BY GABE HERMAN | Now that the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund has been permanently extended, local lawyers and advocates are trying to get the word out in Lower Manhattan that those exposed to 9/11-related toxins can quality for health benefits.
Attorney Michael Barasch, of Barasch & McGarry, which represents more than 15,000 people whose health was affected by 9/11 toxins, will be among those answering questions at an information seminar on Sept. 16, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., at Borough of Manhattan Community College.
The free event is for everyone in the community. Barasch said the goal is to spread the word that the fund’s extension means benefits are available for everyone exposed to the harmful air in Lower Manhattan during the months after 9/11.
“They now can count on healthcare for the rest of their lives,” Barasch said.
However, many still don’t know that health benefits extend beyond first responders, and include office workers, residents, public school students and everyone in the community. This also includes those who may have moved away from New York in the years since the 9/11 attack.
Barasch emphasized that people who were in Lower Manhattan back then need to start collecting proof that they were there, so they will be eligible for health benefits should the need arise.
“Right now, even if you’re healthy, you have to start collecting affidavits from people who know you were there,” he said. He added that it will be harder 20 years from now for people to prove they were in Lower Manhattan during that post-9/11 period. And he said the government requires proof of being there, which is harder for ordinary citizens to show than firefighters and police.
“Every day that goes by is another day that is harder for them to prove their exposure,” Barasch said of community members.
Barasch represents 137 students and teachers with 9/11-related cancers. He noted that, over all, 68 types of cancer have been linked to World Trade Center toxins.
He added that not everyone realizes their health issues are related to 9/11. Young people often think they don’t need to think about health benefits if they’re healthy, but Barasch noted that plenty of young people are getting sick and may get sick in the future.
“You owe it to yourself to protect your future rights,” he said.
Back in February, it was announced that 9/11 V.C.F. payouts for claims would be cut by as much as 70 percent because of a shortfall in funds coupled with an increase in claims. This led to many sick community members saying they don’t want to file claims, Barasch said, because they wanted the money to go toward first responders.
But now with the fund’s permanent extension, including billions of dollars available in the coming years, more people in the community are showing interest in collecting benefits for sicknesses, the attorney said. And he said he wants to encourage people to tell their friends and loved ones about the available fund benefits, even if they may currently be healthy.
Along with attorneys from Barasch & McGarry, others who will be at the Sept. 16 information seminar to answer questions include advocates from Students of 9/11, the FealGood Foundation, which helps emergency personnel, and doctors from the WTC Health Program.
The seminar will be at 199 Chambers St., Theater 1. Tickets are free, on a first-come, first-served basis, and can be reserved by calling 212-220-1460, or by visiting: http://tickets.tribecapac.org/FREE-911-informational-seminar.