Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Mayor to Feds: Give Us $150M For 9/11 Health; Find Respiratory And Emotional Problems Common, Growing

Mayor to Feds: Give Us $150M For 9/11 Health; Find Respiratory And Emotional Problems Common, Growing

9/11 responder to President: We need more

When Vito Valenti walked into Gleason Funeral Home in Bayside for the funeral of NYPD officer Ceasar Borja, oxygen tank in tow, most of the wet eyes turned to him.
Most of the people there knew about Valenti, he said. Knew that he, like Borja, worked at ground zero after the attacks of 9/11. They also knew that pulmonary fibrosis, which killed Borja, was devastating Valenti's lungs.
"It was open casket, and I was sitting there looking at Ceasar, and for a second, I saw myself lying in the casket," Valenti said. "I got up and had to walk to the back."
Borja's 21-year-old son, Cesar, campaigned during his father's last days for the White House to allocate more money to treat ground zero workers who have gotten ill from breathing in the toxic dust that settled after the two towers fell. Borja was a guest of Sen. Hillary Clinton at Bush's State of the Union address in Washington, and later met with the president when he visited New York. A day before their meeting, Bush announced he will propose spending at least $25 million more to fund a health care program for 9/11 responders at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan and a separate program for New York firefighters.
Valenti said $25 million would be a good start, but that much more is needed to care for the ailing workers who spent extended periods of time at ground zero.
"Is it enough? No, I don't think it's enough," Valenti said last week, noting that days before Bush's announcement, Clinton, who was at the Elmont American Legion hall stumping for Democratic candidate for state Senate Craig Johnson, asked Bush for $1.9 billion. "I've been told that a double lung transplant costs maybe three or four million dollars, and that's one person."
Valenti's lungs were severely damaged by the toxins he inhaled while working at ground zero following the 9/11 attacks, and as a result he needs a double lung transplant. Forced to quit his job as a grievance representative for Local 372, which represents Board of Education employees, because of the illness, Valenti also had to give up his health benefits. He has lived on donated oxygen for months because the deadline for reporting workers' compensation claims expired long before he was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis. Without a double lung transplant, pulmonary fibrosis sufferers usually die within five or six years.
His health insurance ran out before he completed a series of tests that would have put him on the national waiting list for a lung transplant. But a judge ruled on Dec. 20, 2006, that Valenti is entitled to workers' compensation, which will cover medical expenses associated with his pulmonary fibrosis and allow him to see doctors and finally get his name on the transplant list. He also receives $400 a week in back pay from August 2005.
John Feal, Valenti's friend and the founder of the Feal Good Foundation, an advocacy group for 9/11 first responders suffering from ground zero-related illnesses, called the workers' compensation ruling encouraging, but added that more must be done to help those who have gotten sick. "Individually, that's great," said Feal, a demolition supervisor who lost part of his foot when it was crushed by an eight-ton beam during the recovery effort at ground zero. "What stinks is that so many others in his position that have 9/11 illnesses still have problems getting [their compensation], or may never get theirs. Vito won a battle, but it's still a long war."
Valenti said there are many others like him, and to draw attention to their plight, he wants to be the living, breathing symbol of the 9/11 responders who have gotten ill.
"I want to be the voice," he said. "I want to go to the president and say 'enough is enough, we've lost too many lives.'"
At Borja's wake, as Valenti offered condolences to the late policeman's family, his wife grabbed him.
"Cesar's mom said, Are you Vito? She burst out crying and held me," Valenti said. "My heart goes out to you. I see you with the oxygen tank and I think of my husband. God bless you."

NYU Co-Opens Health Center To Treat 9/11 Diseases

February 9, 2007

New York - The New York University School of Medicine has teamed up with Bellevue Hospital to open a health center in response to a 60-percent rise in Sept. 11-related illnesses. The center will treat those who were exposed to the debris following the World Trade Center collapse.

The World Trade Center Environmental Health Center will provide screenings, evaluations and treatments for potential medical and mental health patients -- including those who may be uninsured or undocumented, said Alan Aviles, president of Health and Hospitals Corp., which runs the project.

It plans to offer most of its services for free. "(Health and Hospitals) is playing an integral role in the city's plans to address critical gaps and further assist New Yorkers suffering from World Trade Center-related health conditions," Aviles said. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York City have pledged $16 million over a period of five years to treat 6,000 additional patients.

These patients include downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn residents, office workers, volunteers, and others exposed to the Sept. 11 debris. Health advocacy groups, such as the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, have criticized the city for not responding proactively enough to the air contamination in downtown Manhattan after the terrorist attacks.

"Despite the fact that hundreds of firefighters became ill on the first day following the attack, the city never made a serious, energetic effort to provide respiratory protection," said Jonathan Bennett, director of public affairs for the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health.

Government agencies invited people to return to lower Manhattan immediately to speed up the recovery process and reopen Wall Street as soon as possible, Bennett said. He cited incomplete reports by the Environmental Protection Agency following the attack: The reports ignored traces of carcinogens and other toxins in the air.

The center currently has more than 800 patients with conditions like asthma, sinusitis and shortness of breath, said clinic director Joan Reibman in an interview with the New York Post. Center officials declined to comment for this story. The clinic plans to hire more bilingual staff to provide assistance for non-English-speaking patients. "We will never abandon those who gave heroically during those difficult days," Bloomberg said in a press release.

Written by U-WIRE

Courtesy of © 2007, YellowBrix, Inc.

Federal Funding for 9/11 Responders

For the first time, federal funds will be allocated for the treatment of injured or sick 9/11 responders. The federal budget for fiscal year 2008, which was proposed last week, includes $25 million for treatment.

“I see this as recognition from the President – for the first time – that regular 9/11 health funding is an absolute necessity,” said Manhattan Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (pictured with Congressman Vito Fossella and Sentor Hillary Clinton) in a press release.

- Heather Corcoran
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer