I just got off the telephone with a good friend of mine, and even though we are a week past the 5 year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I wanted to post my thoughts about what the victims of this terrible tragedy have gone through, what they are still facing, and how trial lawyers are helping.
My good friend Rosendo (Rosie) Velez nearly lost his leg and lungs while saving others at Ground Zero on 9/11. Today, the disabled former New York City emergency response team captain travels between Texas and Colorado helping Iraqi war vets, firefighters and cops deal with the stress that comes from fighting enemies, brush fires or bad guys.
Velez, a burly 40-something New York City native, saw more than 40 close friends die as a result of the terror attacks. He’s been inside Hell and now lives to help others face their own horrors.
“I understand what they (returning American soldiers) have gone through during the War in Iraq,�? Velez added. “You get guys who come back from Iraq; they don’t understand why they were there or why friends died.�?
Velez was among the first casualties of the War on Terror. He worked a triage unit near Ground Zero in the hours following the 9/11 terror attack. A freak accident while working near Ground Zero caused catastrophic injuries to his left leg. Still, he remained on the job for weeks. Finally, Secret Service agents told him he needed rest.
The leg injury, which seemed relatively minor at first, mutated into a near-fatal disease known as lymphedema. Within months, Velez’s leg expanded like a balloon. In the meantime, he developed breathing problems from his rescue work amid the toxic air of Ground Zero.
Through the national Trial Lawyers Care program, established through ATLA, our firm donated our services to help Rosie secure money from the 9/11 Victim’s Compensation Fund, the Federal program created to assist 911 victims. As a law clerk for Bachus & Schanker at the time, I spent countless hours getting to know Rosie and learning about a true national hero. Even from as far away as Denver, Colorado, we were able to help him get the medical assistance he needed to learn about his condition and help him get and coordinate the various benefits he was entitled to due to his disability status. As with any case, especially one where you are trying to get government-funded benefits, this case had its ups and downs. We had to fight for eligibility status for Rosie, and we had to hire experts to quantify the economic loss of his disabilities to him and his family. Then there were just the hours that I talked to him about what happened – to him, his friends, his family, their families.
The day before I graduated from law school, Rosie and Kyle Bachus were in New York for the hearing to determine the amount of benefits Rosie would be able to receive from the Victim’s Compensation Fund. I remember I was driving with my parents to pick up my cap and gown for the graduation ceremony and Rosie called. Being the wisea** New Yorker that he is, Rosie told me that the hearing was a bust. That it went horrible. I pulled over to the side of the road (you should never talk on the phone and drive at the same time, right?), and was devastated. Then Rosie started laughing hysterically. Instead, he said that the hearing went really well and he thought he would be taken care of. I was so excited and I told my family about it. Then Rosie said how proud he was of the work we had done on his case, and he said, “[T]his is why you do what you do. Remember that at your graduation tomorrow.”
I did. And I remember it every time a client walks in the door. The work the trial lawyers do on a daily basis helps individuals who have nowhere else to go for help. Trial lawyers fix the things that can be fixed for consumers, indivdiuals and their families. There are so many people, whether they are the victims of terrorist attacks, hurricanes, or car accidents, who need someone to listen to them and fight for them, and hold the wrong-doers accountable. There are so many people who don’t know what to do next, that need an advocate to show them the way and help get them back on their feet again. That’s what being a trial lawyer is about. That’s what we do. That’s why we care.
About a month after the hearing, Rosie found out that the Victim’s Compensation Fund was going to be able to help him. There was enough money to pay off Velez’s staggering medical bills, provide for his family, and help him continue with the extensive medical treatment that he will need for the rest of his life.
Rosie echoes a sentiment I’ve heard from several clients. Rosie said, “I had so many doors closed in my face. No one was willing to go the extra mile to help. But these attorneys got us help.�?
Rosie, who moved his family to Texas for his own health reasons, comes to Colorado every year to visit us. It’s always a good time to take a break and remember why we keep working so hard every day. Rosie also spends time in Colorado telling all who will listen about the other Ground Zero heroes left with scarred lungs and lives. He donates his time to ease the suffering of others who have been in harm’s way.
“I know what it is like to attend 200 funerals,�? Velez said. “If I can help someone else deal with that kind of pain, then I have done well. Hey, I can’t just sit in a chair and do nothing.”
Well neither can we. Rosie once told me he was proud of what we do. Well, I’m proud of him and the lives that he has saved, and the ones he continues to fight for and help each and every day. I’m thankful that we’ve had the opportunity to help him and can only hope that we can do the same for each and every one of our clients when they walk in our door. Because that’s why trial lawyers care.