Tuesday, September 11, 2012

On the Eleventh Anniversary of 9/11, Those Who Volunteered Are Still Literally Left in the Dust

Seriously. What's wrong with us? As human beings, we're supposed to be the "highest evolved" species on the planet. As Americans, the thing we seem most highly evolved at, is in thinking of ways to f#ck each other over. Especially, when it involves money.

Whether it's on a Federal level, such as FEMA imposing additional suffering on legitimate victims of Hurricane Katrina, or the city of Los Angeles attempting to extort a measly $1000 ambulance bill from the family of a woman who was electrocuted trying to rescue a fellow motorist in a storm that downed power lines, or the owners of a local towing company in Florida who sent a $300 bill to a woman who was set on fire by her ex, for the removal of both their vehicles, there doesn't seem to be a limit to the lengths some of us will go to if it means avoiding a potential financial loss, no matter how small the amount, or how great the cost to our souls.

That includes denying the now hundreds of chronically ill volunteers who went down to Ground Zero the day after the attacks, not only compensation for their illness, but refusing to simply acknowledge some of them were even there. Because acknowledging it means someone has to pay. And, as if the illnesses and loss of quality of life - and, in some cases, life itself - weren't bad enough, the insurance companies and funds set up to "help" the victims of 9/11, seem, in most situations, to be doing exactly the opposite.

The very next morning, after the events that changed the world forever, and left the lower portion of the greatest city in the world in a twisted, crippled pile of metal and concrete we're still clearing to this day, my friend, Jaime Hazan, a former EMT for six years in New City, N.Y., was down at Ground Zero doing what came naturally to him. Helping to clear the wreckage, and, possibly, maybe even rescue any potential survivors.

He had no idea there would be none. He had no idea the dust and debris he was breathing, even through a mask, and only for a day, would, five years later, lead him to doctor after doctor trying to figure out why, this once healthy, vibrant guy who ran his own tech company, suddenly found it so difficult to breathe he could barely get out of bed. He also had no idea that the words used to describe him in the days and months following the attacks - words like "Hero," and "New York's Bravest," would eventually be replaced with terms like "fraud," and "phony" by lawyers whose job it was to make sure the insurance companies didn't have to pay a dime.

See, while many of the police, fire, and ambulance workers had finally begun to receive a portion of their long-overdue compensation for illnesses they incurred while on the job, guys like Jaime, who were not officially affiliated with any city rescue organization, were asked to prove that they were there. These volunteers ended up in 'No-Man's-Land,' and, even though Article 8A of the New York State Workman's Comp. Act is supposed to make it easier for volunteers to collect the same benefits, try proving you were somewhere five, or even ten years, after the fact. Now, try proving it to an insurance company.

We all recognize and acknowledge that the big insurance companies have to protect themselves from fraud; from those soulless impostors who are single-handedly responsible for our insurance and credit card rates skyrocketing higher each and every year, and who, even (or especially) in the case of disasters which result in the loss of thousands of lives, will try and weasel a few bucks out of the cookie jar for themselves, even if it means the real victims suffer for it. We all readily acknowledge that -mostly because we're the ones footing the bill for it. But, at some point, they, too, must acknowledge that not everyone is a fraud. Not everyone wants to risk jail time and bilk innocent victims out of their due compensation, just to satisfy some sadistic sociopathic need in themselves. And, when the testimony and physical evidence is overwhelming to the point of medical records, affidavits, a leading doctor's official diagnosis, post traumatic stress disorder, a myriad of respiratory issues, esophageal surgery, and massive weight loss, you'd think that would be good enough for them. Well, think again.

Aside from the fact that he was in perfect health before taking part in what was the equivalent of walking around in the aftermath of an atomic bomb, and aside from the fact that, just a few years later, his lungs were now virtually useless, and aside from the fact that the heartburn he was suffering from on a daily basis was so severe, even triple doses of Zantac were an exercise in futility, according to the insurance company, he still needed to come up with "proof."

After leaving Ground Zero, and never thinking in his wildest dreams that, years later, he'd ever be in a situation like this - one where his integrity would continue to be questioned beyond all reasonable limits, he tossed his boots into the garbage. The boots which contained the dust that could've proved he was there. But, as they say, the Lord works in mysterious ways, and the guy Jaime happened to be standing next to that day, - a day of pure chaos and utter disorganization - was capt. John McDonough, an EMT from Rockland County, N.Y., and a former co-worker of Jaime's from back in his EMT days.

They hadn't seen each other in years, and yet, here they were, two former friends meeting again on top of a forty-ft. high, smoldering pile of steel. Both, trying to make sense of it all. Both, heeding their inherent calls to "do something, anything." To help.

It was Capt. McDonough, who Jaime called upon when his word was questioned by the Fund's attorneys, to provide an affidavit to the court stating he was, in fact, there at Ground Zero - "In the Zone" as they call it, - and, thus, should be entitled to the same benefits as any other officially sanctioned rescue worker.

Still, according to Jaime, the other side wouldn't budge. They threw everything they could at him. From trying to argue his benefits should be denied because his EMT card had "expired," to the fact that he didn't actually "rescue" anyone, consequently, he was just there "hanging out."

As the insanity of his legal battle played out before his eyes, and, as this former millionaire web developer who, due to his inability to work for years, now faced financial ruin, another miracle occurred.

Turns out, capt. McDonough's boss was there that day, as well, photographing the site. As a last ditch effort, Jaime asked his friend's boss to scour the hundreds of photos for any possible trace of him on the pile. And he found one. Considering the fog, dust, and debris permeating the air, a needle in a haystack would be an understatement in this particular instance. But, again, the lawyers shot back.

Because the picture he submitted was a profile shot, and he wasn't fully facing the camera, ... and he was wearing a mask (a mask given to him by Capt. McDonough, which probably saved his life), there was still no way to prove it was him.

Believe it or not, in a final attempt to discern whether or not it was, in fact, Jaime in the photo, the judge personally examined the curve of his receding hair line and determined that Jaime was, indeed, "In the Zone."

After finding in his favor, the judge went as far as to admonish the insurance company and its attorneys for showing an unprecedented display of apathy toward a person who had made such a sacrifice for his fellow citizens, and, who was simply asking to be taken care of, on the smallest level, now that he could no longer take care of himself (incidentally, the judgment awarded was for 25k).

In spite of it all, the attorneys recently filed an appeal, and it will be at least another year before Mr. Hazan sees any type of compensation. It's also possible, he may have to go back to court if the appeals process finds for the defense. If that happens, he won't be able to rely on Capt. McDonough, as he unfortunately passed away after a series of mysterious illnesses.

As bizarre as Jaime's story is, it's not unusual for many of the volunteers who've been ignored, and worse, harassed, by the same system supposedly there to help them.

One thing that needs to be mentioned is that, throughout his six-year-long ordeal, Jaime, who, before taking ill, was the CEO of a very successful tech start-up, has tried to remain silent about what was/is happening to him. Not only because his attorneys constantly tell him, if he talks he could jeopardize any possible future payout from the Victim's Compensation Fund, but because he's a guy who was always used to doing things for himself and never asked for a handout, no matter the circumstances. He never viewed himself as a victim. Nor does he now. He simply decided that, in the event he should not be around by the time his case is ultimately decided, he wants to do the right thing for the others who may be experiencing the same level of ambivalence and bureaucracy he's had to endure. Considering the 9/11 Fund was set up in 2010 and still hasn't paid a cent, there's probably a lot of them. Still, in spite of all this, knowing Jaime, he'd probably do it all over again.

And, as we remember the events of that day over a decade ago, which, even twenty years from now, will still probably seem like yesterday, one can only imagine all those people caught, without masks, in the dust cloud that morning. I hope they saved their hankies as proof.

(It's worth noting the Centers of Excellence at Mt. Sinai Hospital in N.Y.C. provides free care to Jaime and other victims of 9/11 through the Zadroga Bill.)

2012-09-11-images-jaimegroundzero.jpg Jaime Hazan (blue t-shirt) stands next to the late Capt. John McDonough (in white)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Feds Ready to Acknowledge Ground Zero/Cancer Link and Human Beings Can't Fly.

After more than a decade of exhaustive tests and research by more than 100 top bio-tech scientists, the federal government appears ready to admit that two of their long-standing positions have been erroneous:

1. There is no link between those who worked to rescue victims at Ground Zero, on and after Sept. 11, 2001, and cancer.

2. Human beings can fly.

"The two tests were run independent of each other and the results just happen to come on the same day," states Dr. James Bader, leader of the 9/11 project and chair of H.C.D.R (the House Committee to Deny Responsibility).

"We tried everything we could to prove that the toxic dust those brave souls were breathing into their lungs on a daily basis, sometimes for months, was no more harmful than a high pollen count on a hot summer day. Unfortunately for us, all 265,000 mice we tested died just days after being exposed to microscopically smaller levels of contaminants. I, myself, tried to prove there was no link by voluntarily inhaling an airborne cocktail of asbestos, ground up metal fibers, computer parts, and fax machines, but... editor's note: Dr. Bader was unable to finish the interview, as he began coughing uncontrollably and was rushed to the hospital.

In an unrelated study, N.A.S.A. has reluctantly agreed to release its top-secret, 365-page report detailing their findings on Human Flight. Rumor has it, hackers working with the infamous document-leaking site, WikiLeaks, were threatening to go public with the report. Apparently, all ten thousand test subjects who applied for the study perished. The one possible breakthrough stated in the report appears to confirm what scientists have long suspected: gravity has the same effect on both males and females. As a result, the report recommends we stick with planes for the time being.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Divided We're Falling; And, I'm part of the problem

If there was anything good to come out of the tragedy of 9/11, it was the instantaneous connection that was born out of all us being victims, of all of us being targeted for our way of life, that seemed to bring each and every one of us together. Republicans. Democrats. Didn't matter. We were all the same. We were all Americans.

In the days, weeks, and even months following the attacks, there was a unity among us the likes of which - unless you were alive at the end of the second world war -most of us had never experienced, and, sadly, given the path we're currently on, may never see again.

I can vividly remember, in late 2001, walking out my building on 110th st. and Broadway and feeling completely bewildered, as total strangers said, "Hi," to each other as they passed on the street like it was Mayberry. People who knew each other for all of five seconds held conversations in bars as if they'd been going there together for years. Here we all were - so different and so far apart, yet, so close for such a brief moment in time - it felt like we could've all burst out in spontaneous song.

So much for nostalgia. The Kool-Aid we apparently drank has long run dry and has been replaced by the considerably less-palatable, castor oil. These days, you can't make it home from the market without hearing at least one passing stranger yell, "Douchebag!"

I don't know about you, but, between the trash-talking reality shows, the trash-talking media, and the three-ring circus that has become our political system, it certainly feels like we're collectively ready to embrace our inevitable fate; that of complete, moral dissolution. We seem to have adopted the mindset of a hundred million plus Slim Pickens'; all strapped to our A-bombs and giddily waving, as we helplessly watch what's left of our decency and respect for each other plunge toward earth, and their certain demise.

What happened to us? How did we fall so far so fast? Was it that we were always this way, and it took a tragedy like 9/11 to shock us into coming together for a few weeks? Or, is this simply the worst it's ever been?

Whatever the answer, all you need do is turn on the television or open a browser to witness the space between us growing wider each day. A space so wide, it makes the Grand Canyon look like a crack in the sidewalk.

Multiple wars on multiple fronts. The economy taking a swan dive. Unemployment hitting record highs. Wall Street executives getting away with billions unpunished. Gas prices skyrocketing, along with oil company profits. Leaders who can't be trusted. Unprecedented infighting amongst our politicians. The media, eager to let us know every time someone, somewhere, fucks up - and, they still can barely keep up.

It's not hard to point to a million reasons why most of us feel this country's on the wrong track. We're practically human pinatas, Pavlovianly conditioned for the next "poke" coming from the next flailing stick, before it even comes. Thus, after seeing story after story of who's screwing you over today, it's only natural to react defensively and adopt an "every man for himself" attitude.

However, as any half-wit knows, no matter how isolated you choose to remain, you can only go so far on your own. It's only when everyone pulls together as a team that we really have a fighting chance to emerge out of a mess like this.

Unfortunately, that's where we run into the real problem. Because, even though it's common knowledge that, if the group is to succeed, its success must be born through the efforts of individuals, yet, no matter how much, I, personally, would like to be one of those individuals, I simply cannot bring myself to do it. I cannot reach across the aisle and offer a proverbial olive branch to the other side, even if it means if we don't we're doomed. Because, simply stated, the other side is bat-shit crazy. And, the sad part is, I'm probably not alone.

As much as most of us would love to see this country back on top and prospering again, and no matter how much we would like to play some small role in the revitalization of it, the majority of us simply cannot bring ourselves to make the effort. And, the reason for that is simple. Our Achilles heel is the modern-day republican party.

It's absolutely mind-boggling that, at a time when we need some seriously rational thinkers, on both sides, the republicans have offered up exactly the opposite: Herman Cains, Sarah Palins, Michelle Bachmanns, Mitt Romneys, Paul Ryans, John Boehners, Todd Akins, Jan Brewers, Rick Scotts, Rick Perrys, Rick Santorums, etc. etc. It's like the credits at the end of some ridiculously bad B-movie; Attack of the Mindless Zealots from Planet Rick.

How can you have a meaningful discussion about anything when the main objective of your adversary is seeing you go down in flames - no matter what the cost? No one wins with that kind of attitude, but, as has been demonstrated time and time again, the republicans just don't give a sh#t. They're even crazy enough to engage in Kamikaze politics on their own battleships. But, why?

Perhaps, it's because they're scared. In the past decade, we've managed to lose most of our status as being the "best" at this or that, in almost every area, and now they're as frightened and paranoid as the manager of a ball club who's gone from first to worst. Yet, like a veteran team who used to bring home the trophies and is now hampered by injuries, high salaries, and lack of production, even though everything around them screams, "A change is needed!" they refuse. Because change is scary, and it takes guts and faith. And, despite all their talking about it, these are the two main things they lack most.

Remember the scene in the movie Contact where the great minds at N.A.S.A. decided they know more about safety in space than the aliens, so they build Jodie Foster a metal seat - complete with seatbelt - in the pod? Within seconds of the launch, the seat shakes so violently, if she didn't released herself, she would've been smashed to bits against the capsule wall. But, once she lets go and trusts the plan, and follows the logical course, she's exposed to wonders she'd never even dreamed of.

The point is, the scientists didn't trust what they didn't understand. Their fear of the unknown almost caused a catastrophe right out of the gate. The republicans are the same way. They don't trust concepts like alternative energy because they don't understand it, and they don't want to. They'd rather keep drilling for oil and gas until the entire planet resembles a practice target at a rifle range, because it's what they know. Forget about the fact that switching to hydro-electric, or solar, power would create more jobs and possibly even lead to unimaginable reserves of energy in the decades to come. They don't want to hear it. Because it takes guts to tell the big auto makers and the Arabs, "we're not going to be dependent on a finite resource like oil anymore."

Old school thinking won't bring our country back to where it was. Nor, will keeping your head in the sand - and talking about "progress" when everyone and their mother knows you're only plan is to maintain the status quo and not rock the boat. Only forward thinking can accomplish that; Health care for everyone, natural resources for energy, the rich paying more taxes than the poor, cutting the defense budget and putting it toward education, labeling harmful foods -especially for children, gun control, etc. etc. All these subjects are simple common sense. Yet, what are the republicans focused on? Defeating gay marriage, moving women's rights back to the dark ages, and making sure Mexicans go back to Mexico. Bravo, gang. You should be proud.

Until a messiah comes along strong enough to withstand the bullshit being hurled at light speed, the soundtrack to our generation won't be a rock band. It'll be the redundantly bitter, spiteful rhetoric, spewing forth, unchecked, from both sides of the aisle - like a pundit version of the Deepwater Horizon. Hopefully, it won't take another disaster to cap it. 'Til then, all we can do is hold on tight and brace for impact.