Protecting First Responders & Civilians: Why We Need the VCF [Opinion]
In February 2019, the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund (VCF) announced that they were running out of funding and will have to cut payouts to victims.
Resources are dwindling, but the number of victims claiming for family member deaths and toxin-related illnesses is still growing. What is going on, and what can be done to prevent further damage?
What is the Victims Compensation Fund?
The Victims Compensation Fund was established to provide compensation to all who responded to the September 11th terrorist attacks and lived, worked and went to school in the impacted areas.
The VCF was originally operated from 2001 to 2004; it was then re-authorized to operate from 2011 to 2016. In 2015, Former President Barrack Obama extended the VCF for another five years, allowing more individuals to submit claims until December 2020.
Nearly 40,000 individuals have applied to the fund to cover illnesses that root from being at the World Trade Center site, the Pentagon or Shanksville, Pennsylvania. But as we approach the 2020 date, it has been revealed that the remaining funds in the VCF won’t be enough to pay all pending – and projected – claims.
At this point, if additional funding is not granted, pending claims that were accepted before February 2019 will receive 50 percent of their value, while any valid claims after that date will only receive 30 percent of their value.
And as resources continue to dry up, the numbers will only continue to get worse.
Why Do We Need the VCF Today?
Even though the September 11th attacks occurred nearly 20 years ago, individuals are still being impacted by long-term health problems as a result of the attacks.
Crime scene investigators, first responders and surrounding civilians were exposed to a toxic cocktail of biologicals, chemicals, heavy metals and carcinogenic materials.
Unfortunately, in the weeks following the attacks, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) failed to properly collect and test the air, falsely proclaiming that it was safe to breath. This led to the deadly exposure for those in the area.
Hazardous Materials & Cross-Contamination
As a former NYPD First Grade Detective who worked at all three 9/11 sites, I can speak first-hand to the situation, especially in regard to the Ground Zero site.
Impact on First Responders
To start, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), who were present at the 1993 WTC Bombing to oversee the safety issues of those working the site, which included Personnel Protective Equipment to be utilized by emergency responders, were nowhere to be found at Ground Zero.
Without that oversight, coupled with the false air quality report, our safety standards at Ground Zero were not where they should have been. We had no decontamination facilities – not until nearly two months after the attacks. At Ground Zero, we were allowed to eat, drink and smoke by the debris. When we went on breaks, we were allowed to enter various tents and construction trailers with this toxic cocktail of debris and dust all over our clothing, contaminating these locations.
In fact, contamination levels and air quality were even worse inside these tents and trailers. This was due to the lack of air circulation or filtration systems, which allowed debris to continue to build up inside.
Furthermore, we were permitted to leave contaminated areas without being decontaminated. So, the contamination was spread to department vehicles, our private vehicles, department offices and our own homes.
Impact on Civilians
In addition, many homeowners and civilian workers were negatively impacted by a lack of safety protocols in response to the cleanup of the attacks.
The area South of Canal Street – from the Hudson River to the East River – was not declared a Superfund cleanup site. So, the owners of various office, residential and commercial buildings, as well as public and private educational buildings, were permitted to clean these locations themselves – but they shouldn’t have been.
If the area had been properly tested, the hazardous materials present would have been discovered. Then, they could have safely coordinated and contracted licensed hazardous materials cleanup companies, to clean up and test, post clean up, to ensure it was safe for human beings to enter, and certified the locations for reoccupation by the public health department.
Instead, the people working, living and being schooled at these locations were in allowed into the contaminated area. Almost 20 years after the attacks, they are still paying the toll on their health.
Long-Term Health Problems
Due to the lack of hazardous material safety protocols, emergency responders and civilians were needlessly exposed to the toxic cocktail – and are now sick and dying.
In fact, medical professionals at the World Trade Center Health Program Clinical Center of Excellence at Mount Sinai expect that the number of deaths related to the exposure to toxic materials will surpass those who passed as a direct result of the attacks on 9/11.
This is why we need the VCF in 2019. To make up for the damage done by a lack of appropriate action in 2001.
The VCF: Justice for Victims Nationwide
The victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks are not isolated to New York City.
Emergency responders from across the nation (and even some foreign nations) self-dispatched to NYC and voluntarily worked at Ground Zero.
In addition, federal responders across the nation were ordered to NYC to help on a non-voluntary basis. These groups included:
- FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue Teams
- The Department of Health and Human Services’ Disaster Mortuary Response Teams
- The Department of Health and Human Services’ Disaster Medical Assistance Teams
- The Department of Justice’s FBI Evidence Response Teams
And because the victims of the September 11th attacks spread nationwide, this requires a federal response.
The Victims Compensation Fund, and all other associated organizations, including the 9/11 WTC Clinic at Mount Sinai Hospital and their affiliated healthcare facilities, should be permanently funded.
The Future of the Victims Compensation Fund
As the VCF empties, the need for its revitalization is dire.
Back in June 2019, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell met with John Feal and members of the Feal Good Foundation, which consists of 9/11 first responders who are affected by their work at Ground Zero. They spoke to Senator McConnell to seek his support to bring the bill, once it passed the House, for a stand-alone vote on the floor the Senate.
They presented him the NYPD Shield for Detective Louis Alvarez, who would die just days later, on June 29, 2019, from cancer obtained from working at Ground Zero. Senator McConnell promised he would bring the bill to a vote on the floor of the Senate by August.
On July 12, 2019, the House passed the Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act (H.R. 1327/S. 546).
The bill is now headed to the Senate for a final, stand-alone vote.
As we wait for the verdict, this is my call to action: Let’s put all the people affected by their 9/11 exposure, first and right the mistakes that caused 40,000 plus Americans to fall ill and die.