SI Advance – November 04, 2015
We’re sure we’re not the only ones who are appalled at the reluctance of more than a few members of Congress to pass a permanent extension of the James L. Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.
The measure provides funding to insure that those emergency service personnel who responded in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001 and got sick as a result can get the medical care they need and deserve.
It was named after an otherwise healthy New York City Police Department officer who became sick and eventually died at the age of 34 several years after 9/11 because of his prolonged exposure to all the toxic substances in the air around “The Pile” where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center once stood.
Some senators, citing concerns about creating this supposed new health-care “entitlement,” actually mounted a filibuster to stop the legislation in 2010.
But in the end, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compension Act that allocated $4.2 billion for medical testing and treatment for those who worked in rescue and recovery operations was finally signed into law by President Obama in 2011, after a brutal fight in Congress.
An expiration date
And even with that, it came with an expiration date — Oct. 1, 2015.
Congress has not yet seen fit to pass the extension that is much needed by all those who are still suffering for their heroic efforts at Ground Zero. But there is no expiration date on the hardship caused by inhaling dust from the toxic miasma that hovered around Lower Manhattan for weeks after the disaster. It has been associated with a host of diseases, including lung ailments, asthma and several gastroesophageal illnesses. Inadvertent ingestion of those materials has also since been linked to some 50 types of cancers.
And this was air, mind you, that officials insisted was safe to breathe … until the sheer numbers of Ground Zero workers coming down with catastrophic illnesses made it undeniable that the air Downtown had been poison for those breathing it. These illnesses have been manifesting themselves over time, sometimes showing up years after a first responder was first exposed.
Since Oct. 1, there have been repeated calls, including by Rep. Daniel Donovan and other lawmakers, to renew the Zadroga Act, in light of the long-term health effects of Ground Zero now being seen. But those calls have met with the same ideological resistance that made the legislation’s initial passage so difficult. It appears that some members of Congress begrudge 9/11 first responders and workers on “The Pile” any more money for their health-care costs and death benefits.
Frankly, it’s hard not to suspect that these recalcitrant lawmakers’ attitudes might be different if the 9/11 attacks had been primarily inflicted on their region of the country instead of New York, but that’s another issue. It’s just hard to reconcile all these politicians’ sanctimonious speechifying we recall hearing in the hours and days immediately after 9/11 with their shamefully callous attitude toward sick and dying first responders today.
The nation’s duty
In any case, Rep. Donovan, for one, is adamant about the duty of a grateful nation to make sure all these people are taken care of in their time of trouble.
He told Great Kills resident Robert Serra, who was a 21-year-old firefighter on the job for the first day on Sept. 11, 2001, and now suffers from multiple health problems, “You guys did not hesitate. … It’s about time your government stood up for you.”
Mr. Serra, speaking for many of his fellow victims, said, “These illnesses are permanent; they’re not going anywhere, They’re only going to get worse.”
So why does the Zadroga Act have an expiration date at all if the illnesses don’t?
Rep. Donovan, Sen. Charles Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand are now pushing for Congress to pass a permanent extension to the Zadroga Act so first responders don’t have to fight these painful battles every few years.
As Rep. Donovan says, first responders and others living with diseases caused by the materials in the air at Ground Zero should have the small comfort of knowing they will be taken care of for the rest of their lives because of their dedicated service in the nation’s darkest hour.
‘We owe them’
“There’s got to be some certainty … that if, God forbid, something happens to them, the resources will be there for them,” Mr. Donovan said. “That goes both for people diagnosed and being treated and those who have yet to be diagnosed. We owe it to our first responders. ”
We’d guess most Americans see it that way, but, even though Mr. Donovan says there is enough support in Congress for passing a bill to make the act permanent, there are the holdouts.
A bill was quietly introduced in the in the House Judiciary Committee last week to extend Zadroga by just five years. It was submitted “without consultation” with those seeking a permanent extension, which tells you all you need to know about the motives of those pushing this stealth legislation.
First responders such as Mr. Serra didn’t hold back in the slightest on 9/11 and afterward. Congress shouldn’t hold back in providing for them now that they’ve gotten sick from that dedication. Anything short of that permanent commitment to them is shameful.