With passage in the House and Senate of a 9/11 first responders bill, and signed by the president, there is finally one less worry for 9/11 responders. This legislation is named for three responders who gave their lives in the aftermath of 9/11. It is now known as “Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11 Victim Compensation Act.”
The men behind the bill’s name
Zadroga, a N.Y.C. officer, in 2006 was the first to die. He passed due to a respiratory disease brought on by his exposure to the clouds of toxic particles. Next was Pfeifer, who died after fighting cancer for eight years in 2017. He worked for eight months digging through the rubble that had been the towers. Finally, this past June 29th, Alvarez, a NYPD detective, died just weeks after testifying and fighting for permanent healthcare and compensation for those physically affected by the 9/11 aftermath. He spent three months on ground zero giving aid for the recovery efforts that led to 69 rounds of chemotherapy. Each of these men fought for ongoing healthcare for first responders.
One less worry
While relieved the fight for healthcare is over, the 18 years of fighting for assistance leaves many exhausted. Most survivors are too sick to continue trips to Washington fighting for additional funding. This bill assures them that their health problems are covered until 2092, allowing them to concentrate on their medical treatments and their families instead of repeated trips to D.C.
The people who never gave up
The firebrand who famously advocated for this bill was Jon Stewart of the “Daily Show”. He brought attention of this appalling situation to the public as well as congress. An original co-sponsor of the 9/11 Victims Fund, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-NY, was very vocal in her pursuit of justice for these men and women. Rep. Maloney vowed to wear a FDNY firefighter’s jacket, beginning in February, until the bill was passed in her effort to publicize the urgency. Other Democrats who were crucial to the passage were Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, Senators from New York. Republicans named were Representatives Chris Collins, Mark Meadows, and Deb Fischer. John Feal, a first responder who suffered a crushed foot at ground zero and an outspoken advocate said, “I’m going to ask my team now to put down your swords and pick up your rakes and go home, and hopefully, we don’t have to come back.”
Only two senators did not vote yes: Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. Both affirm they support healthcare for survivors, but wanted money set aside to fund the bill.
The human statistics
Over 70,000 people applied to the program when it was known as the Zadroga Act. At this time, more than 32,000 enrollees now have developed respiratory or digestive diseases – and 705 people have died from them. Cancer is also an outcome, with close to 9,000 first responders afflicted and 600 who succumbed to the disease. Among the many toxins encountered in the dust and debris was asbestos. This mineral has no safe level of exposure and is known to cause many diseases, including the deadly mesothelioma. Experts reviewing these statistics warn that the deaths from the aftermath will exceed the 3,000 people who died that horrible day and may have already exceeded that number.
Sponsor statement before passage
Sen. Kristen Gillibrand who was chief sponsor of the bill, said, “Our 9/11 first responders are sick and dying, and too many of them have spent too much of their precious time left fighting to convince Congress to pass the 9/11 VCF bill. This legislation has strong bipartisan support and the votes in the Senate and the House to pass this bill as soon as it comes to the floor. This all comes down to political will and whether Congress is truly willing to ‘never forget’ the heroes of 9/11.”
Finally, one less worry for 9/11 responders.