NYPD families tell of Zadroga Act impact
Seeking to put a public face on the statistics behind Sept. 11-related illnesses suffered by first responders, elected officials and police union leaders asked the families of victims to tell their poignant stories at a press conference in Bay Ridge on Thursday to call on Congress to pass an extension of a law that provides health care for the heroes.
U.S. Rep. Dan Donovan (R-C-Southwest Brooklyn-Staten Island) and U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-C-Long Island) held the press conference at the headquarters of the Bay Ridge Ambulance Volunteer Organization (BRAVO) at 8507 Seventh Ave. to demand that Congress pass a permanent extension of Detective James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.
Named for Detective James Zadroga, who died of a respiratory illness in 2006, the law was originally passed in 2010. The Zadroga Act allocated $4.2 billion to create the World Trade Center Health Program to provide testing and treatment for people who worked in response and recovery operations as well as for other survivors
The law expired on Oct. 1 and its expiration potentially leaves thousands of first responders who worked on the rescue and recovery effort at Ground Zero in the weeks and months after Sept. 11, 2001m and who years later were diagnosed with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses without proper coverage.
The illnesses could be traced back to the toxic air the first responders were breathing in as they stood on the pile of rubble at the World Trade Center site recovering the remains of the dead, advocates of the Zadroga Act said.
“Many will pay for their heroism for the rest of their lives,” Donovan said.
The chairman of the House Judiciary committee, U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia), introduced his own version of a reauthorization of the Zadroga Act, but his legislation would extend the law by another five years instead of making it permanent. In addition, Zadroga advocates sad Goodlatte’s bill would cut compensation payments for victims by 60 percent.
George Taylor, a retired homicide detective, talked at the press conference about being diagnosed with cancer of the vocal cords in 2012. The cancer spread. “By 2013, I had my entire voice box removed. I am facing a lifetime of doctor visits and a lifetime of expensive medical bills,” he said.
Jacqui Lopez, whose husband Lt. Luis Lopez died earlier this year, recalled how he spent months working at Ground Zero. “He thought nothing of it. He came home covered in toxic dust,” she said.
Lt. Lopez was diagnosed with lung disease in 2012. He spent 125 days in the intensive care unit. “He came home in 2013 in a wheelchair. He had scarring all over his lungs. He gasped for air,” his widow recalled. Lopez had to take 22 medications a day and was hospitalized seven more times. He died on June 26. “Please do not forget my husband,” Jacqui Lopez said.
Retired detective John Muller who worked at the Staten Island landfill for several months following the terror attack combing through World Trade Center dust for body parts of victims, said he was diagnosed with lung cancer this past August, nearly 14 years later.
“I have a birthday coming up next week. Is it going to be my last birthday?” he asked.
The father of James Zadroga also spoke at the press conference. Joseph Zadroga said his son put in more that 500 hours at the World Trade Center site. After he was diagnosed with a respiratory disease, he faced medical bills that added up to more than $2,000 a month, his father said.
Zadroga and his wife Rhonda, who had a baby at the time, were forced to make agonizing choices. The couple “ate butter, noodles and spaghetti so that the baby could have formula,” Joseph Zadroga said.
If the Zadroga Act is not extended “that’s what it will revert to,” he said, referring to the financial hardships that victims and their families are sure to face.
Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said the presence of Joseph Zadroga and other victims added an important element to the argument for passage of a permanent extension. “We’re putting faces on the people we’re talking about,” he said.
Lynch said the NYPD has “lost more police officers since 9/11 than we did on 9/11.”
King, who fought to get the Zadroga Act passed five years ago, said that the fact that advocates have to fight to secure its survival “is an insult” to first responders and their families.
State Sen. Marty Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-Southwest Brooklyn) who is a retired police officer, said “the time for debate is over” and that Congress should pass the bill.
“Congress shouldn’t think twice about it,” said Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis (R-C-Bay Ridge Staten Island).
King expressed confidence that it will get passed. “We will get it done,” he said.