Cancer and 9/11 Workers – Common sense should prevail

The Zagroda Act. Ask first responders in New York City what that is and most can tell you. Most will also tell you that it doesn’t include health coverage for cancer. And a new report by the Administrator of the 9/11 health fund means emergency workers have to wait even longer to get help with their deteriorating health. He says there isn’t enough scientific evidence yet to link cancer and the toxins these Ground Zero workers were exposed to.

The door is not closed – scientific review of new evidence by the Health Czar must occur annually. However, it was a huge disappointment for those that have developed rare and early onset cancers that most firmly believe resulted from their work at the Trade Center. And it’s not just one or two people; it’s hundreds. Scientific studies often take a long time to produce verifiable results and those in charge are following the  Act’s guidelines. It’s hard to fault them, yet it’s easy to blame them, and others, for turning a blind eye to reality. We need to find another way to help.

People are dying. From cancer, lung disease, and other illnesses that they likely never would have developed if not for their dedication in the time after the attacks. I know several of them. People who were in excellent health and are now going through chemotherapy for cancers that appeared too soon, in too many, too coincidentally – kidney, stomach, bone, blood, liver, lung… men and women that did nothing but try to help and are now paying the price.

If you are unfamiliar with the Zagroda Act, it’s a provision passed by Congress late last year that provides treatment, monitoring, and financial assistance to those emergency workers who later became sick from exposure to toxins at World Trade Center site after the 9/11 attacks. It was named for James Zagroda, a 34 year-old police officer that later died of lung disease his family said was linked to 9/11. It also allows workers or next of kin to reapply for financial compensation from the Victims Compensation Fund

Now many of these same workers have to wait another year, while spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of their own to pay for care. Many have lost their health insurance and are in financial ruin. Worse, are those that are so sick that they may not be around to read next year’s report.

Congress must wake up and act. They’re so busy bickering among themselves that they have turned their backs on the very people they heaped praise on after the attacks. Politics should stay out of this, but of course, it won’t. An amendment or rider needs to be passed that provides some relief for cancer patients while the evidence is being debated. Does anyone in Washington still have some common sense and decency?

Waiting until next year may be too late.

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