Advocates Urge 9/11 First Responders To Register For Future Worker's Comp
Weeks after its defeat in the House of Representatives, members of Congress are still vowing to bring the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act up for another vote this fall.
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But advocates say without guarantees it will pass a second time around, it makes an upcoming state compensation deadline for workers who have become ill or may become ill as a result of 9/11 exposure even more urgent. NY1 Health & Fitness reporter Kafi Drexel filed the following report.
Alex Sanchez cleared out air vents in Lower Manhattan for six straight months after the September 11th terrorist attacks. Now, he's on 14 medications a day.
He suffers from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), post traumatic stress, asthma, and has developed nodules in his lungs. Most days he can barely muster the energy to tussle with nine-year-old son Jack.
“I wanted my son to be the next Kaka and this is dreams every parent has. But if you can't go out there and toss a ball with your son it makes, it very hard,” says Sanchez.
Sanchez, who's gone from cleanup worker to advocate, says he wouldn't be able to survive without qualifying for permanent disability compensation from the state.
Anyone who worked or volunteered performing rescue, recovery or cleanup faces a September 13th deadline to register for future worker's compensation benefits if they are sick or become sick as a result of 9/11 exposure.
He is one of many workers encouraging others to sign up now.
“If you miss the registry now, that's it,” says Sanchez. “There's no more tomorrow for you. The only way to take care of our future is by registering today.”
But while about 100,000 volunteers and workers are eligible to sign up, less than half have done so. That's a huge concern for Joel Shufro of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, an organization that works with the state compensation board to register workers. One of the biggest roadblocks – symptoms still haven't surfaced for many workers.
“You don't have to experience symptoms to file for this,” says Shufro. “You may never use it. We are seeing so many workers now developing symptoms and some are getting worse. So this is a very protective measure, safety net, so people who do get sick in the future will have protection.”
Even more evidence of the need nine years later, Dr. Michael Crane at Mt. Sinai World Trade Center Clinic says he's still seeing close to 200 new cases of sick workers each month.
“The problem with environmental disease, environmental exposure, is there's a long latency period, generally speaking, between the ones we know about like asbestos from the time of the exposure to the time the disease shows up,” Crane says. “With asbestos, it can be 20 to 30 years. There certainly was a lot of ash down at Ground Zero, and unfortunately God knows what else, certainly plenty of toxins, plenty of carcinogens.”
Workers interested in learning more about eligibility requirements are encouraged to go to nycosh.org