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9/11 first responders get first Zadroga Act funds

Attendees listen during an information forum for the

Attendees listen during an information forum for the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund at Baruch College in Manhattan. (Jan. 30, 2013) Credit: Jason Decrow

For ailing 9/11 rescue workers the evening was bittersweet as some received their first compensation checks and the group suffered its biggest death toll -- nine first responders died from cancer and respiratory diseases this month.

Wednesday, several hundred NYPD, FDNY, volunteers and lower Manhattan workers and residents attended a public forum to apply for the $2.8 billion victims compensation fund at Baruch College in Manhattan.

AnneMarie Bowmann, senior vice president of the FealGood Foundation, which lobbied Washington to approve the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, said this month's deaths "are our biggest hit. Right now there are at least 1,100 people who we know of that have died. We can't give up until everyone is helped."

Fifteen compensation awards -- ranging from $10,000 to $1.5 million -- have been mailed to 14 firefighters and a correction officer. More than 16,000 people have applied.

Retired NYPD Officer Michael Divirgilio, 54, of Malverne, said he suffers from constant sinus infections that have required surgery. He lives under a regimen of antibiotics, rinses and eye pain.

"I'm here to get more information and try to get my medical and financial issues taken care of," said Divirgilio, who became ill soon after working for a year on the pile, first doing search and rescue, and later recovering remains.

Divirgilio started the application process a year ago and does not know if he is eligible. "I am constantly giving double paper work," he said.

"The process has been geared to make sure there is no fraud," said Glenn Klein, a retired NYPD Emergency Service Unit officer and detective. He said 9/11 volunteers are having a difficult time proving they worked on the pile because there were no logbooks.

Cleanup workers who wore paper masks while mopping up dust and debris at Ground Zero also are having trouble finding proof. Their employers' businesses are shuttered. "These workers were cleaning ventilation systems and vents," said Klein, 54, of Centereach.

Klein, vice president of the FealGood Foundation, who has been diagnosed with precancerous polyps, scarring on his lungs and asthma, is just starting the process.

"I wanted to make sure that the other first responders who really were in need received their compensation," Klein said.

John Feal, founder of the FealGood Foundation, said the application process is "tedious," making for the slow distribution of checks. People have until Oct. 3, 2016, to apply.

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