PALM CITY, Fla. — Nearly 20 years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the aftermath is still felt by thousands of people who have been diagnosed with cancers and other respiratory illnesses related to responding to the attacks, or just living and working nearby.
Thursday night marks a critical deadline for two groups of 9/11 cancer victims and their families to access financial help.
The Victims Compensation Act will no longer accept new claims for anyone who died as a result of 9/11 related cancers or illnesses more than two years ago.
It also will not accept claims from cancer patients who had their diagnosis certified through the World Trade Center Health Program more than two years ago.
However, the Victim Compensation Fund will still provide funding to patients and loved ones' families who register within two years for decades to come.
Attorney Michael Barasch said in the weeks after 9/11, the U.S government passed the Air Stabilization Act which created the Victim Compensation Fund to save airlines from being sued.
That ended, according to Barasch, in 2003, but people kept getting sick, prompting the fund to reopen around 2010 when President Barack Obama signed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010 into law, extending the program five more years.
Barasch said in 2013, 68 new cancers were added to the list.
"That gave us the ammunition we needed to fight to get it extended again which we did until 2020," Barasch said.
President Donald Trump then extended the VCF program to last 70 years, expiring in 2090.
Barasch said the fund pays out varying amounts depending on a diagnosis but said patients with life-threatening cancers can receive $250,000 tax-free.
Payouts also include up to $90,000 to anyone with basil cell or squamous cell skin cancers and $250,000 if you lost a loved one due to cancer or respiratory illness, in addition to medical, funeral, and loss of income compensation.
Palm City resident Nick Voglio was a New York City police officer on 9/11.
"They were telling us the air was clean. There were no toxins, they never gave out respirators," Voglio said. "My unit was assigned to the pier which was mainly body recovery, putting toe tags on bodies or body parts."
He spent the year working right in the heart of the debris.
"You're talking over 2,000 hours in the vicinity and over 200 hours at the actual site breathing in all the debris," Voglio said.
Years later, the health impacts set in.
"Eighteen years later, you could have knocked me over with a feather when I was diagnosed with cancer," Voglio said.
His thyroid cancer was attributed through the World Trade Center Health Program as a 9/11 related cancer.
"They caught it super early, thank God," Voglio said.
It is one of nearly 70 cancers certified by the program as a 9/11 linked cancer.
Once a 9/11 cancer patient's illness is certified under the program, they have two years to register with the Victim Compensation Fund. That fund helped pay for Voglio's treatments, surgery, and ongoing medical care.
"It gives you peace of mind that you can go back every year for medical exams. You can go back and no insurance is required," Voglio.
But exposure to the cancer-causing toxins wasn’t limited to first responders, but even people who lived, worked or went to school in the exposure zone.
Barasch said many of those people still do not know they are eligible for financial relief.
"They're all eligible because they were all breathing the same toxic dust," Barasch said.
That’s why he is pushing to spread the word about the fund and Thursday's deadline.
"If your husband died in 2007 of prostate cancer, he was an office worker or a student or a teacher, why in the world would you think I'm entitled to money? So the special master said I'm going to give everybody who missed that deadline of two years to still register their claim."
That extension ends Thursday night.
"There's this strict deadline midnight (Thursday), and I literally represent thousands of former New Yorkers who have now retired to your (Florida). … It's not too late if you got cancer or your spouse died more than two years ago, but it will be at midnight (Thursday)," Barasch said.
People who qualify for the financial relief can sign up here.