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Mixed feelings about proposed Ground Zero settlement

Jennifer McNamara, widow of 9/11 first responder John

Jennifer McNamara, widow of 9/11 first responder John McNamara, hugs Kenneth Specht of Latter 133 in Coram. Credit: Photo by Howard Schnapp

The widow of a New York firefighter who died of cancer he believed was caused from exposure to toxins at Ground Zero said she's conflicted about the proposed $657-million settlement.

Jennifer McNamara of Blue Point wants to accept the settlement and move on with her life, but she is concerned for rescue and cleanup workers who are sick but didn't sue.

McNamara was just one of several Long Island plaintiffs who spoke Friday of their mixed feelings about the proposed deal.

Before her husband, John McNamara, 44, died last August, the 10-year veteran fought for health benefits for fellow rescue workers, and his widow wants to continue his fight.

"It's the responsibility of this government to take care of the people who told them that the air was good," McNamara, 42, said. "You sent me down there. I am now dead. Take care of me. Take care of my family."

Health care professionals who treat first responders said many were confused about the settlement, which would cover about a quarter of the estimated 40,000 to 50,000 people who worked on the pile.

Janet LaValle, a social worker at the Long Island World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Center in Islandia, said many of her patients were not covered. They had mistakenly believed it was a class-action suit that they could join later.

"There are going to be upset people," she said.

Others cautioned eligible responders to carefully weigh their decision. Dr. Benjamin Luft, who heads the federally funded program that treats about 4,000 World Trade Center workers on Long Island, said: "I would read the settlement very carefully."

Labor lawyer Victor Fusco of Woodbury said he favored a different approach to helping 9/11 workers: making use of the workers' compensation system. But like others, he expressed frustration at how long it has taken to reach a settlement plan.

"It's almost 10 years and they're still begging," he said. "What a country."

John Feal, founder of the Nesconset-based FealGood Foundation, which advocates for health benefits for 9/11 rescue and cleanup workers, said he opposes the settlement.

"I think they're going to settle pennies on the dollars," said Feal, himself injured at Ground Zero. "Their heroic actions have cost them their health, their livelihood, and in some cases their lives."

Feal is urging Congress to pass the 9/11 health bill currently in committee. It would provide testing and medical treatment to thousands sickened with 9/11-related illnesses. It also calls for federal government compensation for rescue and cleanup workers.

Plaintiff Peter Ioveno, 63, of Cutchogue, a retired FDNY lieutenant who injured his shoulder, said he would reject the settlement. "Personally I would vote no, until they come up with some kind of definitive thing about future illnesses," he said.

With Joie Tyrrell

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