In 2011, New Yorkers won a big victory in Washington when Congress, overcoming stiff resistance, passed and President Barack Obama signed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.
One of its two parts, the World Trade Center Health Program, is now providing medical monitoring and treatment for 9/11 injuries and illnesses to nearly 65,000 responders and survivors, with more than 17,000 getting treatment over the past year. Just recently, the program started providing care to those injured at the Pentagon and at the Shanksville crash site. Some 50 cancers are also now covered, and more than 1,000 responders and survivors are getting cancer treatments.
The second part of the Zadroga act, the Victim Compensation Fund, has received almost 18,000 claims so far from injured and ill 9/11 responders and survivors. And while it has been off to a slower start than many of us would like, Special Master Sheila Birnbaum is starting to make determinations on the claims and making payments.
But many who could benefit from Zadroga's provisions appear to remain unaware of their rights and duties under the law.
The number of responders and survivors exposed on 9/11 is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands, with 100,000 responders on "the pile" and tens of thousands of survivors in the dust cloud. While there are almost 65,000 members in the health program, not everyone who should get monitoring and treatment is enrolled.
And Oct. 3 is the deadline for most of those injured to file a claim with the compensation fund (visit vcf.gov).
Responders and survivors who were injured or made ill from the attacks on 9/11 or the rescue and recovery effort that followed need to know that this fund can help. Loved ones of those who died due to 9/11 may also apply for compensation for economic and pain and suffering losses.
Even those who are enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Program, receiving medical monitoring or treatment, still need to register with the victim fund if they were injured and want to be compensated.
Labor representatives and elected officials all worked hard to pass the law. Now we must ensure that those whose lives were forever changed by 9/11 don't miss their chance for much-needed assistance.
Mario Cilento is president of the New York State AFL-CIO, representing 2.5 million members, retirees and their families.