Backers Urge Passage of 9/11 First Responders' Bill by Christmas

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A first reponder during 9/11, T.J. Gilmartin, attends a news conference about illnesses of 9/11 responders, November 29, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Mark Wilson/Getty)

With Christmas just days away, the lame-duck Congress has been working around the clock to get promised pieces of legislation pushed through. But one notable bill that hasn't been checked off the to-do list is the 9/11 First Responders' Bill. If passed, it would provide health care to thousands of firefighters, policemen and emergency workers who suffer health problems because of their work at Ground Zero. Will Congress deliver?


The bill passed the House but failed to move forward on the Senate floor last week. With some renewed public momentum, potentially helped along by Jon Stewart, today it's back for another vote. We speak with Kenny Specht, retired firefighter with F.D.N.Y. Ladder Company 133, as well as a 9/11 first responder. We also speak with Takeaway Washington Correspondent Todd Zwillich about the bill's likelihood of passage in the Senate.


Kenny Specht

Produced by:

Duncan Wilson


Todd Zwillich

Comments [7]


The Weekly Standard posts this John McCormack column online, regarding the Jon Stewart role in the passage of the Zadroga Bill:

Dec. 23 2010 10:34 AM

Oh, Adam; just one more thing.

My reading of quotes from Kenny Specht indicates to me that he, as a uniformed FDNY firefighter, was actually very concerned about the pool of recipients being widened. In connection with the lawsuit in which he was a claimant, he made a published comment about benefits going to people who had little proof that they were even at Ground Zero:

"Specht is also dissatisfied with the suggested payout, which he doubts will make much of a dent in his monthly living expenses. "You've got 10,000 people splitting those millions," he said. "Some of whom can hardly even prove they were at ground zero."

Dec. 22 2010 11:37 PM

Adam, that's an interesting and valid point. One that your main story didn't mention.

But I remain concerned with the basic point that was rather dramatically unanswered, not just by the "Zadroga Bill," but indeed by the death of the Bill's namesake, Detective James Zadroga.

As your "partner," the New York Times reported, the official autopsy did not causally link Detective Zadroga's death to 9/11 exposures; the death was linked to prescription medication abuse:

[Two medical examiners hired by attorneys for Zadroga's legal heirs reached different conclusions. It is a contested issue, to be sure.]

Kenny Specht's case is at least as suspect, if only from a "proximate cause" standpoint. Mr. Specht, we are informed, had his gallbladder removed. (Gallbladder removal is one of the most common general surgical procedures in the world.) And he has GERD, which I cannot imagine any medical expert linking to 'Ground Zero.' Finally, Mr. Specht has asthma, which may or may not be causally linked. Millions of people have asthma.

With all due respect, I think there might have been more thoughtful and complete ways to address this story. But I wouldn't expect a public radio program to do anything other than to "feature" the "victim," demonize Republicans, and then move on to the next story.

Dec. 22 2010 11:28 PM

Charles -
I checked with health reporter Fred Mogul, from the WNYC newsroom, and asked him about the just-passed Zadroga bill. He said that Mayor Bloomberg has acknowledged that many of the 60,000-65,000 people who this bill will monitor, cover and recompense, have neither union pensions nor other health benefits. Many full-time fire fighters and police do, to be sure, and many of them are covered well enough that the fund's adjudicators will reduce their access to redundant benefits. The bill's supporters have said that the benefits are largely for the many thousands of otherwise un- or under-insured people -- construction workers, asbestos remediation crews, etc, and even the handful of students and passersby who pitched in during the days, weeks and months past 9/11.

Thanks for writing!

Dec. 22 2010 09:42 PM

I should add something; because my comments below might seem harsh to Kenny Specht, a retired firefighter who is facing difficult health issues.

Mr. Specht is not exactly a private figure. He is an activist (he of course has every right to be an activist) who has campaigned publicly for group acceptance of the multimillion-dollar lawsuit settlement for New York's 9/11 responders.

That lawsuit was not mentioned in this story by The Takeaway. As far as I know, as something of a stranger to the entire case, New York City firefighters have at least two sources of benefits:

1. Their regular health care, disability and retirement benefits from NYFD, and;
2. Additional benefits from settlement of the litigation in which Ken Specht was a party-plaintiff, as outlined here:

Perhaps Mr. Specht, or someone from The Takeaway could clear up the confusion about his benefits. Does he not recieve full healthcare benefits from NYFD, with or without the pending bill in the Senate? Does he not already recieve a full pension, and work-related disability benefits from the City of New York? And, has he not recieved a large lump-sum payment in connection with the lawsuit per the link above? Was the lump sum payment $500,000? More? Less?

These would be good questions to ask, I'd think. But this story, as broadcast, failed to ask any of them.

Dec. 22 2010 12:40 PM

Dear Takeaway;

I am confused about the story of Kenny Specht.

I understand that Mr. Specht is retired from a FDNY Ladder Company. He sounds young; I am only presuming, but I suspect that he is early-reitred, perhaps on some disability. And that the gold-plated pension plan and benefits accorded to New York firefighters will naturally accrue to Mr. Specht, with or without additional federal money. (If federal money needs to somehow reimburse the City of New York budget, that is something that might be worth discussing.)

But Mr. Specht, by his own words, says that he has cancer, asthma, and gastro-esophageal reflux disease. And he apparently links those diseases to work at the site of the World Trade Center after 9/11/01.

I can assure all of The Takeaway's listeners, as an attorney who specializes in healthcare litigation, that there are millions of Americans who have those diseases, without ever having set foot in New York City. People get cancer, and asthma, and GERD, regardless of environmental exposures. I am certain that there were many NYFD firefighters who had issues with GERD, cancer and asthma before 9/11/01. And they drew healthcare benefits, as appropriate, from their Department. Without billions in federal funding.

The astonishing presumption in this story, with no question whatsoever in this miserably-reported story, is that Kenny Specht is now suffering from diseases that were caused by his environmental exposure(s) after 9/11/01. Which is almost certainly unprovable, by any generally-accepted medical and scientific methods.

Indeed, that statement is not strong enough. It should be said that Kenny Specht's health problems, while no doubt real, are simply typical of the larger New York population, and entirely unrelated to 9/11/01 after-effects.

Dec. 22 2010 10:22 AM

Why wasn't this extremely important bill the first order of business of the Democrat controlled Congress and not the last order of business; two years and trillions of dollars ago? Why wait until a lame duck session when this bill could pass swiftly next year under a Republican controlled Congress? Politics maybe?
I hope 9/11 heroes who fell ill from their service and not sufficiently insured get the full benefit of this deserved assistance. The question is will the media that is crowing about this now assure that those heroes get the benefit of the 6 billion and not the politicians, union leaders and lawyers?

Dec. 22 2010 08:36 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.