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9/11 Survivors Wanting Benefits Must Be Checked Against Terror Watch List

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- It is being taken as an outrage and an insult.

There were harsh words Friday for a little-noticed provision in the "Zadroga bill." People who are ill because of the 9/11 terror attack won't qualify for help until they're checked against the terror watch list, reports CBS 2's Tony Aiello.

They say it's an affront to everybody who is sick and dying.

First responder John Feal, who was injured at ground zero, told Aiello it's like a slap in the face -- a letter going out to 9/11 survivors, warning them about a provision in the Zadroga bill.

"I'm gonna get a letter in the mail seeing if I'm a terrorist?" Feal said.

PHOTO GALLERY: Sept. 11, 2010 Memorial Ceremony

The letter warns that in order to qualify for Zadroga benefits for illnesses caused by ground zero exposure applicants must be checked against the terrorist watch list – all because of a little-noticed provision in the bill that says "no individual who is on the terrorist watch list maintained by the Department of Homeland Security shall qualify."

At ground zero on Friday, the reaction was heated.

"I feel that the survivors and those who are sick have been through enough," said Kimberly Trent of Princeton, N.J.

"Why would a terrorist even put in for the money other than as a sick joke?" added Daryl Bowen of Manhattan.

The congressman who put this provision into the bill is from Florida and he doesn't think it's a slap in the face; he thinks it's common sense.

Republican Clifford Stearns called the terror watch list check a simple safeguard to protect taxpayers, pointing out thousands of residents, office workers and even visitors who were in the vicinity on 9/11 are expected to submit claims for benefits.

In a statement, Rep. Stearns called this an effort to inject controversy into a simple safeguard to protect American taxpayers. His statement went on to say:

"When anyone, including first responders and members of Congress, buys an airline ticket, their name is checked against a terrorist watch list. Every individual seeking benefits under the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act will have his/her name instantly checked against a terrorist watch list.

"This protection is appropriate because under this legislation, workers, residents, students, passersby, and anyone who was in the vicinity on 9/11 can join first responders and cleanup workers in submitting a claim for benefits. In addition, cleanup workers and maintenance workers who were in the area over a period of four months after the attack are eligible. This amendment imposes no burden on our first responders or others seeking health benefits. It imposes a burden on the U.S. government to ensure that no one on a terrorist watch list receives these benefits.

"There was no opposition to this amendment. No one expressed any concern, and it was adopted unanimously. In addition, the Senate made no effort to change the language because this is a proper safeguard.

"After I offered this amendment on May 25, 2010, in the House Energy & Commerce Committee, the Chairman of the Committee, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), stated, 'I think it makes a lot of sense and I'm willing to support it.'"

Feal admitted many 9/11 survivors won't mind the terror check, but for those still traumatized there are a percentage of them that are going to suffer.

It was four months ago Friday that New Yorkers led the celebration after the Zadroga bill was passed.

"Our Christmas miracle has arrived!" Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said at the time.

But Sen. Gillibrand, Sen. Charles Schumer and other lawmakers neglected to mention the terror check. Feal now wants them to amend the bill and repeal that provision.

Aiello got a quick response from Rep. Nita Lowey's camp.

"She thinks it is ridiculous and insulting. What is the theory here – that al Qaeda terrorists posed as 9/11 responders, put their lives on the line, and exposed themselves to a toxic environment all so that they could get medical problems treated 10 years later?" Press Secretary Matthew Dennis said. "My understanding is that it was one of a couple amendments accepted in order to prevent Republicans from offering poison pill amendments that would have sunk the entire bill."

CBS 2 is still awaiting comment from both New York senators and several other members of Congress.

Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below.

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