Obama quietly signs First Responder Bill into law

Barack Obama signing the Zadroga Bill into law (SOURCE: http://s3.amazonaws.com/)
Barack Obama signing the Zadroga Bill into law (SOURCE: http://s3.amazonaws.com/)

After a long and hard fight, many feel justice is finally being done for those who are still suffering from the effects of working at, or living near, ground zero.

On Sunday January 2, nine years after the events of September 11, President Barack Obama signed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act while on vacation with his family in Hawaii. The bill passed the House of Representatives in September and the Senate in December despite a Republican filibuster.

Senators Gilibrand and Schumer push Zadroga Bill (SOURCE: http://assets.nydailynews.com/)
Senators Gilibrand and Schumer push Zadroga Bill (SOURCE: http://assets.nydailynews.com/)

After extreme public pressure from the public, several GOP senators agreed to compromise a deal with Democratic Sens. Kristen Gillibrand (NY) and Chuck Schumer (NY).

This new law has been deemed by supporters as the First Responders Bill which would extend $4.3 billion in aid to emergency volunteers suffering illnesses linked to the terrorist attacks in New York City.

The bill was named after a New York Police detective who passed away in 2006 of respiratory disease.

Zadroga posted over 450 hours in the recovery effort before developing difficulty breathing weeks later – symptoms which would be shared by fellow firefighters, emergency medical personnel, law enforcement officers, and volunteers.

Physicians and medical examiners have been finding foreign materials in the lungs of affected people. These materials include glass fibers, talc, cellulose, calcium phosphate, and even methacrylate plastic.

The benefits would be divided into two categories, $1.5 billion toward treating people with respiratory ailments and mental health issues. The remainder would be placed into a compensation fund for those who were affected.

Zadroga’s father, Joseph, called the signing the end of a “bittersweet battle and a bittersweet victory.” The first responders will finally get the help they deserve, and those who passed away over the past nine years will not be forgotten.

Funding for the bill, which was a large question from the Republican members of Congress, would be generated by a special fee on foreign trade. Benefit recipients will begin to see aid when the bill takes effect on July 1.

Lawyers representing first responders have been sending mixed messages about how they are to sign up and receive their benefits. In November, they sent out information urging their clients to apply as soon due to a settlement deadline.  This would prevent them from being locked out of their portion of the funding.

Since then, the same legal teams have notified their clientele that they can wait now and can be a part of the new settlement. However, anybody who settled after the January 2 signing would not be eligible for the larger $2.8 billion portion of the Zadroga bill leaving many first responders and volunteers confused.