LI's Ground Zero responders react to settlement

Jack Delaney was a Ground Zero responder and

Jack Delaney was a Ground Zero responder and has experienced health issues due to his time working in the area after 9/11. (Nov. 19, 2010) (Credit: Newsday / Sally Morrow)

Ground Zero responders from Long Island had varying reactions Friday to word that a $650-million health care settlement will take effect, with expressions ranging from gratitude to resignation to a sense of anger that the money isn't nearly enough to compensate them for what they went through.

"I think it's good," said Bethpage resident Jack Delaney, 53, a former director of emergency services at the NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital system in Manhattan. Delaney was at Ground Zero when the first tower fell on Sept. 11, 2001. But "it certainly doesn't compensate people for their loss," he said.

Of his team of 23 at the World Trade Center that terrible day, two were killed and 13 others were significantly injured, he said. He went on to spend 12 weeks at Ground Zero, and now is hobbled by a variety of health issues, including respiratory problems and nerve damage.

Today, the single father of three children is surviving on disability payments that he says amount to about one-third of what he used to earn. He said he expects to get about $50,000 from the settlement - enough to pay two years' worth of tuition for one of his two children in college.

"I'm grateful for whatever we receive. I'm not going to knock it," he said. "But I have mixed feelings."

Bill Gardner, 48, a former Nassau County correction officer who said he was at Ground Zero for two weeks, also said he was glad the compensation issue has been settled, but has mixed feelings, too.

"I'm glad there is kind of like an end. You could go on and on," he said. "At least there is closure to a point. I think it's the best we can do."

Still, he said that for him the settlement was tinged with some bitter feelings.

"I didn't ask for nothing. We did it from the heart" by heading to Ground Zero to help, he said. "Then the government makes a big deal about paying people."

For Rafael Orozco, 53, a retired NYPD detective who lives in Central Islip, bitterness and disappointment were the main things he felt about the settlement.

"It's a long time from the time it happened. You just get worn down and you say, 'OK, it's over' and accept the settlement," he said. "To say that it is a fair settlement would be a farce. But it is what it is."

He said his skepticism about the settlement runs so deep that he believes the government dragged out negotiations in the hope more responders would die off as time passed and the payout would be smaller.

Still, he added, "At this point, I'm thankful they at least recognized we need some help."

Another New York City police officer who lives in Suffolk County - and did not want to be named because he is still on the force - said he wondered what will happen to other responders who have shown no sign of illness up to now but eventually become sick.

"How are they going to be covered?" he said.

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