Included in the omnibus spending bill passed by Congress on December 18, was an extension of health benefits to 9/11 responders and survivors who suffer illnesses and injuries from the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and their aftermath.
The bill extended the health care benefits for 75 years, until 2090, the New York Daily News reports. Joseph Zadroga, father of detective James Zadroga for whom the act is named, said, “It’s a very good day.” James Zadroga died in January 2006 from illness caused by toxic exposures at ground zero.
The World Trade Center Health Program had already expired because Congress failed to meet the September 30 deadline to extend it. The program continued to run on the remaining funds but would have lapsed entirely next year. The Victim Compensation Fund was set to expire in October 2016. The new legislation extends the health care program through 2090 and the Victims Compensation Fund for another five years to provide benefits to first responders too sick to work and to their families, according to the Daily News.
Rep. Caroline Maloney, one of the leaders in the bipartisan effort to reauthorize the Zadroga Act, was pleased that “the heroes and survivors of 9/11 will know that their health care is permanent and their compensation is full.” Mayor Bill de Blasio described the reauthorization as a “long overdue victory for the 72,000 brave men and women around the country who rely on these programs.”
Citizens for Extension of the Zadroga Act says that more than 200 New York City police officers and firefighters have died from 9/11-related illnesses and about 33,000 responders and survivors suffer a variety ailments, including chronic diseases like asthma, pulmonary disease and gastric reflux. Medical researchers have identified more than 50 types of cancer linked to toxins released when the towers fell. While some responders and survivors became ill soon after 9/11, many 9/11-related illnesses, took years to develop. Tens of thousands of people were exposed to toxic dust and other toxins and health experts expect illnesses to continue to emerge.
Reauthorization of the Zadroga Act took years, the Daily News reports. First responders, recovery workers, survivors, and their supporters made dozens of trips to the Capitol to urge Congress to extend the Victim Compensation Fund and the World Trade Center Health Program.
New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a key supporter of the original act and the extension, said, “This is a very important moment for all of us.” “This is my proudest day in Washington,” Gillibrand said. Rep. Jerry Nadler echoed Gillibrand, “I can finally say I’m proud of my country . . . Our heroes deserve never to worry that their health care will disappear, or that their families will struggle because of 9/11.” Sen. Charles Schumer said those who rushed to the towers “will know that if they get sick because of their bravery, the federal government will be there for them.”
The Zadroga Act reauthorization was part of an omnibus spending bill that keeps the government funded. The measure passed in the House by a vote of 316-113 and in the Senate by a 65-33 vote.