By Tom Wrobleski Staten Island Advance
Staten Island 9/11 first responders and other workers who were sickened with cancers, respiratory diseases and other illnesses after working at the World Trade Center site are now taking a hit to their wallets.
Two years after Democratic President Barack Obama signed the $2.7 billion James Zadroga Act to provide health care for the first responders here and elsewhere, not a penny of the money has been paid out.
“I think it’s a disgrace,” said Charlie, a Staten Island firefighter who developed leukemia and lung problems because of his work on the pile. “They promise you the world. I don’t understand it. I guess there’s a lot of red tape.”
Charlie asked that his last name be withheld to protect his privacy.
Congress appropriated $2.7 billion for a reopened Victim Compensation Fund to dole out $875 million to the 9/11 first responders in the first five years, and the rest in 2016.
But none of the money has been released, leaving some 9/11 first responders and downtown office workers with mountains of medical bills.
Charlie said he has paid thousands of dollars out of pocket for a prescription he has to take for his condition.
He said he “no doubt” that his ailments stem from the work he did on the World Trade Center site following 9/11.
Grasmere attorney Lloyd Thompson represents other Islanders who are waiting on the Zadroga money.
“They earmarked so much money to help workers with 9/11-related diseases,” he said. “That money should be distributed as soon as possible. The red tape should be kept to a minimum.”
Thompson said his clients have been made to “jump through so many hoops,” including “extensive paperwork,” in dealing with the government.
“They always want more documentation,” he said. “These are serious ailments, respiratory problems, cancers. These people shouldn’t have to wait.”
Sheila Birnbaum, special master of the fund, said in a published report that most applications arrived incomplete, missing signatures or key details.
Payments, including pensions or a settlement in the mass lawsuit against the city, will be deducted from the awards.
She said she hopes to start making awards in January.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) called upon fund managers to start getting the money out by Christmas.
House lawmakers from New York last week urged their colleagues and the White House to protect the Zadroga fund from any cuts as a result of the fiscal cliff crisis.