Executive Director of 9/11 Health Watch
Executive Director of Citizens for the Extension of the James Zadroga Act
Voice for 9/11 survivors
Key previous position: Chief of staff, Rep. Carolyn Maloney
Education: Queens College and Law School
Notable fact: Former chief of staff to Sen. Chuck Schumer
Ben Chevat was working as Rep. Carolyn Maloney’s chief of staff during the Sept. 11 attacks. Chevat and his colleagues were evacuated from the Rayburn House Office Building, and he could see the smoke rising from the Pentagon.
In the years that followed, Maloney’s office dedicated its efforts to bringing attention to the growing health crises affecting responders and survivors. But getting the initial piece of legislation passed in 2010 to provide health services and compensation to first responders wasn’t an easy task.
“Under the Bush administration, there was a lot of, ‘Well, you can’t really prove it’. … How do you prove that there’s been these impacts?” Chevat said.
Today, lawmakers are more accepting and understanding of the health challenges that first responders and survivors deal with, he says. “I think after 2010, once we had an established program, once there was real information, I think a lot of attitudes changed,” he said.
Chevat may have left Capitol Hill, but he didn’t stop working to ensure that 9/11 first responders are taken care of. He now leads two groups: Citizens for the Extension of the James Zadroga Act, which is dedicated to lobbying Congress to provide needed medical care and support for responders and survivors of 9/11, and 9/11 Health Watch, which monitors programs created under the 2010 law that provide medical care and compensation.
Chevat and his colleagues achieved a substantial victory in July, when Congress extended the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund to 2090. Going forward, Chevat says his group will continue keeping an eye on the programs, adding that they can now be beefed up since the fund and the World Trade Center Health Program have been extended for several decades.
“When a program was going to be terminated every five years [and] had to be renewed, you can’t really plan, you can’t really do contracts to provide the services, you can’t focus on improving the services, because you’re always planning to shut down. You can’t also recruit doctors. … Those are the things that are getting done now,” he said.