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9/11 responders' cancer care to be covered by federal government

September 10, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
As the nation marks 11 years since the Sept. 11 attacks, the first responders who ran into the burning, smoke-filled buildings that day are finally getting some relief from the government.

Ernie Vallebuona was then a New York City police detective, who spent six months at the site. In 2004, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. His cancer is now in remission, but Vallebuona had to use his retirement savings to pay bills that his insurance wouldn't cover. Vallebuona is one of many who argued that toxins from the rubble gave him cancer.

The federal government pushed back on paying the medical bills, saying there's no proof of any connection between the air at Ground Zero and cancer.

"They knew the air wasn't safe, notwithstanding what the EPA was saying, but it didn't matter," said Michael Barasch, an attorney for 9/11 first responders.

But now, based on new evidence, the federal government announced that about 50 cancers will be covered by a nearly $3 billion settlement fund set up for victim compensation and signed into law by President Barack Obama last year.

"The first responders who were there for us, we're now going to be there for them," said Barasch.

For those just now getting sick, Vallebuona hopes the fund will send this message: "Just fight your cancer. Don't worry about money, don't worry about copayments or medications. We got your back."


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