep the VCF fund open for those who have yet to discover impacts from the toxins at the World Trade Center site.” The same measure called upon federal legislators, “to come together in support of the Act to mirror the 9/11 health care program, and support the first responders, residents, volunteers, students, and area workers who continue to suffer from the worst act of terror ever committed upon American soil.” Although Mr. Nadler has managed to assemble of coalition of more than half of the House of Representatives to support this proposed bill, it faces uncertain chances of passage in the U.S. Senate, which is controlled by Republicans.

Earlier this month, Congressman Nadler co-authored a letter to every member of the House of Representatives and the Senate, noting that, in the years since the attacks that killed almost 3,0000 Americans, “tens of thousands more men and women, including first responders, relief workers, and local residents, have lost their lives or gotten sick after they were exposed to a toxic cocktail of burning chemicals, pulverized drywall and powdered cement.”

“In New York, the residents and workers were urged by the government to return to their homes and business, and to reopen the Financial District,” this letter continues. “The federal government assured them all that the air they were all breathing was safe, when in fact it was filled with toxic pollutants that continue to kill and disable 9/11 responders and survivors to this day.”

“The death toll from 9/11 continues to grow as responders and survivors die in increasing numbers from 9/11 conditions,” Mr. Nadler reflects, predicting that, “soon the deaths of responders and survivors caused by the toxins at Ground Zero will exceed those killed on that day.  Deaths from 9/11 diseases will soon outnumber those lost on that fateful day.”
Kimberly Flynn, the director of 9/11 Environmental Action, a non-profit advocacy group whose mission is to ensure that those who were affected physically or emotionally by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, get the specialized health care they need, and to which they are legally entitled, observes that, “As the years go by, it becomes even more critical that residents learn about the two 9/11 health-related programs — the WTC Health Program that provides expert care for 9/11-related illnesses, including many cancers; and the VCF that provides compensation for pain and suffering resulting from those illnesses.”

Also on hand at the Thursday meeting will be Dr. Joan Reibman, medical director of the World Trade Center Health Program’s New York City Survivor Program, who will be speaking about illnesses linked by scientific evidence to September 11, as well as the health care that the program provides to survivors. She will be joined by the VCF Special Master, Ms. Bhattacharyya, who will provide updates about the status of the fund.

Thursday’s information session will be held in the office of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, located at One Centre Street (in the 19th-floor conference room), starting at 6:00 pm. (Doors open at 5:15 pm.) Admission is free, but space is limited, so anyone wishing to attend should R.S.V.P. by registering online at: bit.ly/2VHtKDG. Admission for anyone who has not registered will be strictly on a first-come, first-served basis.
Matthew Fenton

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