June 24, 2009

Gillibrand, Schumer, Lautenberg, Menendez Introduce James Zadroga 9/11 Health And Compensation Act

First Time Comprehensive 9/11 Health Legislation Has Been Introduced In Senate

Washington, DC - U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today introduced the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act - the first comprehensive 9/11 health legislation ever to be introduced in the Senate.  This legislation, co-sponsored by Senators Charles E. Schumer, Frank R. Lautenberg, and Robert Menendez, would ensure proper monitoring and treatment for the innocent men, women and children that face potential life-threatening health effects due to the toxins released at Ground Zero in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

Senator Gillibrand was joined by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Representatives Carolyn Maloney, Jerrold Nadler, Peter King, and Michael E. McMahon, along with Jack Ahearn, President of New York City Labor Council, Joseph Zadroga, father of James Zadroga, Fire Lt. Marty Fullam, Ken George, a city employee who aided with clean up after the tragedy, and other 9/11 first responders, construction workers, clean-up workers, and community members, who have suffered long lasting health effects.

"We have an undeniable moral obligation to help the heroes of 9/11 and all others exposed, and failure to do so may have long-lasting implications on future response efforts," said Senator Gillibrand. "While we are all too aware of the damage that was done on September 11, no one could imagine the long lasting harm that would be done to the health and well being of thousands of first responders and innocent men, women, and children in New York at that time.  I commend my predecessor, Secretary Clinton, as well as my colleagues in both the Senate and the House, who invested tremendous effort over several years to get us to this point. Today we are taking a major step toward fulfilling our obligation, but we have a lot of work left to do."

"Though the dust has settled and the ruins of the 9/11 attacks have been cleared away, the physical effects of the attack are still being felt," said Senator Schumer.  "The first responders who made it home safely that day are still, nearly eight years later, suffering from medical conditions resulting from the dust they breathed in as they helped rescue countless victims. Our heroes are sick and looking to government at all levels for some much needed answers. This legislation is a promise that we will not abandon the thousands that gave so much," Senator Schumer said.

"The destruction of the World Trade Center was an act of war against the United States," said Mayor Bloomberg.  "Passing this bill will fully engage the Federal government in resolving the health challenges created by the attack on our nation that awful morning. I want to thank Senator Gillibrand and the rest of New York State's congressional delegation for crafting this critical piece of legislation."

"Thousands of people lost their lives on 9/11, and now thousands more are losing their health," said Senator Lautenberg.  "Our courageous first responders are still suffering from the toxic dust they breathed in at the World Trade Center site.  We need a long-term solution to assist the men and women who bravely rushed into this disaster get the health care they need - and this bill would help us meet our obligations to these heroes."

"Our goal with this bill is simple - to ensure that everyone exposed to the toxic air around Ground Zero is examined by a medical expert and that all who are sick receive treatment," said Senator Menendez.  "Fully addressing 9/11 health issues is part of our response to terrorism and should be treated as such. We have a responsibility, as a nation, to ensure that we care for them. Just as it was right for our first responders to rush up the stairs to save lives as the World Trade Center burned, it is right for us now to do everything we can to help save the first responders who become sick."

"I'm pleased that my colleagues in the Senate from New York and New Jersey have come together to sponsor this relief for 9/11 responders, residents, workers and students who were exposed to the toxins at Ground Zero," said Congresswoman Maloney. "I have every expectation that the House will move this bill by the 8th anniversary of the attacks this September, and that along with President Obama and the Senate, we can get the health care and compensation for those affected that has been withheld these many years."

"Today's announcement by Senator Gillibrand is a great step forward in our long struggle to secure health care and compensation for the first responders, workers, community members and others who were sickened by toxic dust in the aftermath of 9/11," said Congressman Nadler.  "The heroes and innocent bystanders of 9/11 have waited too long for the comprehensive health care they deserve.  Their time is NOW.  I thank Senator Gillibrand and Senator Schumer for taking this issue up in the Senate, and I thank my colleagues Carolyn Maloney, Mike McMahon and Peter King for their leadership in the House."

"I would like to thank Senators Gillibrand and Schumer for bringing the critical issue of comprehensive health care before the Senate for the first time in the almost eight years since 9/11.," said Congressman McMahon.  "Their commitment to this issue, coupled with the legislation introduced by myself and my colleagues Reps. Maloney, Nadler and King, demonstrates to all New Yorkers and volunteers from throughout the country that we will never forget.  Representing one of the largest populations of public safety workers whose health has been directly affected by exposure to toxins at Ground Zero, I believe that this legislation is a long-overdue step in the right direction and I commend Mayor Bloomberg for coming to DC to show support for it."

"It has been over seven years since New York's first responders reacted with bravery and courage to the most tragic event on American soil, yet their health complications continue to progress," said Congressman King. "It is our duty to provide them, and all others who have become ill from exposure to the toxins, with the treatment and monitoring they require.  I fully support the establishment of the World Trade Center Health Program and will continue to do all I can to ensure that the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act becomes law."

"The labor movement urges Congress to pass this historic legislation seeking a federal government guarantee to cover the long-term, comprehensive medical monitoring, treatment and compensation for workers and all those exposed who are still suffering from the long-term health effects from the toxins of 9/11," said John T. Ahern, President of the New York City Central Labor Council. "Construction crews and cranes are in downtown Manhattan each and every day rebuilding our city.  Now, we must rebuild the health of those courageous heroes who seized the moment and prevented even more lives from being lost."

"On behalf of the 2 1/2 million members of the New York State AFL-CIO, we extend our deepest thanks and appreciation to Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand for their undying efforts on behalf of the thousands of first responders who risked their lives on September 11th," said Denis Hughes, President of the New York State AFL-CIO.  "All New Yorkers can stand tall and proud that our congressional delegation, including Representatives Maloney, Nadler, King and McMahon has never stopped working to ensure that our heroes have the medical monitoring and treatment they so justly deserve."

"New York City Firefighters are very supportive of the 9-11 Health and Compensation Act and are optimistic that it will protect our members as more are stricken with illnesses attributable to the rescue and recovery operation at the World Trade Center site," said Steve Cassidy, President, Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York.  "We commend Senators Gillibrand, Schumer, House Leaders and the Members of the New York Delegation for advocating for the protection of firefighters fighting illness as result of their work following the 9-11 attacks."

"Working on the search and recovery efforts at Ground Zero exposed my dad to hazards that have turned my family's life upside down - and forced thousands like my dad into an unimaginable void of despair.  But Congress can help," said Ken George, AFSCME DC 37 retiree.  "They can pass the James Zadroga Health and Compensation Act, and make sure that people who have become sick or died as the result of illnesses associated with 9/11 exposures have access to screening, treatment, and compensation to replace lost wages and lost lives."

Thousands were lost on the morning of September 11, 2001, but today, thousands more - including first responders, area residents, workers, students and others - are sick and getting sicker from exposure to toxins released from the collapse of the World Trade Center Towers.  

Nearly 16,000 responders and 2,700 community members are currently sick and receiving treatment.  Over 40,000 responders are in medical monitoring and 71,000 individuals are enrolled in the WTC Health Registry.  While the majority of these people live in the New York/New Jersey area, at least 10,000 of those who are sick or being monitored for signs of illness today reside in areas throughout the country.  In fact, citizens in all but four Congressional districts across the country could be affected by toxins from the 9/11 attacks.

Numerous studies have documented the health effects of the WTC attacks, which include lower and upper respiratory, gastrointestinal, and mental health conditions. These illnesses have caused major financial strains on many of those exposed, who are subsequently no longer able to work and face the high price of health care without a federally-funded national program to incur the costs.

The 9/11 Health and Compensation Act would:

Establish the World Trade Center Health Program. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) will provide medical monitoring and treatment for WTC-related conditions for WTC responders and community members.

Provide Monitoring and Treatment for WTC Responders and NY Community Members. The Clinical Centers of Excellence will monitor and deliver treatment for responders and eligible members of the New York area, which will be coordinated by the Coordinated Centers of Excellence - FDNY, a consortium that includes Mt. Sinai, Queens College, Bellevue, SUNY Stony Brook, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

Provide Monitoring and Treatment for WTC Responders in the NY Area. The legislation will expand access to an additional 15,000 participants in the responder medical monitoring and treatment program - currently capped at about 40,000 - to make sure no one feeling the health effects of 9/11 is left behind from getting the care they deserve. The legislation would ensure 55,000 WTC responders get the care they need.

Provide Monitoring and Treatment for NY Community Members. The bill establishes a community program to provide initial health screenings, treatment and monitoring to eligible community members, including geographic and exposure criteria to define who may be eligible for the program, such as those who lived, worked or were present in lower Manhattan, South of Houston Street or in Brooklyn within a 1.5 mile radius of the WTC site for certain defined time periods. The bill will expand access for an additional 15,000 participants in the community program for residents and non-responders - currently capped at about 2,700 - for a total of around 17,700.  $20 million will be available per year to cover the costs of WTC-related health claims that may arise in individuals who fall outside the more limited definition of the population eligible for the community program.

Provide Monitoring and Treatment for Communities Beyond NY. Heroes came from across the country to help in the aftermath of 9/11. This legislation makes sure responders nationwide have access to monitoring and treatment benefits where they live. These eligible individuals are included in the caps on the number of participants in the responder and community programs.

Establish Cost Share for the City of New York. The City of New York would be required to contribute a 20 percent matching cost share of the community health program, but will not exceed $250 million over 10 years.

Research New Conditions. New research is critical for reaching breakthroughs in diagnosing and treating WTC-related illnesses. The legislation will direct the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Program Steering Committee, to conduct or support new research into new WTC-related conditions.

Extend Support for NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. NIOSH would extend and expand support for the World Trade Center Health Registry and provide grants for the mental health needs of individuals not otherwise eligible for services under this bill.

Reopen the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund (VCF).  The fund would be reopened until December 22, 2031 to provide compensation for economic damages and loss for individuals who did not file before or became ill after the original December 22, 2003 deadline.  Because the bill links the VCF to the limitation on liability, this long date allows protection for victims with latent claims while extending limitation on liability period.  The bill requires the Special Master to update regulations consistent with revisions to VCF under this Act.

Provide Liability Protections for the WTC Contractors and the City of New York. Finally, the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act will limit the liability of defendants for claims previously resolved, currently pending or filed through December 22, 2031. It limits liability to the sum of the amounts of: 1) the WTC Captive Insurance Co.; 2) Insurance identified in the WTC Captive Insurance Co.; 3) the City's liability limit of $350 million; 4) the Port Authority's insurance; and 5) the contractors' insurance. There is no limitation on liability for intentional torts or other acts for which punitive damages are awarded. With respect to settlements or judgments obtained for claims under this section, the section establishes a priority of claims payments from which plaintiffs may satisfy those judgments or settlements. The priority requires exhaustion of the Captive and its insurance, then exhaustion of City's $350 million, followed by exhaustion of Port Authority's insurance, and finally by the contractors' insurance.