LOWER MANHATTAN — As the deadline to register for 9/11-related health benefits nears, there are still many impacted New Yorkers who haven’t signed up — or don’t even know they’re eligible altogether.
Virtually anyone who worked, lived or went to school in Lower Manhattan during that time — between Sept. 11, 2001 and May 20, 2002 — or volunteered to help in the area, is eligible for benefits.
Officials told PIX11 80% of eligible first responders have registered, but less than 10% of the office workers, students and teachers have signed up.
Add another group of brave New Yorkers who helped keep Lower Manhattan afloat during those dark days: doormen and building workers.
These people include handymen and superintendents, security guards, and other employees who kept Lower Manhattan high-rises in check.
In total, only 8% of survivors have registered for the program.
Joel Rodriguez-Marrero was a young father working in the maintenance department in a building directly across the street from where the Twin Towers stood.
“Myself and my co-worker actually saw the plane flying in low and it went right over us and hit the building,” said Rodriguez-Marrero.
Even with the trauma of what he witnessed he returned to the high-rise apartment building within days.
“Residents in the building needed help,” said Rodriguez-Marrero. “It was pretty frightening, and to this day I think about it. The stuff I inhaled and breathed it worries me a lot.”
Lee London is an attorney with Barasch and McGarry, a law firm that represents survivors and victims.
“The July 29th 2021 deadline impacts the 9/11 community at large,” said London.
“It is a major registration deadline for anyone who has been certified with a 9/11 condition more than two years ago and anyone who has lost a loved one due to a 9/11 condition longer than two years ago.”
“So if you lost a loved one before July 29 2019 you only have two years to register it with the victim compensation fund to apply,” adds London. “After that July 29, 2021 deadline you will be time barred for registering for a claim.”
The deadline to apply for the Victim Compensation Fund is on July 29, according to Rep. Carolyn Maloney.
“This program is there to help,” Maloney told PIX11 News.
Maloney urged anyone exposed to sign up. Even those who were exposed, but not sick, should sign up as illnesses may develop later on.
With the July 29 deadline fast approaching, time is running out. Doormen and building workers have been organizing through their union to get the word to their members about the need to register in time.
“If you’re perfectly healthy, right now we are urging everybody to register just to preserve their future legal right,” said London. “God forbid anything happens in the future.”
Day in and day out, Rodriguez-Marrero was surrounded by the toxic substances at Ground Zero, all because he wanted to do his job, to help the residents of the building he worked in. He now lives with persistent respiratory issues.
He has registered for the VCF and is encouraging others to do so before the deadline.
“The amount of debris and material that was in that building and stuff you probably inhaled can catch up to you later in years,” said Rodriguez-Marrero.
Visit the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund website for more information and to sign up.