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Elmont probation officer gets help from Victim Compensation Fund

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Eva was working as a probation officer in Queens on Sept. 11, 2001, when a voice came over the police radio saying a plane had crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. 

“We thought, ‘Wow, that’s terrible,’” Eva — an Elmont resident who requested that her last name not be used because she is not authorized to speak to reporters — recalled. “‘How did [the pilot] not miss that building?’”

But when a second plane hit the South Tower, Eva and her fellow officers realized it was no accident, and continued to listen to the radio as bodies hit the ground and officers called for help.

Then, in the days that followed, Eva was asked to serve on the front lines of Ground Zero, providing security at key government buildings and escorting government officials to the site. “Probation officers were all over,” she said of the experience.

Unfortunately while she was serving her country, she said, she started to experience some difficulty breathing and her nose became red. Eva then went to a doctor, who told her that she was just experiencing an extreme allergic reaction.

In 2010, however, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, likely as a result of the carcinogens that filled the air after the Sept. 11 attacks. “Nobody had gotten breast cancer that young,” Eva, who was only in her 40s at the time, explained.

She then reached out to the attorneys at Manhattan-based Barasch and McGarry, who helped her file a claim in the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, a federal program that provides compensation to those who suffer physical harm as a result of the attacks or the debris cleanup afterward. 

Eva said she was reluctant to sign up for the program “because I didn’t really think of myself as a victim of 9/11,” but has since found it helpful.

To this day, she must continue to get checked for growths, and said the doctors “inevitably” find something that needs to be biopsied. But with the help of the VCF, she said, she never has to worry about her health care coverage.

“Just them being there is a comfort for me,” Eva said. “It’s scary because you don’t know when something else is going to come up.”

There are now 68 cancers linked to the toxic air that followed the attacks, according to Michael Barasch, a partner at the New York City law firm. As a result, he said, the estimated 325,000 people who worked in Lower Manhattan in the eight months after 9/11 are 18 to 32 percent more likely to develop breast, skin and lung cancer.

Every one of them, — including the nearly 2,500 Long Islanders who commuted to the city in the months that followed — is entitled to compensation from the VCF over the next 70 years, he said. 

“You’re not taking money away from first responders,” Barasch explained, adding that the federal government recently passed legislation to allocate more money to the fund as claims increase. It also extended the claim deadline to October 2090.

To find out more about the Victim Compensation Fund, visit www.vcf.gov.