In a move which ended years of financial and other squabbles, on July 29, 2019, President Donald J. Trump signed into law a bill to extend 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund eligibility and payments for the next seventy-three years.
Prior to the reauthorization, Senators had voted 97 to 2 to reauthorize the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund in a bipartisan bill.
That bill was drafted and sponsored by several New York congress members, including Carolyn B. Maloney, Pete King and Jerrold Nadler and drew overwhelming support as congress members voted in favor of the bill 402-12.
The new law is now entitled: The Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act (“the Act”).
The Act provides financial benefits to World Trade Center first responders and survivors who were injured on September 11 and in the months immediately following that date.
But permanent reauthorization efforts continually stalled, largely due to Republican concerns about the bill’s cost and the fundraising mechanisms used to pay for it.
During a floor debate, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) said the reauthorization controversy was a “manufactured crisis.”
Indeed, it is a “fake furor instigated by partisans more concerned with scoring points than telling the truth,” he added.
Paul and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) were the only two “no” votes.
“We can now lay to rest some of the concerns our brothers and sisters have regarding the ability to provide for our families in the event we are affected by the growing aftermath of 9/11 illnesses. Be sure that the passing the Act is not anything to celebrate but rather an opportunity for those of us affected to finally exhale,” commented Napoli Shkolnik attorney Stephen Holihan.
As a retired FDNY firefighter, and 9/11 emergency responder, Mr. Holihan has unique insight into the plight of 9/11 first responder victims and their families.
As an attorney with Napoli Shkolnik PLLC, he advocated for the extension of the Act, writing letters to lawmakers and appeared at several rallies and events to help pressure lawmakers into reauthorizing the Act.
Many credit comedian John Stewart for his efforts in passing both the Zadroga Act and the Permanent Reauthorization.
Paul J. Napoli and the Zadroga Act
Stewart may have been the most visible advocate for the VCF, but Paul J. Napoli may have been just as instrumental in getting VCF funding past a reluctant Congress. His office was in downtown Manhattan on 9/11, so he had an involuntary front row seat as the tragedy unfolded.
In the immediate wake of 9/11, several lawmakers introduced compensation fund bills. For one reason or another, all of them failed. Lack of awareness over the long-term effects of toxic exposure may have been one reason.
A few years after the World Trade Center attack, the first wave of victims had subsided. But as outlined below, the second wave of victims had barely begun, and the second wave could be much bigger than the first one.
Then, in 2006, NYPD Detective James Zadroga succumbed to lung disease. The healthy nonsmoker was the first 9/11 emergency responder to die from toxic exposure.
Paul J. Napoli and his colleagues then ramped up their efforts to make sure that Zadroga and the scores of others similarly affected did not die in vain.
Three years later, New York Congresswoman Maloney introduced the Zadroga Act.
This 9/11 victim compensation fund was designed to protect victims like Zadroga, who suffered from the secondary effects of the World Trade Center attack.
After a protracted political struggle, then-President Barack Obama signed the Zadroga act into law, along with a 2015 reauthorization. This reauthorization was supposed to extend benefits until 2090. But the Claims Administrator quickly slashed benefits, claiming that the VCF would soon run out of money.
So, Paul J. Napoli got to work again.
According to some estimates, the World Trade Center towers contained about 400 tons of asbestos.
These toxic fibers, along with other potentially deadly heavy metals, laced the dust and debris cloud which covered all of Ground Zero and much of Lower Manhattan.
Asbestos causes a number of fatal illnesses, including mesothelioma and asbestosis.
Mesothelioma is a cancerous tumor which forms in the lining between the heart and lungs. This rare and aggressive type of cancer is very difficult to diagnose and treat.
Asbestosis is basically lung scarring. In advanced cases, a radical lung transplant is the only known cure.
The latency period for these diseases is usually at least forty years.
So, if first responders inhaled toxic smoke in September 2001, they may not experience any symptoms at all until September 2041, or even much later.
So, the permanent reauthorization was absolutely critical to victims. Now, they have access to the financial resources they need to combat their 9/11-related diseases in later years. However, there is a big difference between access to funds and needed money in the victim’s pocket.
That’s where an experienced attorney comes in.
Why You Should Work with An Attorney
Although it may have been true in this case, “the fund is running out of money” is a very familiar refrain.
Fund administrators often use this excuse to reduce compensation to victims. To be sure, the more claims are made, the less money is available. So, an attorney advocates for victims to make sure they get a fair-sized piece of a shrinking financial pie.
Evidence is critical in these situations.
In addition to medical bills, lay testimony regarding the victim’s pain and suffering may be compelling. All this evidence is basically pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle. Separately, the pieces make little sense. So, an attorney puts all these pieces together to paint a compelling picture for compensation.
Only highly-experienced lawyers with a personal stake in New Yorkers and 9/11, like Messrs. Napoli and Holihan, offer that kind of dedication.
At Napoli Shkolnik PLLC, we are dedicated to 9/11 emergency responder victims, as well as accident victims nationwide.
If you were injured and the injury was not your fault, contact us today for a free consultation.