9/11 heroes face death as dysfunctional Congress lets Zadroga Act expire
Nick Poliseno is 37, but has the health problems of someone more than twice his age.
Three years after being diagnosed with the same respiratory disease that killed 9/11 hero James Zadroga, the former Ground Zero worker worries about who will care for his wife and two kids when he succumbs to the illness that’s killing him.
But now he and his family have another worry — the Zadroga Act expiring.
That’s because a key part of the life-saving bill expired at 12:01 a.m. Thursday when a dysfunctional and gridlocked Congress failed to act to renew it.
“Stress is not even the word. It’s beyond stress,” said Poliseno, who is married with two daughters — Olivia, 9, and Victoria, 11. “My life depends on this.”
He talked to the Daily News Wednesday while on his way for his twice monthly, two-day treatments at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J.
The hospital is affiliated with one of the seven regional treatment centers for 9/11 responders.
Because of Congress’ failure, Robert Wood Johnson and other clinics across the country will no longer be funded through Congress and would have to close when the money runs out.
“I don’t understand why they are waiting until the last minute,” said Poliseno, who is mayor of tiny Spotswood, N.J.
“This should be something they act on now, and let us who are sick and dying, and our families have room to breathe.”
It’s the first piece of the larger Zadroga Act — which was named after the late NYPD officer who like Poliseno has sarcoidosis, an inflammatory growth of cells in the lungs and lymph nodes — to expire.
The rest of the provisions will cease Sept. 30, 2016, including the victim’s compensation fund, which pays people who were too injured to work after suffering 9/11 injuries.
The clinics won’t shut down immediately. Under the law in place, they will keep operating for a year with existing funds.
But nearly everyone admits they will still have problems because of Congress’ inaction.
“There will be consequences,” said Benjamin Chevat, executive director of the advocacy group Citizens for Extension of the James Zadroga Act.
Namely, the program will have difficulty retaining and attracting staff because they can only offer short contracts. And many of the clinics won’t be able to renew contracts with hospitals because of an uncertain future, he said.But most importantly, the people who need the clinics — many of whom have PTSD or long-term illnesses like cancer — “will have the burden of additional stress as to what will become of their medical care,” Chevat said.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan) believes the Zadroga Act would pass Congress now, but it’s being held up in the same logjam that has a government shutdown looming later this year.
“This is just another example of the foot dragging and gridlock that have made Congress so unpopular,” said Maloney, a strong supporter of the bill.
She vowed to keep fighting. Ground Zero workers like Poliseno are counting on her.
Poliseno said he takes comfort in his kids.
“They say, ‘Hey, dad, can we do this?’ And daddy does it because daddy doesn’t know how much time he has left,” he said. “I do as much as I possibly can.”