We must repay our debt: NY Dem, GOP reps say stories of heroes should inspire passage of 9/11 billBy Carolyn Maloney, Jerrold Nadler and Peter King
August 29, 2010
Last month, after years of effort, we finally secured a vote by the full House of Representatives on our legislation, which would provide medical monitoring, treatment and economic compensation for those injured or made sick by the toxic cloud that lingered for weeks following the collapse of the World Trade Center towers.
Emotions ran high during the debate, and we were deeply disappointed that the bill did not achieve the two-thirds majority required for passage under "suspension of the rules," the parliamentary procedure that was used to bring the bill before the House.
However, the battle to provide help to the heroes, heroines and survivors of Sept. 11 isn't over - not by a long shot. The 255 votes in favor of the Zadroga Act show that it would have more than enough support to pass the House if it is reconsidered under normal rules, which require only a simple majority, or 218 votes, for passage. That is precisely what we intend to do soon after Congress reconvenes on Sept. 14.
Many of our colleagues who voted "no" last month did so because they objected to the way the bill was funded, but have told us they would otherwise support helping those who were harmed by the toxins at Ground Zero. But others who opposed the bill simply don't understand the severity of this health crisis - and that it affects Americans from all 50 states.
That is a real shame.
For too many Americans, 9/11 is not simply an historical event but an ongoing nightmare that is slowly robbing them of their health, their strength and, in the worst cases, their lives. We would like to share a few stories about the responders and survivors at the heart of this struggle.
A New York City Fire Officer, Lt. Martin Fullam braved the chaos and destruction at Ground Zero to aid in the 9/11 rescue and recovery effort, helping evacuate the towers. In the years following the attacks, however, Fullam began to experience debilitating health problems as a result of his service on 9/11, which forced him to retire from the job he loved. He has polymyocitis, an autoimmune disease that caused him to lose 60 pounds and steadily diminished his lung capacity until he required a double lung transplant, which he received in March 2009.
Long experiencing physical weakness and compromised lung capacity, Fullam has paid a heavy financial, physical and personal toll as a result of his work at Ground Zero.
Recently, when the Senate held its first hearing on the Zadroga Act, such was his commitment to the issue that he traveled to Washington to take part and became even sicker as a result. He has since been confined to a The Zadroga Act would provide FDNY heroes like Fullam with federally-funded health care and economic relief.
Margrily Garcia worked near the World Trade Center site. Like many others, she evacuated lower Manhattan covered in toxic dust on 9/11. She returned to work shortly after the attacks, relying on the EPA's assurances that the air was safe to breathe. We now know, however, that Garcia was inhaling toxins that lingered in the air for weeks after the attacks.
In 2006, after battling breathing problems and fatigue, she was diagnosed with chronic sinus inflammation, asthma and sarcoidosis, a disease that causes scarring of the heart, lungs and other vital organs. Margrily's heart was so damaged that she had to receive a pacemaker. Since she became ill, her diseases have been mentally and physically exhausting, requiring constant doctor visits and treatment.
Garcia says that "it's a constant battle to remain alive, but I'm very grateful to still be here fighting with the support of the elite doctors and staff in the survivors program at the WTC Environmental Health Center. I cannot imagine how things would be without them."
The Zadroga Act would make permanent the health care program for survivors like Garcia and expand its funding.
Alex Sanchez and Manuel Checo
After 9/11, hundreds of buildings in lower Manhattan were coated inside and out with toxic dust. Though they played a less visible role in the recovery effort than firefighters and rescue workers, Alex Sanchez and Manuel Checo, proud U.S. citizens both, were among the thousands of workers who cleaned the buildings of lower Manhattan and helped get our city back on its feet.
They often did this work with nothing more than a pail and mop - with no protective gear other than flimsy paper masks.
After working together in toxic conditions for months, the two developed a wide range of illnesses, including asthma, lung nodules and chronic post-traumatic stress disorder. Both men were unable to return to their jobs due to their debilitating health problems. Lost wages and poor health have had a devastating impact on their lives, and Checo has had to sell valued possessions for income.
Today, the two men are barely managing to survive on workers' compensation. But even when their health is at its worst, Sanchez and Checo, along with Sanchez's son Jack, can always be counted on to show their support for the Zadroga Act, which would give both men guaranteed health care and reopen the federal Victim Compensation Fund. That would make a huge difference in their lives.
Frank Fraone, division chief of the Menlo Park Fire Department in California, was thousands of miles away from New York City on 9/11, fighting wildfires. Along with thousands of other brave men and women from around the country, Chief Fraone traveled to New York to aid local rescue workers at Ground Zero. Fraone had seen his fair share of destruction during his career, but nothing prepared him for what he saw here.
He worked 16-hour days with fellow rescue workers, inhaling toxic dust that later left him with lower respiratory airway disease. Now living across the country from New York City, he still feels the effects of working at Ground Zero, which he says limited his ability to respond to other disasters, including Hurricane Katrina.
Fraone has had difficulty getting health care in California for his ailments and says that "living out here in California, I cannot get confirmation or talk face-to-face with anyone affiliated with [9/11] health care issues. I do not know to this date if I am going to be covered for my health concerns. What happens when this health issue disables me and I can no longer work or care for my family?"
The Zadroga Act would fully fund programs to provide health care to 9/11 responders and survivors who live outside the New York metropolitan area and give them access to economic compensation.
At a time when most people were running away from lower Manhattan, Joseph Picurro rushed to the World Trade Center site to volunteer his expertise as an ironworker for the rescue effort.
For 28 days, he helped cut steel beams on the Pile to find survivors and clear debris, often sleeping on the floor of a nearby office building rather than returning to his home in New Jersey at night.
In the years after, Picurro was diagnosed with sarcoidosis, which makes breathing painful, as well as with reactive airway dysfunction syndrome and severe acid reflux. He suffers from constant joint pain, seizures and blackouts and relies on dozens of different medications. He is currently in hospice care and has had to fight to get workers' compensation for his illnesses.
"Our financial situation is bad – I mean bad. For 6 years I've had to beg for help, borrow from family and I just can't do it anymore and shouldn't have to. We need to reopen the Victim Compensation Fund. My husband did serve his country and now it's time for the country to serve him, before he dies," says Picurro's wife, Laura.
Following the attacks, Leon Heyward was directed by his supervisor at the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs to pick up coworkers at Ground Zero and drop them off at their homes. By doing his job and helping others, Heyward was enveloped by the toxic dust that engulfed lower Manhattan. One year later, he was diagnosed with sarcoidosis of the brain, lungs and eyes, which required frequent hospital visits. By 2003, seizures sustained at work due to his sarcoidosis forced Heyward to stop working. After leaving the workforce, Heyward was initially denied workers' compensation and he had to ask his friends and family for help paying his health care and living expenses.
While he eventually won some Social Security disability benefits, the toll on his finances and health was irreversible.
Heyward died in October 2008 from lymphoma-complicating sarcoidosis after fighting for seven years to get proper care and workers' compensation and to have doctors and the government recognize that his illness was caused by 9/11.
Stories like these - and hundreds of people whose names may never be publicized - are why we will never stop fighting to provide proper medical care and economic relief for those who were harmed by the attacks on the United States.
We have a moral responsibility to help those who came to the aid of our nation in one of America's darkest hours. Nine long years after the attacks, the living victims of 9/11 are still suffering. We must pass this bill. It is the least we can do as a grateful nation.
Maloney (D-Manhattan, Queens), is chair of the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee. Nadler (D-Manhattan, Brooklyn), is chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. King (R-Long Island), is the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee.