Tuesday, September 4, 2018

"Surviving the Legal Red Tape of WTC Victims"- An Interview with Michael Barasch

By: Lisa Vento-Nielsen, Lizbieta Sansal & Carmen R. Dewitt
(Editorial staff @ AwarenessforaCure.org)

Our 9/11 Health Report presents an exclusive interview with Mr. Michael Barasch of Barasch & McGarry; a nationally-recognized law firm dedicated to victims with post-9/11 illnesses.  Awareness for a Cure explores the many concerns and complex issues of being a 9/11 survivor- from the health and medical aspects to the social and political landscape to defining of the policies of being certified with the WTCHealth Program.  Very few can bring clarity to all these perspectives in a way that Mr. Barasch has been able to provide us.

Q: You had a front row seat to the points of view of many first responders. From your conversations with your clients, can you give us some insight on what it was like to be in their shoes?
What I did hear was that because the buildings were on fire for 99 days, it was ridiculously hot. It was really like working in hell finding body parts while it was 120 degrees or hotter the closer you got to the flames. You can't imagine the conditions that these guys worked in, and not just the firefighters and the cops, but the steel workers, the construction workers, the debris removal people. They don't get nearly enough credit for what they did to retrieve as many body parts as possible. What I heard was (and this comes from conversations I've had with hundreds of guys) was you couldn't breathe without the mask, but you couldn't communicate if you had the mask on.

Q: What types of injuries in your experience are most commonly reported both then and now?
Respiratory illnesses were the most common illnesses but NOW it is cancer. Miraculously, nobody died during the rescue and recovery operation, although they're certainly dying now. My office alone represents over 500 people who have died as a result of the 9/11 cancers. That's shocking, the WTC Health Program Reported that over 10,000 people in the 9/11 community have been diagnosed and certified with WTC cancers and more than 2,000 people have had their deaths linked to the 68 cancers.

Q: After almost 20 years since the disaster, we have federal and state programs to support our first responders and victims of 9/11.  Do you feel they're doing enough of the right thing for us?
Congress finally did the right thing. After the EPA misled everybody by assuring us that “the air was safe,” we then had the medical proof that the air was not safe, and was in fact causing serious respiratory illnesses. Doctors have now linked 68 cancers to the toxins. When they did the autopsy report of Jimmy Zadroga, who was also one of my clients, they found ground-glass, asbestos, benzene, chromium, lead, and other carcinogens in his lung tissue. That was the evidence that the medical community needed to link WTC toxins to these terrible diseases and wrongful deaths. Congress created the Heath Program, and if you're certified by the Heath Program with an 9/11 illness, then you're entitled to compensation for your pain and suffering, and your lost income.

There are latency periods, so if you were diagnosed with cancer too soon after 9/11/01, obviously it's not caused by your toxic exposure. But doctors have come up with the proper latency period based on statistics that they have, that other epidemiologists have, that tell us that if a cancer was diagnosed after September of 2005, that it was more likely than not caused by the toxic exposure. This is what the doctors say, this is what the Health Program says, so I'm just trying to follow their lead and get compensation for people who have certified illnesses.

Q: So as an attorney representing a 9/11 client, what's the standard process in helping them get the health care and compensation they need and deserve?  Also, what's the approval process?
I have to (first) register them in both the Health Program and the Victim Compensation Fund (VCF). Both the Health Program and the compensation fund want to see that claimants had significant enough exposure to be eligible to be certified. If you were just there visiting for one hour on October 7th, it's not enough, it's not enough exposure. There are certain parameters that the doctors and epidemiologists say is mandatory – a certain amount of exposure for your illness to be linked to the toxic dust.

If you can prove that you were disabled as a result of your cancer or severe pulmonary illness, and you've been found disabled say by worker's compensation, or social security disability, or the Police Pension Board, or the Fire Department Pension Board, then you would be entitled to lost income as well, and some money also for your pain and suffering. So there are two elements, there's non-economic loss which is pain and suffering, and then there is lost income which is what you get if found disabled.

Q: ... So the first step is for the individual to be certified?
Yes, we have to get them certified by the WTC Health Program first. Claimants must get the proof from witnesses to sign affidavits confirming that they were there. Then they are examined by the health program doctors who review their old medical records. Once they're certified, we submit their applications to the VCF. If they don't get an award, we go to hearings all the time to present proof to try to get them found eligible. Sometimes claimants have a respiratory illness that is not eligible, but they also have a severe cancer that is eligible. Sometimes they are disabled, but only partially for their certified WTC illness. So we need to overcome that. We've had to hire economists. We do a lot of legal work, but a lot of it is also administrative.

Q: What do you see lacking in our current system or programs?
I have fought for them to open up another Heath Program clinic strictly for the downtown community. Right now there is an enormous wait, sometimes up to a year, for a downtown local resident or office worker to get into Bellevue Hospital where they do the World Trade Center Health Program examinations.  It sometimes takes a year to get an examination before you're certified, and that's just not right. So I’m glad to see that they have opened another clinic downtown.

Q: All systems are tested and challenged over time. Since its' inception, do you believe the design of the WTC Health Program and the Victim Compensation Fund covers everyone accurately?
There's a real danger because while the heath program was reauthorized for 70 years, the Victim Compensation Fund was only re-authorized for five years, and it's going to expire at the end of 2020. Well, guess what? The doctors tell me and I'm seeing it in my office, people continue to get sick, to get cancers, and to die at alarming rates. It's truly heartbreaking. This will no doubt continue. Congress has to do the right thing by extending the Victim Compensation Fund, because people aren't going to stop getting sick, and they're certainly not going to stop dying. So we've got to take care of these families for when their spouse, father, or child dies.  After all, the only thing these people did wrong was believe the EPA when they said "the air is safe".


1) Awareness for a Cure: Awarenessforacure.org
2) NYCRA -NY Cancer Resource Alliance: NYCRAlliance.org
3) L.I. Caregivers Group- LIcaregivers.org
4) Immunology Today Magazine: ImmunologySmarts.com
5) 9/11 Cancer Resources- 911CancerScan.com
6) The Balance After Cancer Foundation - balanceaftercancer.org/
7) Best Answer for Cancer: bestanswerforcancer.org
8) LI2Day Walk- li2daywalk.com

Awareness for a Cure gives special thanks to Mr. Michael Barasch for his generosity and insight in the making of this feature and for his research and experience in providing first-hand information about 9/11 related topics. Our publishers also wish to extend our gratitude to Mr. John Feal of the FealGood foundation for giving us the education we needed to publish our newsletter. Also to Ms. Amanda Granek and Ms. Kate Monaghan of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum for granting use of 9/11 images.  Extra-special thanks to the unending strength and contagious energy of Lisa Vento-Nielsen (9/11 Cancer Survivor), AFAC's new editor, "storyfinder" and social media queen- whose loving support and technical contributions made this article and many other awareness projects with NYCRA, AFAC and 911CancerScan possible.  

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