The Tragedies of 9/11 Continue: Sickened First Responders Still Paying the Price For Their Bravery
By Dean I Weitzman, Esq. on September 10th, 2011
Today, on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on America, it is a day of remembrance and reflection.
It’s also a day to remember the hundreds to thousands of first responders who continue to have major health problems after they jumped into the ruins of the demolished Twin Towers of the World Trade Center complex in New York that day without thinking about anything but helping victims who might have survived the devastation. Those men and women are still paying the high price of illness for their bravery and fearlessness in the days, weeks and months after the towers were felled by terrorists.
Today on MyPhillyLawyer’s Court Radio program two of those first responders will be guests on the radio program on 100.3 WRNB-FM to talk about their experiences and about the huge health problems being experienced by the emergency workers and others who did what they were trained to do at a time of huge crisis and confusion.
Legal battles have been brewing in the decade since 9/11 as sickened rescue workers have taken their cases to court to get treatment for illnesses they claim were caused by their exposure to a multitude of toxic materials that resulted from the pulverized World Trade Center towers. But instead of understanding and compassion and excellent medical care, many 9/11 first responders have instead been treated without dignity, with their medical claims being challenged as not related to the carnage that they jumped into without asking questions in those crazy days after the attacks.
Captain James “Rocky” Robinson Jr., a co-founder of the Bedford Stuyvesant Volunteer Ambulance Corps in New York City, worked at the World Trade Center site for two weeks immediately after the towers fell. It took days for all the workers on the site to be given the proper equipment for their , including respiratory masks, he says. Many close colleagues and friends died from exposure to the toxins they worked with on the site, he says. He personally was saved by a kidney transplant after he became ill during his work on the site.
Robinson was scheduled during today’s Court Radio show to tell his story and the stories of many of his co-workers as they responded for the clean-up and recovery mission.
Another first-responder, Rudolph T. Muhammad, also of the ambulance corps, was also there on the World Trade Center site starting that horrific day, arriving directly at Ground Zero without his safety equipment. He became ill with lung disease after being exposed to the contaminated dust, he says. In fact, he worked at Ground Zero for a couple hours that first day before given a respirator for protection, he says.
What makes him angry, Muhammad says, is that there hasn’t been enough advocacy for ill first responders since the disaster. More advocacy and early treatment could have saved the lives of many sickened first responders, he says, had those actions been taken quickly and widely.
Amazingly, challenges to the health claims of many 9/11 first responders have loomed large, according to a story last week in London’s The Guardian newspaper.
“Politicians, firefighters and police chiefs gathered at Ground Zero ahead of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks to call for an end to the ‘inhumane’ rules under which rescue workers who worked amid the toxic rubble and who have developed cancer are ineligible for help with their medical bills,” the story says. “Cancer treatment has been specifically excluded from federal health funding, with officials arguing there has been insufficient evidence to prove any direct link between the toxins present at the site and the disease.”
That’s being attacked by new studies, according to the story, one of which “found that firefighters who were involved on the day of the attacks and in the weeks that followed had a 19% higher risk of contracting cancer.”
Earlier this year, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act went into effect, providing federal money for 9/11-related treatment for injured first-responders. But the law excludes cancer treatments because of a perceived lack of evidence that the dust and other debris at Ground Zero contributed to such illnesses.
A story in the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger detailed such cases, describing inadequate medical assistance to 9/11 first-responders as as insult to their heroism. “In July, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health announced there was not enough scientific evidence linking cancer suffered by Sept. 11 first responders to time spent at Ground Zero,” according to the story.
This is wrong.
We as a nation need to come to the aid of these brave men and women who came to the aid of our nation in one of our darkest hours and literally threw themselves into danger when danger called them. They didn’t sign damage waivers as they headed into the carnage. They didn’t stop running into the danger to ask questions about insurance coverage. They just did their jobs and many gave up their health and well-being without question.
It’s time that we honor their sacrifices equally and make sure that their health issues are cared for for as long as necessary.