9/11 responders left waiting by feds


Wednesday, January 16, 2008 6:36 PM EST+

If anyone deserves to be called “Hometown Heroes,” it’s Marvin Bethea and James Dobson - two Queens paramedics who responded on 9/11 and were stricken with disabling illnesses afterward - according to several New York Congressmembers.

However, neither paramedic has even received a response from the Federal Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) about their applications to the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) program. They sent the paperwork in more than a year ago along with applications of three other 9/11 responders - Michael Roberts and Bonnie Giebfried, both of who are living, and David Sullins, who is believed to have died at the site.

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, five Congressmembers wrote, “Now, over a year after submitting their PSOB program applications, these five are still waiting for an answer. The heroes of 9/11 deserve better.”

The letter is much like one sent by four Congressmembers - Carolyn Maloney, Anthony Weiner, Vito Fossella and Peter King to then-U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez dated December 2006. A spokesperson for Maloney said that none of the legislators, recently joined by Jerrold Nadler, have received any response to their requests.

Nor have 48-year-old Kew Gardens resident Bethea and 55-year-old Middle Village resident Dobson, both of whom applied in December 2006, Bethea said. Bethea, who was diagnosed with World Trade Center (WTC) cough, sinusitis, asthma, depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), had to stop working in 2004, about the same time as his paramedic-partner Dobson had to quit his job because of similar afflictions.

“Here it is over a year now, and they still haven’t given us a decision one way or the other,” Bethea said, who said he has sought legal help but was told, “There is nothing they can do until we get a formal decision.”

Since filing their application, however, Bethea said he has heard about three other 9/11 responders who have been awarded benefits through the BJA program.

“At least tell us something. They could say, ‘We don’t feel you are qualified to receive something,’” Bethea said, adding, “You try to be diplomatic about it but how much longer are we supposed to wait?”

So Bethea is forced to wait as he makes repeated phone calls to inquire about his application. Several calls to the BJA from The Queens Courier were not also returned by press time.

In the meantime, Bethea hopes to enlist more elected officials when he travels to Washington, D.C. to attend the State of the Union address given by President George Bush on Monday, January 28. He is also considering calling a press conference to alert more media of his situation and that of the four other New York responders.

“Hopefully we will be able to get more politicians on board,” he said.

Bethea is also strongly encouraging elected officials to support a federal bill, named for 34-year-old New York Police Department (NYPD) Detective James Zadroga, whose death was the first officially linked to time spent at Ground Zero.

On the second anniversary of Zadroga’s death - January 5 - Maloney, Nadler and Fossella pledged to double their efforts to pass the bill, which would ensure that everyone exposed to the Ground Zero toxins have the chance to be medically monitored. Additionally, those who are sick as a result would have access to treatment, there would be an expansion of the “Centers of Excellence” medical care, and care would be increased to anyone including local residents, teachers and children who were exposed and compensation provided for economic damages by reopening the 9/11 Compensation Fund.

“On this sad occasion, we honor Detective Zadroga’s sacrifice and we applaud his family’s tireless efforts to ensure that our country will finally do right by the heroes of 9/11,” Maloney said in a statement released on Friday, January 4.

Still, Bethea counts a law signed into effect by Governor Eliot Spitzer in October 2007 as a big victory for 9/11 responders.

The law amended the Workers’ Compensation Law to raise benefits for paramedics and EMTs from private hospitals who died or were left permanently or temporarily disabled after responding to the attacks on the World Trade Center. Until last year, responders like Bethea whose jobs were contracted through private institutions, received much less than their city-employed counterparts, even though both were required to respond to the World Trade Center attacks.

“New York State has recognized us as being part of the system,” Bethea said, later adding, “Now we are getting abandoned by the Justice Department.”

Despite the setbacks, Bethea said that he continues to advocate for responders so that their actions are not forgotten.

“People tell me, ‘Marvin, you are always in the news,’ but everyone else is either sick or not with us anymore,” he said.