In an interview with Breitbart News on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, renowned 9/11 attorney Michael Barasch, whose law firm represents over 25,000 members of the 9/11 community, elaborated on the efforts to reach hundreds of thousands of uninformed 9/11 victims who are still owed benefits after having suffered from harmful consequences of toxic exposure to post-9/11 World Trade Center dust, noting that “more have now died of 9/11 illnesses” than on 9/11 itself and stating that “9/11 didn’t end on 9/11” as many individuals continue to die every day.
With first responders and potentially hundreds of thousands of others exposed to harmful toxins after returning to downtown Manhattan to work, study, or live following the 9/11 attacks, many continue to suffer from respiratory disorders, cancers, and other disabling conditions linked to the exposure, despite assurances the air was safe by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
As a result, attorney Michael Barasch made a commitment to locate and fight for victims, relentlessly lobbying Congress with labor union members, responders, and downtown office workers and residents.
In a campaign titled “Finding the Forgotten Victims of 9/11,” Barasch has actively sought the many “forgotten” victims of 9/11, helping those successfully located register for federal health protection and compensation.
Despite hundreds of thousands being eligible for benefits, two decades later only a small percentage of those have registered for health care protections, benefits, and compensation established by Congress, with many simply unaware of their right to compensation and others failing to make a connection between the 9/11 attacks and resulting toxic air-induced illnesses.
Barasch, a chief advocate for first responders to the 9/11 attacks and others harmed by resulting toxic dust, began by describing the background behind funds available for 9/11 victims.
“In 2001, within a month of the [9/11] attacks, Congress passed the Air Stabilization Act which created the first September 11th Victim Compensation Fund which was primarily for the people who died on the airplanes and at the Pentagon and at the World Trade Center, of course,” he said.
“But many, many people developed latent illnesses due to the exposure to toxic dust, and there were many claims made for respiratory illnesses, especially by firefighters,” he noted, adding “you can’t be a firefighter anymore if you develop serious pulmonary illness.”
Those victims, Barasch explained, were not limited to New York.
“So many are New York City firefighters, but also guys from New Jersey, Connecticut, and almost every state,” he said.
“FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] firefighters came from everywhere to help out,” he added. “So many guys lost their careers.”
Asked why so many others have either not qualified or not received benefits from dedicated funds, Barasch explained:
“While the victim fund took care of a lot of these guys, the fund closed in 2003,” he said, “and yet people kept getting sick.”
Barasch attributed the reopening of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) to intense lobbying of Congress and specifically the death of an NYPD officer who participated in rescue and recovery operations in the rubble of the World Trade Center following the 9/11 attacks.
“After a lot of lobbying and the death of my client James Zadroga, a New York City police detective who died of pulmonary fibrosis at the age of 34, and when they did an autopsy they found ground glass in his lungs as well as many carcinogens such as benzene and lead and chromium,” he said.
“That was the evidence that doctors at the NIOSH [National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health] needed to link many respiratory illnesses,” he added, “and eventually in 2012 and 2013 they officially added 68 cancers to the the list of covered conditions.”
Despite his successful push for Congress to reopen the Victim Compensation Fund and establish the World Trade Center Health Program, with former President Donald Trump signing a bill in 2019 “permanently extending” both, according to Barasch, many are still unaware of benefits they are entitled to as a result.
“The problem is that while the firefighters and cops who predominantly all know about this — their unions have done a wonderful job educating them — with over 80% of New York City firefighters and cops in the program,” he said, “of the 300,000 downtown office workers, the 25,000 downtown residents, and the 50,000 downtown students and teachers, less than 10% have enrolled in this free health program.”
The WTC Health Program, Barasch adds, is nationwide “because students who were going to school here scattered all over the country,” yet also “don’t know about these benefits.”
“Therefore, it’s important to cover the ongoing health effects of the 9/11 attacks because it helps the word get out that these programs that Congress created aren’t just for first responders,” he explained.
Claiming that “not enough has been done” to reach many who could likely benefit from the fund and program, Barasch noted a common misunderstanding as another impediment to helping 9/11 victims get needed compensation and health benefits.
“For the most part, when I speak to people and ask them, ‘Why did you wait so long? You got cancer in 2007 or 2012, what made you wait so long?’ They say invariably the same thing: ‘I thought these programs were just for firefighters and cops,’” he said.
“That is, if they even know about it,” he added.
He then suggested why so many are unaware of benefits they may be entitled to.
“Cancers weren’t officially added until 2012 and 2013,” he said.
“So if your wife died of breast cancer in 2009 and she was an office worker downtown, why in the world would you ever connect the dots?” he asked. “You wouldn’t.”
Asked whether first-degree relatives of deceased victims could still claim compensation, Barasch replied in the affirmative.
“Yes, they can,” he said, “and I’m afraid that especially if you’re now living outside the New York area and you moved away, you may not know that you’re still entitled to make a claim.”
Regarding the process of qualifying and receiving benefits, Barasch admitted there is “a lot of red tape,” but noted that it was necessary to prevent “phony claims.”
“I’m a big fan of the fact that the government is making people prove that they were there,” he said.
“The only problem with that is that every year that goes by, especially with so many people dying of these 9/11 illnesses now, it gets harder and harder to find witnesses who need to sign affidavits attesting to the fact that you were there,” he added.
He also stated that applicants must prove they were “either caught in the dust cloud on 9/11 or spent at least four hours in the vicinity during the first four days following the attacks, at least 24 hours during September, or at least 80 hours in the eight months that followed.”
According to Barasch, for those who worked for companies still in business, “it’s pretty easy for you or your loved one to get an employment verification letter.”
“But if you worked for a company that went out of business 10 years ago, and maybe you didn’t keep in touch with those people after you left working for them — how many people keep in touch with their former colleagues from 20 years ago?” he asked.
“That’s where it gets cumbersome,” he added.
He also praised the fact that the fund and program are relatively welcoming to applicants.
“One of the nice things about the victim fund and the health program: it’s not adversarial,” he said.
“They’re not looking to beat you, they’re looking to find you eligible,” he added, “but they also have an obligation because they are the government and they’re not here to give away money to people who don’t deserve it.”
He also clarified that the two separate endeavors, one a compensation fund and another a health program, work together to assist those harmed by 9/11 toxins.
“When Congress passed the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act in 2010 named in honor of Detective James Zadroga, they created the World Trade Center Health Program and reopened the victim compensation fund that Congress had first created in 2001,” he said.
“Those are two separate programs, even though they do work hand in hand,” he added, “and they’ve both been extended for 70 years until 2090.”
Barasch explained the process as follows:
“In order to get compensation, you first have to be found eligible and certified by the health program,” he said.
“If you got cancer three days after 9/11, it’s clearly not related to your toxic exposure so they leave it up to the health program not only to provide free healthcare for people with 9/11 illnesses but also to certify those illnesses that were caused by the toxic exposure,” he added.
He also claimed that “a lot of people will say, ‘oh, I have a bad back,’” yet if they didn’t visit a doctor shortly after 9/11, it’s probably not caused by your working on 9/11.”
“On the other hand,” he added, “if you developed latent pulmonary illnesses then these doctors who treat and analyze these illnesses for so many people, they will know if it’s legitimate or not.”
Noting that an overwhelming majority of first responders have already enrolled, Barasch lamented that only a small portion of others have, calling on the government to do more to ensure that victims are aware of the funds.
“We know from the health program that 113,000 people have enrolled so far. Of that amount, 80% of the 100,000 first responders have enrolled,” he said. “That’s wonderful. As I said, the unions are doing a great job.”
“But only 30,000 out of the 400,000 civilians have enrolled, and that’s where we’re really not doing a very good job,” he added. “And that’s where I hope the government will step up its outreach programs.”
Barasch elaborated on how the number of eligible civilians reached 400,000 by breaking down the figures.
“It’s been reported that there were 300,000 office workers in lower Manhattan, and it’s not just on 9/11, it’s on 9/11 or during any part of the eight months that followed,” he said. “While the buildings were on fire and then during the cleanup operations while the dust was spewing everywhere in lower Manhattan.”
“So, 300,000 office workers, 50,000 students and teachers, 25,000 downtown residents and approximately 25,000 volunteers from all over the country were exposed,” he added.
Barasch also praised those who understand the importance of the aftermath of 9/11.
“The fact is 9/11 did not end on 9/11,” he said. “People continue to get sick and die every day.”
“In fact, more people have now died of 9/11 illnesses — nearly 4,500 people — compared to the 2,960 people who died on 9/11, and that number is only going up,” he added.
“Every day one of my clients dies,” he concluded. “It’s truly heartbreaking.”
For more information on how those present in downtown Manhattan on 9/11 or the following eight months can receive compensation and free health care, visit 911victims.com.
Follow Joshua Klein on Twitter @JoshuaKlein