The Zadroga Act Passed – WTC Victims Compensation Fund Reopened
On December 22nd, 2010 the James Zadroga Bill was passed into law. On January 2, 2011 President Obama signed the Act to make it official. Our NY personal injury law firm is thrilled that this long overdue legislation, named after our client Detective Jimmy Zadroga, now makes both health care and compensation available to the rescue workers who sustained injuries during the search and rescue operations.
Long before the attacks of September 11th, our law firm represented New York City firefighters injured in the line of duty, and was active in advocating for their rights. While passage of the law was indeed cause for celebration, it has been tempered by fears that some could be excluded from the law’s compensation fund. Prior claimants are counting on a new special master, who will oversee the new law, to interpret what they see as a gray legal area to allow compensation for first responders who initially agreed not to sue in the future in order to get money from the VCF. Others are concerned specifically with cancers that appeared in first responders subsequent to their taking payment from the Victims Compensation Fund. The law is unclear about whether first responders who recovered small awards from the Victim Compensation Fund should be permitted access to the $2.7 billion in Zadroga compensation for their subsequent illnesses and disabilities.
Recently, lawyers from Barasch & McGarry were invited down to Washington to meet with the Department of Justice lawyers who are in charge of the implementation of the Zadroga Act. They are at the early stages of selecting the new special master and writing the regulations that will apply. Those regulations will determine which cancers are covered, whether Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is compensable, and whether prior claimants can bring supplemental claims for their latent injuries and subsequent disability.
Here are some highlights of The Zadroga Act that impact active members, as well as retired members who were injured as a result of their exposure to the toxic dust and air.
Compensation to injured rescue workers
One of the provisions of the Zadroga Act that impacts active firefighters, as well as retirees, is the reopening of the Federal WTC Victim’s Compensation Fund (VCF). The original VCF was only available to members who were present at the attack sites at the time of the attacks or immediately thereafter, and suffered physical harm or death as a result. In order to be eligible, the person would have had to receive medical care for the injury within 72 hours of the attacks. If rescue workers failed to seek medical care within 72 hours the VCF excluded them, even if they later became ill as a result of their participation in the recovery and cleanup operations.
The Zadroga Act defines the “immediate aftermath” more liberally. The time frame starts with the attacks on September 11th 2001, and ends on May 30th 2002. The Act is designed to include rescue, recovery and clean-up workers.
For a number of reasons, many of our members never filed claims under the original VCF. In some cases members felt that the fund was primarily set up for the deceased victim’s beneficiaries and/or were paralyzed by survivor’s guilt. Still others had relatively minor conditions that were barely noted at the time. Claims had to be filed by December 22, 2003. If a firefighter did not begin to show signs or symptoms of an illness until after that date, he was not eligible to file a claim. The Zadroga Act changes much of that. The act not only extends the dates that a rescue worker had to be exposed to the toxins, but the time within which the injured rescue worker received treatment. In addition, the act expands the geographical areas covered to include the buildings and surrounding areas affected by fire, explosions, falling debris and any area related to or along the routes of debris removal like the barges and Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island. It is designed to include all people who are ill or injured as a result of work related to the 9/11 attacks.
The Victims Compensation Fund was set up as an alternative to filing a traditional law suit. Unlike a law suit, the person making a claim does not have to prove negligence. A “Special Master”, rather than a jury will make the decision regarding awards. This Special Master has been given broad powers in this regard. While a list of some specific covered illnesses presently exists, the Special Master can add to this list if deemed appropriate.
For members who did not file a claim under the original VCF, but have since become ill as a result of their exposure at the WTC and its aftermath, now is the time. For members who filed claims with the original VCF for relatively minor illnesses and have subsequently became seriously ill and/or disabled, we invite you to call us to discuss your legal rights. Please rest assured that we are lobbying passionately for you to have the right to supplement your original claims.
Medical monitoring and health care
The second provision of the Zadroga Act provides medical monitoring and health care for rescue and clean-up workers who were exposed at the World Trade Center site, as well as ancillary sites such as the Staten Island Landfill. First, the Legislation provides funding to the Medical Monitoring program for an additional five years. Medical monitoring is basically health care for people who have been exposed to potentially harmful substances but are not yet sick. Since many of the 9-11 illnesses suffered by responders are the type that might not show up immediately, medical monitoring allows them to be watched by doctors over a period of time, so that ailments can be detected very early and treated aggressively.
Members who were involved at the WTC on September 11th, as well as those who assisted in the subsequent rescue and recovery efforts, are eligible for inclusion in the Medical Monitoring Program. If you worked at one of the approved sites between 9-11-2001 and 7-25-2002 you are eligible for this program. The list of approved sites includes the following: World Trade Center, CME’s office or the temporary morgue locations, Fresh Kills Landfill, Staten Island Homeport, World’s Fair Grounds’ staging area, and the WTC Barges.
Presently there are five sites in the New York Metropolitan area available for WTC Medicals. The Bureau of Health Services suggests that members, both active and retired, have a WTC medical once a year. There are many good reasons every firefighter should participate in this program including the following:
- Provides the member with a comprehensive health evaluation
- Updated health results to share with the members doctor
- Provides early diagnosis of changes in your health
Inclusion allows members to continue to access WTC Treatment and Prescription Drugs. The drug benefit is specific to certain prescriptions related to WTC-related conditions, which includes the following: mental health, GERD, lung, and chronic sinus WTC-related conditions. There are no charges for covered WTC prescriptions. There are no co-pays or out of pocket expenses. There is also no annual cap to this benefit. Worth noting is that any of these prescriptions must be written by a WTC Treatment physician. Your personal doctor cannot write a prescription and have it covered by the WTC Medical Monitoring program.
In addition to direct benefits to firefighters, participation in the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring program benefits all other firefighters in the following ways:
- Compilation of medical data, while the members individual I.D. is protected.
- Provides a medical basis for requesting ongoing funding for long-term WTC healthcare for FDNY members.
- Supports requests to add any new illnesses or health categories to WTC coverage.
To schedule an appointment for a medical or for further information regarding medical treatment, please call the WTC members hot line at FDNY at (718) 999-1858.