The James L. Zadroga Compensation Act Passes
$8.1 Billion Measure to Reauthorize The James L. Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act Passes, Other Legislation and Coverage Follows
Zadroga Act Reauthorized Year-End 2015
Following approval of the $8.1 billion measure to renew the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, President Obama signed the bill into law on December 18, 2015, reauthorizing the Act.
The reauthorized James L. Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act passed in December 2015 and will provide adequate funding and benefits to sufficiently care for the first responders and survivors of the 9/11 terrorist attacks throughout their lifetimes. Congressional representatives included an $8.1 billion measure to renew the Zadroga Act in the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending package that was finalized and released in mid-December 2015. The measure extends the Zadroga Act's programs.
The expired World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program will continue to provide medical treatment and monitoring and has been extended for another 75 years to 2090 with $3.5 billion in funding to monitor and care for 73,000 responders and survivors. The Victims Compensation Fund (VCF) is no longer set to expire on October 1, 2016 and has been extended for another five years to 2021 with $4.6 billion in funding.
New York Governor Cuomo Signs Legislation Concerning Benefits for 9/11 Workers, Volunteers
On September 11, 2016, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation to extend the length of time workers and volunteers seeking lost wage and medical benefits may make claims due to their rescue, recovery, and clean-up work at the terrorist site. September 11, 2016 marked the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The bill, known as S5745-C/A7958-C, extends the deadline for individuals to register under the World Trade Center (WTC) Disability Law until September 11, 2018, enabling individuals to receive workers' compensation, disability, and accidental death benefits due to their work during the as a result of their participation in the WTC rescue, recovery, and clean-up operations.
"Though September 11th may feel like an eternity ago, we still feel the pain and the loss like it was yesterday, and the thousands of brave men and women who stepped up in our darkest hour are still grappling with the after-effects," Governor Cuomo said. "We vow to do whatever we have to do to provide these brave men and women and their families the benefits they deserve. As New Yorkers, when we are knocked down, we get up twice as strong because we have our fellow New Yorkers to raise us up. The volunteers and workers raised us up in our time of need, and we will ensure they get the resources and the support they need."
Governor Cuomo also strongly urged all 9/11 responders to consider using the WTC Health Program, which is administered by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for health treatment and monitoring. Responders are seen and treated by experts at specific clinics, at no charge; the clinics also monitor responder health. As of September 2016, services were available at many Clinical Centers of Excellence in New York City, Long Island, and New Jersey, as well as through a nationwide network of providers. The list is maintained by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at: www.cdc.gov/wtc.
Many lawmakers and advocates praised the move. For example, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said in part, "After the horrific events of 9/11 so many brave citizens stepped up and showed the world what we are made of by helping in the rescue and recovery operation. Many of those who were involved in the days and weeks after this senseless tragedy continue to develop illnesses, and we must do all we can to ensure that they are compensated for their sacrifices. The healing process continues 15 years after 9/11..." New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento said, "None of us understood the extent of the dangerous conditions working men and women were exposed to during the aftermath of 9/11. Many symptoms of those illnesses are only now starting to manifest themselves. We are pleased the governor has signed this legislation so critical to the needs of the heroes who served during the rescue, recovery and cleanup operations. Now those brave New Yorkers will continue to have access to the benefits they deserve while also knowing that their government supports them."
Benefits in 2010 Zadroga Act Passed with Half Planned Benefits
At year-end 2010, Congress passed the original James L. Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. The vote was described by some as a "Christmas miracle.'' While the 2010 Act was not everything that Ground Zero responders, survivors, and advocates had hoped for, it was seen as a victory and was believed to be the start of more measures to permanently extend benefits.
Following the September 11th terrorist attacks at Manhattan's World Trade Center, researchers determined that the thick plume of dust and debris that followed the collapse of the World Trade Center Twin Towers and hovered over lower Manhattan contained a toxic mix of compounds, including asbestos, lead, pulverized cement, jet fuel, and other chemicals. Many rescue and recovery workers and survivors exposed to the toxins have since been diagnosed with various illnesses, including asthma, obstructive pulmonary disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and over 50 types of cancer. Tragically, many have succumbed to their illnesses in the years since the attacks. And, as of year-end 2015, at least 4,166 cancer diagnoses have been linked to exposure to the toxic cloud that hovered over Manhattan; the number of cases is expected to increase.
The Act, named after a deceased New York Police Department (NYPD) detective who worked at Ground Zero, was approved after years of intense negotiations. Finally, concerns over the Act's cost led to a final version that was significantly smaller in scope than what was first conceived: A 10-year, $7.4 billion treatment and compensation package. To get the measure past Senate Republicans, the Act was reduced by about half: Five years at $4.3 billion. The final version provided $1.8 billion over the next five years to monitor and treat injuries and also set aside $2.5 billion to reopen the September 11th VCF for five years to provide payment for job and economic losses. Attorney's fees would be capped at 10 percent and responders who accepted the World Trade Center Toxic Dust Settlement were prohibited from "double-dipping."
Parker Waichman actively worked toward the 2010 passage of the Zadroga Act, including taking part in lobbying efforts and trips to the nation's capital, often along with the firm's clients-other responders and survivors.
In 2015, Congress Allowed One of the Zadroga Act's Programs to Expire
Sadly, Congress allowed one of the two programs that make up the Zadroga Act, to expire in October 2015; specifically, the program that provides medical treatment to survivors. The Act is comprised of the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program and the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF). The WTC Health Program was running on cash reserves after it was allowed to expire and was expected to run until benefits ended entirely. The VCF was scheduled to expire in October 2016 if Congress did not take action.
With more than 33,000 sick responders dependent on the program for medical treatment, another 70,000 being monitored, and sick responders and survivors living in every state and in 433 of the 435 Congressional districts, immediate action was needed.
Parker Waichman Part of Powerful Lobbying Group
The firm's support and commitment for permanent extension of the Zadroga Act never stopped. For instance, Matthew McCauley, Senior Litigation Counsel at Parker Waichman and a former New York Police Department (NYPD) first responder attended nearly weekly lobbying events, delegations, and rallies-many in the nation's capital and some at the site of the Twin Tower attacks-to ensure the Act was extended and "that every hero, resident, volunteer, worker, and survivor receives the benefits and compensation they deserve, today and in the future."
Mr. McCauley was part of a powerful group of advocates, including many lawmakers; surviving responders; survivors; John Feal of the FealGood Foundation, a 9/11 advocacy group; Ray Pfeifer, former Fire Department of New York (FDNY) firefighter; Benjamin Chevat, Executive Director of Citizens for the Extension of the James Zadroga Act, Inc.; Richard Alles of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, Deputy Chief of the FDNY and Board Member of Citizens for the Extension of the James Zadroga Act; and Jon Stewart, Zadroga Act advocate and former host of "The Daily Show."
"These individuals selflessly answered the call for help during and following the attacks and their heroism cost them their health," noted Mr. McCauley. "They should never have been forced to beg for benefits, and permanent extension of the Zadroga Act should never have been an issue that was up for debate." Permanent extension was especially important given that some 9/11-related conditions, such as cancer, may take years to manifest. "Some responders and survivors may not know they have a developed a serious, life-altering condition as a result of the attacks," said Mr. McCauley. "These individuals now know that these benefits will remain open for them and their families."
COPD Covered As An Independent Injury Under the Zadroga Act
In September 2016, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) became an independent injury under the Zadroga Act. This means that COPD is covered independently and without a prior diagnosis or tie with any other respiratory illness, such as asthma, when making a claim under the Zadroga Act.
In July 2016, the September 11th Families Association explained that, when new-onset COPD became a covered injury under the Zadroga Act, only pre-September 11th COPD cases worsened by the attacks were covered. Meanwhile mounting recovery workers and survivors of the September 11th terrorist attacks have struggled with new-onset COPD for years.
Now, COPD is covered under the Zadroga Act without prior diagnosis or association with another respiratory illness.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)/National Institutes of Health (NIH)/National Heart, Lung, and Blood Activity, COPD is a progressive lung disease that makes breathing difficult and worsens over time. COPD may lead to coughing with large amounts of mucus, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, and wheezing, among other symptoms. In the United States, the term "COPD" includes both emphysema and chronic bronchitis and is known by names such as chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive airway disease, chronic obstructive lung disease, and emphysema.
In patients diagnosed with COPD, less oxygen flows in and out of the lungs' airways because the airways and sacs lose their elasticity (emphysema), the walls between air sacs are destroyed (emphysema), the airway walls thicken or become inflamed (chronic bronchitis), and/or, the airways make more mucus than normal, potentially causing clogs (chronic bronchitis), which adversely impacts breathing.
COPD is a major cause of disability, the third leading cause of death in the U.S., and has no cure. Millions of people are diagnosed with COPD and many more may be unaware that they have COPD because of how slowly it develops.
WTC Health Program Adds New-Onset Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and WTC-Related Acute Traumatic Injury to the List of WTC-Related Health Conditions
On July 5, 2016, the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) issued a final rule that followed a WTC Health Program review of published, peer-reviewed epidemiologic research concerning potential evidence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and acute traumatic injury among those individuals who were responders to, or survivors of, the terrorist attacks, according to The Federal Register.
The WTC Health Program Administrator found that these studies offer extensive evidence to support a causal association between these health conditions and exposure to the WTC site, The Federal Register indicated. Because of this, the Administrator is publishing a final rule to add both new-onset COPD and WTC-related acute traumatic injury to the List of WTC-Related Health Conditions eligible for treatment coverage in the WTC Health Program.
Concerning new onset COPD, in the past the patient required either a worsening of existing COPD or other certified respiratory injury tied to the COPD for eligibility. Under the new rule, new onset COPD will also be considered a covered injury, in addition to the existing, related injuries.
Acute traumatic trauma will include eye and head injuries, burns, fracture, tendon tears, etc. and the patient must have received treatment by September 11, 2003. A diagnosis, however, is not required as of the September 11, 2003 date. In addition, the injury must be tied to a so-called "energy source," such as a fall, an object hitting an individual, and/or heat and/or chemical exposure and does not include repetitive motion injuries, such as back pain tied to lifting as these fall under musculoskeletal injuries that are already covered.
Parker Waichman Fights for Zadroga Clients Nationwide
"Similar to the national response by rescue and recovery workers on 9/11, the firm has long provided national representation to those injured during their service," said Jerrold S. Parker, Parker Waichman founding partner. "Passage of the Zadroga Reauthorization Act provides us with a unique opportunity to bring our clients permanent healthcare, which was a driving force for the firm remaining so solidly involved with the project. Getting this done during the 2015-2016 holiday season is a gift to everyone, regardless of what holidays we are celebrating, Mr. Parker noted.
The Zadroga Act is vital for first responders and survivors in all parts of the country, including Florida and New York; Mr. Parker's insight into representation of those injured originated in New York, but expanded greatly with offices in several states, including Florida. With friends, family, and former law enforcement colleagues in New York and Florida it was a "natural expansion to assist those who had a similar background and geographical migration after their law enforcement retirement," noted Mr. Parker, who spent many years as an investigative agent with the United States Government.
"The reauthorization should put to rest any fears that responders and survivors have that they would be left with no benefits and compensation," said Mathew McCauley, Senior Litigation counsel at Parker Waichman. As of year-end 2015, the firm represented more than 600 clients with claims involving the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
"Just like they never quit, Parker Waichman never quit or gave up," added Mr. Parker. The fact that there are nearly 2,000 Zadroga claimants residing in Florida showed the need for a national response to assist these responders by those in Washington, DC, as well as those representing them, and "Parker Waichman assisted them, and all of our clients, in various states, every step along the way."
9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act Includes Residents, Workers
Parker Waichman notes that, in addition to responders and volunteers, residents and workers who were at the September 11th terrorist attack sites in Manhattan, specifically those who spent significant time south of Canal Street in the months following the terrorist attacks and through July 2002, may have legal rights for related illnesses. The firm is very concerned about those workers and residents who have been diagnosed with certain cancers in the past two years, including breast, prostate, thyroid, and blood (leukemia and lymphoma) cancers.
Study: 9/11 Attack Workers Suffer from Weight Gain, Obesity
In June 2016, researchers discovered an elevated prevalence of obesity and weight gain in former WTC workers and volunteers, according to an online report on the National Center of Biotechnology Information website, which appears in advance of publication in the Archives of Environmental Occupational Health.
The researchers surveyed 220 participants at the WTC Clinical Center to assess obesity, current employment and disability status, WTC occupational exposure level, medical comorbidities, and dietary and exercise habits. Bivariate (two variables) and logistic regression multivariate (multiple variables) analyses were conducted to review associated risk factors. Researchers discovered that obesity was associated with active employment status. The study also revealed that other significant covariates included non-Latino African American race, a high number of comorbid chronic diseases, low frequency exercise level, and not drinking any juice on a daily basis, according to NCBI.
Study: Lung Function Decline Persists 13 Years After 9/11 Attacks
As of June 2016, researchers reveal lung function decline among firefighters who responded to the 9/11 terrorist attacks 13 years after the attacks took place. Responders continue to suffer health problems due to the toxic dust exposure to which they were subject during and following the attacks.
A study published in CHEST found that WTC-exposed firefighters suffer from reduced lung function, with the greatest decline found among smokers and those who had the greatest exposure to the toxic dust cloud. "We showed in this latest follow-up that smoking worsened lung function in this group of World Trade Center responders, which is not really a surprise," said study author Thomas Aldrich, MD, of Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, according to MedScape. "But we also showed that stopping smoking makes a major difference, and the earlier the better in terms of lung function."
MedScape noted that this study is the longest of pulmonary function in rescue workers involved in a major environmental disaster and included 10,641 New York City firefighters who underwent a baseline measure for forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1). This is a test of lung function and was conducted before 9/11. After 9/11, additional FEV1 measurements were taken. During previous follow-ups of one and seven years following exposure, FEV1 decreased an average of 10 percent among those who were WTC-exposed. Over 10 percent of the cohort developed new obstructive airway diseases.
"There was little recovery over the first six years," the authors stated, according to MedScape. "Follow-up into the next decade allowed us to determine the longer-term exposure effects and the roles of cigarette-smoking and cessation on lung function trajectories."
Some 15 percent of the cohort responded to 9/11, and 65 percent were never smokers. The findings revealed that lung function continues to be worse among firefighters who arrived the morning of the attacks when compared to those who responded a few days later.
VCF Reauthorization Act Interim Final Rules Released
As of May 24, 2016, the VCF paid over $1 billion to claimants since the VCF reopened in 2011, according to the Fund's Special Master. This includes all payments made as of May 2016, partial or full, on Group A claims. According to the Special Master, by end-of-day May 22, 2016, the VCF team authorized the final payment on 8,717 Group A claims. This means the team authorized full payment on all Group A claims except for those payments on which issues were encountered that might have prevented payments.
Group A payments must be made before funds will be made available to pay Group B claims. According to the VCF, if claims with unresolved issues prevent the Fund from making payments, it will authorize the claim payment and the DOJ accounting office will place those funds into an account for future payments and will enable the Fund to authorize all Group A funding, while confirming Group B fund availability.
To allow potential claimants to meet Zadroga Act deadlines-regardless of if they may ultimately file a claim-the VCF continues to enable individuals to "register" with the Fund, preserving the right to file a claim any time before the VCF closes submissions on December 18, 2020. The Special Master noted that the VCF has allowed individuals to file an "Interim Registration." Updated VCF program statistics through end-of-day March 31, 2016 were published and indicate that, as of that date, 67,295 registrations have been filed with the VCF On June 15, 2016, the DOJ released the interim final regulations for the James Zadroga 9/11 Victim Compensation Reauthorization Act (28 CFR Part 104; Docket Number COV151; RIN 1105-AB49) according to the Federal Register. The VCF is now expected to begin the next round of payments.
The new law directs the VCF to issue full compensation to claimants with Group A Claims, which are those nearly 10,000 claims for which a loss determination was made on or prior to December 17, 2015. These payments are to be followed by payment of Group B claims.
The Reauthorized Zadroga Act makes a number of changes. According to the DOJ, if approved, the statute specifically states that it:
- Extends the deadline for filing a claim from the original October 3, 2016 deadline to December 18, 2020.
- Establishes new claim categories that are based on the timing of a letter to be issued that sets forth the total compensation to which a claimant is entitled for both groups A and B, and which are based on the date the Special Master "postmarks and transmits" its final award determination to a claimant.
- Executes limits on the total non-economic loss that may be computed for various conditions-categorized as cancer and non-cancer-and imposes a $200,000 cap on the annual gross income (defined in Section 61 of the Internal Revenue Service [IRS] Code) that is used to determine economic loss.
- Directs the VCF to prioritize claim compensation for the most incapacitating physical conditions.
- Makes the original $2,775,000,000 appropriation immediately available to pay claims. Previously, $875,000,000 of this amount was available through October 3, 2016; an additional $4,600,000,000 in funding is provided and becomes available in October 2016.
- Directs the VCF Special Master to conduct yearly reassessment of policies and procedures.
Senate Unanimously Passes Bill To Allow Families of 9/11 Victims Sue Saudi Arabia
In May 2016, the United States Senate unanimously passed a bill citing Saudi Arabia's alleged role in the September 11th terrorist attacks. The move went against White House efforts to quash the legislation, according to Reuters.
Under the bill, neither Saudi Arabia, nor any other country that has alleged associations with terrorist groups would be allowed to invoke legal immunity in U.S. courts, noted The Huffington Post. As of May 2016, the 1976 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act does grant such immunity to countries not designated state sponsors of terrorism.
The bill followed the ongoing dismissal of claims in New York courts filed by the families of 9/11 victims and brought against Saudi Arabia. Allegations include that Saudi Arabia assisted in financing the 2001 terrorist attacks. Senators John Cornyn (Republican-Texas) and Chuck Schumer (Democrat-New York) brought their "Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act," seeking a quick vote that stalled for months. Neither Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Republican-Kentucky) nor House Speaker Paul Ryan (Republican-Wisconsin) expressed interest; however, the Act made it through the Senate chamber on a voice vote. "The bill is very near and dear to my heart as a New Yorker, because it would allow the victims of 9/11 to pursue some small measure of justice by giving them a legal avenue to hold foreign sponsors of terrorism accountable," Schumer told the HuffPost. "These courts are following what we believe is a nonsensical reading of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act."
The White House hopes to stop the bill as administration officials warn the bill would put Americans overseas at legal risk; leave the U.S. susceptible in global court systems; and, perhaps, place Americans in peril over threats made by Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia denies any role in the 9/11 attacks and has threatened retaliation by selling hundreds of billions of dollars in American assets should Congress pass the bill, HuffPost reported.
VCF Pays $1.52 Billion to Ailing 9/11 Area Survivors and Responders, Residents, and Workers
In June 2016, the VCF issued $1.52 billion in compensation to area workers and residents, responders, and other survivors who suffered illness or injury due to the terrorist attacks. The VCF and WTC Health Program are funded through the 2015 Reauthorized Zadroga Act. According to a June 15, 2016 report issued by the DOJ, the VCF posted updated regulations for the program. These are available for public comment. The Fund has indicated that it is now ready to enter its next phase.
The $1.52 billion involves payments for which a compensation determination was made on or prior to December 17, 2015, so-called "Group A" claims. Final payment on 8,930 Group A claims has been authorized since the VCF was reauthorized on December 18, 2015; less than 200 claims remain that require authorization for full payments. The VCF indicated that it is working to resolve payment issues for remaining claims.