Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article

Maloney Files Bill To Compensate Bypassed 9/11 Injured Workers
By John Toscano, Western Queens Gazette, September 3, 2004

Citing misguided regulations and misinformation about the air quality at Ground Zero immediately following the September 11 World Trade Center attacks, Congressmember Carolyn Maloney has introduced legislation to extend the compensation fund that covered rescue workers and remove the regulations which had blocked many injured workers and area residents from eligibility for funds.

Maloney also pointed out that many September 11 rescue and recovery workers had not applied for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) benefits because their illnesses became more serious after the fund’s Dec. 22, 2003 deadline.

Other workers missed out on the benefits Maloney said, because they were not informed of their eligibility for the fund. Residents around Ground Zero expressed the same concerns, the lawmaker said.

In announcing her legislation, Maloney (D–Queens/Manhattan) declared

"Anyone hurt by 9/11 deserves access to this fund, but countless injured victims were denied help or discouraged from applying because of misguided regulations. The president and Congress need to extend the Victim Compensation Fund deadline and reform it for all those who were clearly injured from 9/11 but denied the help they deserve."

Maloney stated, "Largely as a result of the VCF’s misguided restrictions on applicants, 1,755 of the 4,430 personal injury claims considered were denied." The 40 percent denial rate does not include those who never applied because of confusion over the regulations or because they were not informed that the fund existed.

Detailing the reform sought by her legislation, Maloney stated

"Since it takes longer than three days for a 9/11 respiratory illness to emerge, the fund should obviously allow more than three days for an injured victim to seek medical help to be eligible. Since the development of respiratory illness was not exclusive to the first four days of service at Ground Zero, the fund should clearly be eligible to those who responded beyond the first week.

"Finally, the December 22 deadline came too soon for many 9/11 responders to realize the full extent of their illness. They deserve a chance to apply. It will be a lasting shame on the federal 9/11 response if we exclude those in need from seeking help that they so clearly deserve."

Joining Maloney as she unveiled the legislation were Manhattan attorney Michael Barasch, who has represented workers who were denied benefits, and a number of New York City firefighters, police officers and recovery workers employed at Ground Zero, among them Department of Correction Warden Peter Curcio.

Barasch explained, "No one ever told the lungs about the Victim Compensation Fund deadline. Congress is doing the right thing by continuing to help those who sustained latent pulmonary injuries while working in the recovery efforts at Ground Zero.

"There are so many sick and/or disabled rescue workers who weren’t diagnosed until it was too late for them to apply."

Curcio was one such case. He described his experiences "On 9/11, I ran into harm’s way to help. It was my job and I was proud to do it. When I got there, the E.P.A. [Environmental Protection Agency] told me the air quality was acceptable and I stayed to help. We all now know that was a lie.

"The question now is, is Congress going to leave me uncompensated for my pulmonary injuries because they developed late and are getting progressively worse? Are they going to leave me uncompensated because they failed to communicate the purpose and eligibility criteria for the fund to all of those who served down there?"

Curcio concluded, "This was unchartered territory for all of us. I can forgive them for deceiving me on the air quality to prevent mass hysteria if they can forgive my late application based primarily on their failure to broadcast the fund information properly and permit a reopening of the fund."

Maloney explained that in addition to the late-onset illness and inadequate outreach as potential reasons that those injured from September 11 may have missed the original VCF deadline, time restrictions on VCF applicants were also questioned.

Specifically, the lawmaker said, VCF criteria required applicants to have arrived for rescue and recovery operations within 96 hours of the attacks and for all injured claimants to have sought medical help for an injury within 72 hours, although the fund’s Special Master Kenneth Feinberg had some discretion over the latter criteria.

Maloney’s legislation would

•Amend eligibility rules so that responders to the 9/11 attacks who arrived later than 96 hours could be eligible if they experienced illness or injury from their work at the site.

•Amend eligibility rules so that those who did not seek immediate medical verification for their illness or injury from the disaster, but who have since obtained medical evidence, would be eligible.

*Extend the deadline for applications to allow those with either late-onset illness from the disaster or those who were never informed of their eligibility for the Victim Compensation Fund to consider applying.

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