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Two years later, 9/11 responders still waiting for help

The Zadroga Act was passed to much fanfare, but two years later, responders say they are in the same frustrating situation.

Ken George is still waiting.

Two years ago, George, 49, was one of the 9/11 responders ecstatic when Congress passed the Zadroga Act, which created a fund to help him with ailments lingering from work at Ground Zero -- lung problems, piles of pills on his counters.

But nearly two years to the day -- Saturday -- of the passage, the health problems remain, but no help has been added to his wallet.

“We’ve not seen one dime,” his wife Cynthia, 46, told Metro.

John Feal, who heads the FealGood Foundation to assist responders, said about 1,300 responders have died since 2001 -- 200 since 2010 alone, he said.

Those responders could have benefited from the funds, he said.

In a letter to responders, a frustrated Feal said officials are "out of excuses," adding, "Enough is enough already." He expressed hope that funds would arrive in January and urged responders to make sure their paperwork was filed.

Sen. Charles Schumer called the delay “outrageous,” demanding that Victim Compensation Fund officials move “heaven and earth” to distribute funds.

Sheila Birnbaum, who heads the fund, hopes to begin payouts in January. Many forms submitted were not filled out correctly -- a Department of Justice spokesperson told Metro today that they have not received one completed application since they began accepting them in October 2011.

George suffers from respiratory issues he attributes to inhaling toxic dust on "the pile." He also constantly fears the cancers invading many of his colleagues’ bodies, which were added to the list of covered illnesses in September.

The Georges filled out forms nearly immediately, two years back. Just last week, Cynthia spoke with their attorney, only to hear again that they were still waiting.

“I’m tired of it," she said. "I’m done. I’m done waiting.”

Their family is still in the same situation as two years ago, she said – trying to get by and balance pills, hospital co-pays and ever-steeper gas prices just to get to the doctor.

“Everyone’s still strapped, and it’s still the holiday season, and you’re still trying to make ends meet, and you’re getting nowhere,” she said.

She continued, “Someone says, ‘Don’t forget 9/11 heroes,’ but they have. They really have, because it’s more torture that you’re making people go through on a daily basis.”

Alex Sanchez, who has lung problems after cleaning at Ground Zero, helped other cleanup workers get Zadroga information at a forum Saturday at Elmhurst Hospital Center.

“They’re seeking answers, because everyone has waited for such a long time,” he said. “These men and women have yet to receive a dime.”

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