Thursday, March 18, 2010

9/11 rescuers/responders: What price heroism?

Immediately following 9/11, Christie Whitman of the EPA infamously insisted:

October 3, 2001: Officials Say ‘No Evidence of Any Significant Public Health Hazard’ near Ground Zero

EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman and John Henshaw, US Department of Labor Assistant Secretary for OSHA, announce that their two agencies “have found no evidence of any significant public health hazard to residents, visitors or workers beyond the immediate World Trade Center area.” [emphasis mine]But later in the statement, they acknowledge that to date, “Of 177 bulk dust and debris samples collected by EPA and OSHA and analyzed for asbestos, 48 had levels over 1 percent, the level EPA and OSHA use to define asbestos-containing material.” Additionally, they say that out “of a total of 442 air samples EPA has taken at Ground Zero and in the immediate area, only 27 had levels of asbestos above the standard EPA uses to determine if children can re-enter a school after asbestos has been removed….” [Environmental Protection Agency, 10/3/2001] (here)

We all now know that the heroic actions of that day - and in the months following - have exacted a heavy toll on the Americans who suspended their own lives to aid in the recovery efforts. This week, the msm has been full of the story of the $657 million settlement being offered for those heroes who were not only first responders on that terrible day, but for the contractors, fire department personnel, et al; those brave souls who dedicated themselves to search and rescue - and then recovery - of all who we lost in the terrorist attack in New York. These men and women, 10,000+, spent many months breathing in the noxious, deadly legacy, with no thought for their own safety. These heroes made a moral choice to dig through rubble for months with no consideration for their own long term health.

Here we are in 2010 and these men and women are still dying slow, horrible deaths because they chose to do the right thing in the days and months after 9/11:

First-responders to 9/11 are still suffering

By Judy L. Randall

February 20, 2010, 2:08PM


Retired New York City Police Det. Sgt. Gary White writes himself memos to aid his memory in his Bay Terrace home. The 9/11 first responder has cognitive difficulties stemming from a stroke brought on by illnesses he says were contracted by working at Ground Zero.In the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, NYPD squad commander Gary White of Eltingville logged upwards of 100 hours at the Fresh Kills landfill, where World Trade Center debris was sifted in a recovery effort for the remains of those who were lost.

Now 55 and retired after 23 years on the job, White has cancer, suffered two strokes, has a range of neurological problems and a host of other ailments including sleep apnea.

He also suffered from post traumatic stress disorder so profound that at one point he didn't leave his home for three weeks, hanging dark sheets over the windows to keep the world away.

He attributes all of it to the events of 9/11.

Now president of the 9/11 Police Aid Foundation, White says his advocacy group stands ready to help law enforcement personnel grappling with health and benefits issues and assist their family members seeking resources and support.

He said that while the Fire Department "has a great program" for its ranks, the Police Department fell short in its willingness to help first-responders secure the benefits they and their families are entitled to.

"You have guys still asking, 'Where do I go to apply for help? What is available for my children? Are there scholarships?'" recounted White the other day.

One of those was retired detective Al Schille, 45, of Great Kills who was first routed to St. Vincent's and Beekman hospitals to await the arrival of survivors of the Twin Towers who never came.

He then made his way to Ground Zero with a colleague to search for the man's firefighter son who was never found.

In the weeks that followed, Schille spent 300 hours at Fresh Kills, "sifting through ash that big dump trucks would dump. We went through it with rakes, shovels, our hands, going through it, looking for anything, pieces of flesh, fragments of bone."

He developed chronic back pain and then cancer. Despite near-debilitating treatments, "I wanted to go back to work," said Schille, who finally retired in 2007. "But my bones are too compromised to do anything."

He reached out to the 9/11 Foundation when his medical bills mounted and the city proved unresponsive....(go here to read more stories)

I heard Gary White in an interview the other night. This man, a hero who was previously healthy, is now very sick. And he is not the only one. $657 million sounds like a lot of money. But it really is not. How do you put a price tag on the radical, drastic long term illnesses that these heroes are now battling?

As this video shows, Allen Tannenbaum took many pictures of the madness of that day. Go to TIME here, and take a look at a photo-essay. As the lawyers lobby and jockey for a huge payday, they seem to forget that many MANY thousands of Americans literally laid their lives on the line following 9/11.

As Diane Fairben (mother of Keith, whose picture is in my sidebar, and who I have written about here ) recently told me:
I saw them sifting through the rubble by hand when I went to Ground Zero. These are the men who brought my son Keith home to us.

Diane tells me that she and husband Ken have friends who worked tirelessly at Ground Zero, and who are now sick. She tells me of one of Keith's friends - 'a young guy' - who previously had no health issues. Now ill with asthma related problems.

HOW do you put a price tag on lives changed forever? How do the politicians and lawyers have the gall to proclaim a '$657 million settlement', yet I don't hear emphasised that if these heroes accept this 'offer' they also forfeit the right to sue at a later date, for help that they will obviously need for the rest of their lives?

From the BBC:
New York dust victims split on 9/11 deal

Rescue teams at the ruins of the Twin Towers
The dust contained toxic particles that many claim made them ill

After New York City officials agree to compensate thousands of workers who say they were made sick by the dust of 9/11, the BBC's Laura Trevelyan finds that not all rescue workers approve of the deal.

On a cold and rainy day at Ground Zero, Michael McCormack is sounding wheezy.

He was a specialist search and rescue worker who arrived here just hours after the 9/11 attacks.

Michael McCormack
Michael McCormack says the compensation deal is a "sham"

Now he has respiratory disease and post traumatic stress disorder and lives on $1,600 (£1,000) a month, compared to the $90,000 a year he used to make.

He has trouble paying his prescription bills.

Mr McCormack is one of the 10,000 rescue and recovery workers who are suing New York City because of the health problems they developed after toiling on what became known as the pile - the smouldering remains of the World Trade Center.

The protective gear he received was, he says, too little, too late.

Mr McCormack denounces the settlement which has been reached between the workers' lawyers and the World Trade Center Captive Insurance Company representing New York City as "a total sham".

He is concerned about how much of the $657m (£437m) on offer will go on lawyers' fees.

And he fears that there isn't enough money to pay for the healthcare costs of all the rescue and recovery workers.

"I am disgusted with the way that the country has handled this," Mr McCormack told me.

"I wholeheartedly believe that I've shaved 10-15 years off my life, and my quality of life has gotten worse every single year since September 11th."

Decision deadline

Other rescue workers have been more positive about the deal.

Martin Fullam, a retired New York City fire lieutenant, told AP news agency the deal was good and he would probably sign....(more here)

And in that last quote about Martin Fullam lies the rub. It appears that for this 'offer' to be implemented, that 95% of the claimants must approve the deal. To my mind, this is outrageous. From a tragedy that united Americans from all walks of life in a common purpose, nine years later, courtesy of the lawyers and politicians, one survivor is being pitted against another.

Here we are, all these years later, and still no decent resolution for these workers. I know American is a litigious society, but I have to ask: WHY do these workers even have to sue at all? WHY are the various government agencies, politicians etc not doing the right thing, and opening the coffers and taking care of these deathly ill heroes? Facing life-threatening, debilitating illnesses, the last thing these survivors need to be dealing with, worrying about, is how they will live in some comfort for however long they have left in their lives. They do NOT need to be battling bureaucracies.

"What I want to ask Congress is this: Why are they leaving us like this? We are just as American as everybody else..."

Watch this:

As one commenter on this video's link says:

Where's the outrage? My God, help us.
Where - indeed - is the outrage?

I am SURE that men like Joe O'Toole, Bronx firefighter, gave no thought on 9/11 - or the days and months following - to whether or not he would suffer long term health effects. His story is a must-read:

Recovery worker reflects on months spent at Ground Zero

Copyright 2002 Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service
Philadelphia Inquirer...05/29/2002

By Jennifer Lin


Towering floodlights filled Ground Zero with an electric glow last Friday as Joe "Toolie" O'Toole, a Bronx firefighter, descended into the 16-acre pit for his overnight shift.

For five months, O'Toole has worked with a crew of 100 firefighters, combing every shovelful of debris at the World Trade Center site for the remains of the dead.

O'Toole said he would not leave until the last mound of dirt is upended and sifted for fragments of bones.

"I'm here till the end," O'Toole said. "How can I leave?"

But that time has come. Thursday, O'Toole will join other recovery workers and the families of victims to mark a ceremonial end to the recovery effort. In the 8 months since Sept. 11, hundreds of workers have removed more than 1 million tons of concrete and steel, and retrieved almost 20,000 body parts.

Firefighters like O'Toole have spent lifetimes helping people live. But at Ground Zero, they have taken on the added task of helping people cope with death....[...]

When O'Toole signed on for trade center duty in January, he thought it would be a 30-day assignment. But after one month, he volunteered for another. And another. And another. And another.

Tall and redheaded, the 47-year-old married father of three grown children speaks in an unhurried way about Ground Zero. He said he felt driven to keep working there to bring honor in death for the victims. Every time the crew discovered a body, they placed it on a stretcher, covered it with an American flag, and prayed....[...]

He said workers found pockets that were "hot" with intact bodies. "You would find clusters and groups. It was very emotional, but you're not thinking about it. You just think, you've got to get these people out of here."

The first time O'Toole came face to face with the destruction of the twin towers was dawn on Sept. 13. He said it felt as if he were standing in the portal to hell.

"All the steel sticking up, it was like Satan's fingers," O'Toole said. "The sun was coming up and reflecting off the buildings. It made an eerie glow as it came through the haze."

In those early days, when firefighters were still hoping to rescue trapped victims, they hauled away concrete, ash and glass "by the spoonful," careful not to disturb the wreckage too much.

"We passed out metal rebar one 4-foot piece at a time," he said. "The men never gave up hope."...[...]

He knows it will take months, maybe years, to process everything he has seen.

"I'll go see a shrink just to let him tell me if I'm nuts," he said glibly.

Years from now, if his future grandchildren ask him what he did at Ground Zero, he will answer: "I did a noble task."

Shaking his head, he added, "I don't know if I want to tell them any more than that."

Read more of this firefighter's story on Fallen Brothers here.

It is my understanding from all the reading I have done, that NYC, and other related local government bodies, are continuing with long-term studies on the aftermath of 9/11 on local residents. They also offer health benefits on the ground for local families through places like the WTC Centers of Excellence.:

The WTC Centers of Excellence offer:

  • Treatment and medication for WTC-related illnesses with no out-of-pocket costs to patients
  • Treatment by health professionals specializing in 9/11-related conditions
  • Assistance with applying for 9/11-related benefits, such as Workers' Compensation

Ongoing research is being done, into such topics as:

  • More about the prevalence and persistence of WTC-related conditions almost a decade after 9/11. The WTC Health Registry will begin its 3rd survey of more than 71,000 enrollees in 2010.
  • The extent to which people with potential WTC-related health conditions are receiving treatment, and what coverage gaps remain
  • The effectiveness of treatment for patients with WTC-related mental and physical health conditions
  • Whether mortality and the incidence of cancer, chronic illnesses and other late emerging diseases among WTC-exposed populations is elevated compared to estimated rates for New York City if the WTC disaster had not occurred.
  • How prevalent WTC-related depression, substance use and suicide are among WTC-exposed populations
  • The impact of ongoing WTC-related physical health conditions on long-term mental health
  • The impact of tobacco use on WTC-related respiratory conditions
  • The impact of 9/11 on children who went to school or who lived in the area, whose parents were part of the rescue and recovery effort or who lost family members..(here)

All well and good, and certainly a step in the right direction. These tangible efforts to support those affected by events of 9/11 are to be applauded.

Meanwhile, many of those who put their own lives on hold as they tirelessly gave of themselves in the search and recovery efforts, are now being forced - by lawyers and politicians - to put a dollar figure on lives changed forever.

Yes, while illegal aliens are able to any healthcare services - with no thoughts for the financial costs American taxpayers incur - the real American heroes are being forced to confront the price they willingly paid on 9/11.

Angry and now disabled John Feal says, "They called us "'Heroes'"!? But where are our heroes? We are the ones that need the help now. Where is it?"

We travel with Feal, Sferazo, Bethea and McCormack as they have an important step towards holding their government accountable. They are banding together to lobby congress - traveling via caravan down to Washington DC where Congress is considering an amendment to a bill, the Walsh Amendment, that will set aside $125 million of unspent 911 money to help New York State residence with the current and future 911-related health expenses. If this amendment doesn't pass, Congress will reclaim this unspent money and John Feal and his friends will be left out in the cold again. (here)

Fact is, the government can bandy around dollar figures, and posture for the media, all they like. News stories can write articles with words like "claimed effects of 9/11..."

Bottom line for me is this: There is NO 'claimed...' for any of those rescuers/SAR heroes. It is a simple enough matter to identify who gave of themselves in the dark days following 9/11. Every last one of these heroes earned, and must be given, whatever they need to help them live their fractured lives to the best of their abilities. Forget the lawsuits, forget the political, bureaucratic bull****. Just as each of these heroes did the right thing on 9/11 and afterward, so now must the government do the right thing by them.

I don't care which level of government - any or all - is willing to take responsibility. AMERICA is collectively responsible for these patriotic Americans.

Forget the shenanigans of trying to put a price on heroism. These heroes proved - and continue to prove - that it IS priceless. Time to pay up. Period.

[Also found on Family Security Matters here.]


Anonymous said...

$657 million is small enough considering how many ways that the money has to be divided. The lawyers get a third, and the many workers split the rest. Too small a payment for the high price they have paid.


Poet Warrior said...

Brat--- I did not even have to read the article. I have mixed emotions about all of this anyway. Many of the rescuers refused the safety equipment. That is fact. I live with milaria.I would not always take my meds. I am an adult. I have emphymsema. I smoked. Granted I began that habit burning leeches of in Nam, but I kept it up when I got home. I am an adult. That being said, everything always comes down to money. You are all complaining about the government, but it all comes back to taxpayers. Simply put, just take care of these people. The real problem is the it should not even have taken legal action. The waste of funds is there. The only reason there is a favorable decision at all is judges taking care of their brethren; lawyers. They could care less about the patriots who selflessly served in this incredible time. If the government had stepped up and done what was right without all the crap it would have saved millions, served its people, avoided all this negative garbage, and we would not be here. The same is true of my Agent Orange issue, the nuclear testing in the fifties, and any number of issues facing our chemically damaged soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. It continues ad nauseum. The lawyers are the only winners---and as a lawyer friend of mine once said, "Judges make decisions based on the fact that they too may again be lawyers one day."