Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Senator Gillibrand Senate Floor Speech Urging Colleagues to Pass 9/11 Health Legislation - Our Moral Obligation to Pass 9/11 Health Bill

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand delivered the following remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate tonight urging her colleagues to fulfill our moral obligation to the heroes and survivors of 9/11, and pass the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. Following her speech, Majority Leader Harry Reid filed for cloture on the bill and an initial Senate vote on the legislation will likely take place on Wednesday.

Video of the Senator’s address is available

Sen. Gillibrand’s Remarks:

69 years ago tomorrow, America suffered the most deadly attack our nation had ever seen. The horrific attack on Pearl Harbor killed more than 2,000 U.S. troops and civilians.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt said that December 7 is “a date which will live in infamy… No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might, will win through to absolute victory.”

And we did… In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, America succeed not only militarily, we succeed morally as well. Our nation bonded together with a newfound resolve to sacrifice for our nation and take care of our fellow citizens.

In the months that followed the attack, Democrats and Republicans knew exactly what had to be done. Congress came together, not only to declare war, but to pass legislation that provided health care and compensation to each and every civilian who was injured in the Pearl Harbor attack – every citizen who sacrificed for America that day.

It did not take nine years to get it done.

Congress acted bravely and swiftly, without partisanship and without gridlock… With a clear moral compass and a clear determination that we as a nation had an undeniable moral obligation to help the people that were harmed in Pearl Harbor.

Pearl Harbor was the most deadly attack on our nation… the most deadly attack until the morning of September 11th, 2001, when 3,000 innocent people perished and tens of thousands of people came to their rescue.

In the days that followed the 9/11 attacks, America showed the same resolve that it had shown 60 years prior. And now, after we’ve seen thousands of heroes and thousands of survivors sick and dying from the toxins at Ground Zero, it is time we show the same resolve again.
As President Roosevelt said, no matter how long it may take us, we will win through to absolute victory. We will provide the firefighters and police officers, the construction workers and clean up workers, the people that worked in Lower Manhattan and the children going to school in the area – all the people who are sick and suffering today will receive the health care and compensation they and their families deserve.
For the past week, on display in the Russell Rotunda were 29 police badges that belonged to 29 New York City police officers that have died from September 11th-related diseases. The 30thpolice officer, David Mahmoud, died last month of a very rare disfiguring form of cancer after working over 60 hours at and around Ground Zero. The average age of these officers that died from 9/11-related disease is just 46 years old.
The badges that we displayed were not just a memorial to those we lost. They are a call to action for each and every one of us in this chamber today.

Over 13,000 WTC responders are sick today and receiving treatment. Nearly 53,000 responders are enrolled in medical monitoring program and 71,000 individuals are enrolled in the WTC Health Registry, indicating that they were exposed to the toxins.

These are men and women from all over the country. In fact, approximately 10,000 individuals came from outside of the NY area, including every state in the Union, to save lives and clean up after the devastation that struck New York.

Their illnesses include a range of respiratory, gastrointestinal, and mental health conditions, caused by the inhalation of pulverized cement, glass, lead, and asbestos, and other fatal toxins on and from the atrocities of September 11th, 2001.

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act provides the proper Congressional Authorization and statutory structure to the 9/11 health program that has already received $326 million through annual appropriations from 2003–2009.

Our bill would establish the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program, within the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), to provide permanent, ongoing medical monitoring and treatment for WTC-related conditions to WTC responders and community members.

The program administrator will establish a nationwide network of providers so that eligible individuals who live outside of the NY area can reasonably access monitoring and treatment benefits near where they live. These eligible individuals are included in the caps on the number of participants in the responder and community programs.

I want to emphasize one important aspect of the bill that gets overlooked. Our legislation will provide a level of accountability and transparency for the disbursement of funds that has not been seen to this point with the current program. It will terminate the six billing systems created in the chaotic aftermath of September 11th and establish a third party administrator, who will set reasonable rates, track expenditures and enforce eligibility requirements.

Further, our bill limits the health program to 10 years, caps the number of people that can receive treatment at approximately 109,000 and limits treatment to the 22 respiratory, gastrointestinal or mental health diseases that have been medically certified to be associated with breathing the toxins and other hazards at Ground Zero.
Under the bill, the government is the payer of last resort. Individual health insurance or funds from workers compensation claims pay for treatment first and the federal government only funds treatment not covered.

The City of New York is required to contribute a 10 percent matching cost share of the community health program.

The legislation also will formally reopen the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) to provide compensation for economic damages and loss for individuals who did not file before or became ill after the original December 22, 2003 deadline. The payments would be limited to $4.2 billion over 10 years.

Our bill would strictly limit attorney fees to 10 percent of payments from the fund.
It would also provide liability protections for the WTC Contractors and the City of New York, limiting liability of defendants for claims previously resolved, currently pending or filed through December 22, 2031.

Lastly, I want to emphasize that the bill is fully PAY-GO compliant and will not add to the deficit. It is capped mandatory funding that is offset completely by closing foreign “treaty shopping” loophole.

In closing, I want to take a moment to make clear exactly why we need this legislation. It is because of the men and women in my state and across the country who are dying and at risk of losing access to care and leaving their families with nothing when they are gone.

We have to pass this bill because of people like Joseph Picurro, who died in October.
At a time when most people were running away from lower Manhattan, Joseph Picurro rushed to the World Trade Center site to volunteer his expertise as an ironworker for the rescue effort.

For 28 days, Joe helped cut steel beams on the Pile to find survivors and clear debris, often sleeping on the floor of a nearby office building rather than returning to his home in New Jersey at night.

In the years following his dedicated work at Ground Zero, Joe was diagnosed with sarcoidosis, reactive airway dysfunction syndrome, and severe acid reflux. He suffered from constant joint pain, seizures, and blackouts, and relied on dozens of different medications. Unable to work for years, Joe had to fight to get workers’ compensation for his illnesses.

In October, Joe passed away at age 43 at his home in Toms River, New Jersey, leaving behind his wife, Laura, and his daughter, Allison. Joe’s wife, Laura recently wrote me a note of plea: “Our financial situation is bad – I mean bad. For 6 years I've had to beg for help, borrow from family and I just can't do it anymore, and shouldn't have to. We need to reopen the Victim Compensation Fund.”

We have to pass this bill because of people from across the country, like Frank Fraone of California.

Frank Fraone, Division Chief of the Menlo Park Fire Department in California, was thousands of miles away from New York City on 9/11, fighting wildfires. Along with thousands of other brave men and women from around the country, Chief Fraone traveled to New York to aid local rescue workers at Ground Zero.
Chief Fraone had seen his fair share of destruction during his career, but nothing prepared him for what he saw at Ground Zero. He worked 16-hour days with fellow rescue workers, inhaling toxic dust that later left him with lower respiratory airway disease.

Living across the country from New York City, Chief Fraone still feels the effects of working at Ground Zero, which he says limited his ability to respond to other disasters, including Hurricane Katrina.

Chief Fraone has had difficulty getting health care in California for his ailments, and says that “living out here in California, I cannot get confirmation or talk face-to-face with anyone affiliated with [9/11] health care issues. I do not know to this date if I am going to be covered for my health concerns. What happens when this health issue disables me and I can no longer work or care for my family?”

Our bill would provide people around the country with access to the monitoring and treatment they so badly need.

We have to pass this bill because of courageous law enforcement officers, like Robert Helmke.

Police Officer Helmke died at the age of 43 from Stage IV metastatic colorectal cancer caused by inhaling and swallowing toxins at Ground Zero. He was 43.

Robert worked numerous tours of duty at the WTC, he ate food and unknowingly inhaled toxic substances while working. At no time while working at the WTC site was he instructed to wear a breathing apparatus, nor was he told that the air was unhealthy.

Stage IV metastatic colorectal cancer is a form of cancer in the upper GI tract, and it is very rare to see it in a man so young. He was told that treatment would not cure him, only help him live longer.

I want to read to you his their reaction to his diagnosis in his own words:

Talk about crushing news! My wife and I sat in the car and cried and I asked her what did I ever do to deserve this. On July 11th, 2006, I had major surgery to remove two tumorous parts of my small colon and have radiation on the large tumor in my liver. Before my surgery, I had four chemotherapy treatments, and was in the emergency room three times to be treated for dehydration before finally having to go on an all liquid diet and intravenous feeding. I have a wife, Greta, and two young children, Garrett and Amelia, who have seen my health worsen since participating in the WTC recovery. My favorite things in life are slowly being taken away from me. My work, food, helping others and caring for my family.” Officer Helmke died on July 28, 2007.

These are the stories that really tell us exactly what this bill is about – men and women who are suffering, men and women who have died, men and women who have suffered so much because they did the right thing.

What message are we sending here from this body, this esteemed body, if we cannot help those who came to our rescue, who were there to find survivors, who were there then to find remains, and who were there to do the cleanup when our government asked them to help?

You must remember the days after 9/11. This country would have done anything to help those who had suffered so much in New York and across this country. This was the most deadly terrorist attack in the history of America, and now, nine years later, this body cannot come together to do what's right?

This is the clearest example of right versus wrong that I have seen in this body in my two short years.

We must recognize the undeniable obligation that we have, a moral obligation to protect these men and women and their families because they did the right thing.

It is now time for this body to do the very same.