By Bill Parry
Several dozen 9/11 first responders and survivors returned to Ground Zero Saturday to celebrate the successful end of a yearlong campaign one day after Congress voted to extend the James Zadroga Health and Compensation Act for 75 years at a cost of $3.5 billion. The legislation also renews the Victims Compensation Fund for five years with $4.6 billion to pay claims.
Retired firefighters, police officers and construction workers made frequent trips to Washington, D.C. to lobby on behalf of the 33,000 who are struggling with illnesses, more than 4,000 of them with 9/11-related cancer, after breathing in the toxic air after the Sept. 11 attacks.
“I’m very happy of course,” Retired NYPD Detective Joseph Ramondino said. The Middle Village resident has battled two cancers since retiring in 2004 and endured multiple surgeries and treatments relating to the many months he spent working at the ruins of the World Trade Center and later at the makeshift morgue at Fresh Kills in Staten Island .
“The Zadroga extension was a no-brainer. It’s a great relief that they finally got together and did the right thing,” Ramondino said. “I’m very grateful and a lot of the others are, too.”
The first responders and survivors were joined by a host of congressional leaders who mounted an aggressive push for the extension. In the end, 68 senators and 272 House members backed the bill that was signed into law by President Obama last Friday.
“Never again will survivors and first responders be forced to walk the halls of Congress, begging for their health care,” U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria), the lead House sponsor of the bill, said. “After 15 years, the heroes and survivors of 9/11 will know that their health care is permanent and their compensation is full.”
More than 70,000 people living in all 50 states depend on both programs. They live in 433 out of 435 congressional districts nationwide.
“After months of tireless work by our 9/11 first responders, these brave men and women can finally feel secure that they will have health care for the rest of their lives. This victory belongs to them,” said U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), the lead sponsor in the Senate as she held back tears.
“And while this should have been an easy moral question for Congress with an obvious answer, our first responders were more than ready to stand up and fight for what they deserve, and today they won,” she said. “This is an extraordinary group of men and women, and I am honored to represent them.”
To date, 94 police officers have died from 9/11-related illnesses, more than were killed on Sept. 11. The FDNY lost 343 firefighters that day, but more 120 have died from illness since.
“Unfortunately, it’s too late for some of us, but at least their families can benefit from this,” Ramondino said.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr