Wednesday, November 25, 2015

9/11 Responders Entitled To Permanent Healthcare

With public and media attention keenly focused on events resulting from the Paris terrorist attacks, the escalating Syrian refugee debate and, regrettably, GOP presidential contender Donald Trump, there’s been insufficient interest for the lapsed 9/11 Zadroga health care bill. In spite of this, there was recently some good news, after first responders, veterans and several congressional representatives rallied in Washington, DC.
As a result, there appears to be a glimmer of hope that revitalized legislation may finally be in the offing. Bipartisan Congressional support for a permanent extension of the 9/11 health and compensation programs has, by the latest estimation, 66 co-sponsors in the Senate and increasing Republican support in the House.
It’s baffling how Congress acted in the blink of an eye to block Syrian refugees from entering America, while they dawdle to assist fellow citizens who suffer lingering medical problems from working in the polluted atmosphere at Ground Zero.
Most Americans likely assume that lifetime compensation for those who carefully and diligently worked amid the ruins of the 9/11 terrorist attacks was a no-brainer.
Surprise, surprise. Largely due to endless bickering and routine partisanship that is not the case. Not even close. Earlier this fall, federal legislators let the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Re-Authorization Act expire. One of the few DC legislators aggressively pursuing the case, and a co-sponsor of the legislation, not only to reinstate it, but to make it permanent, is New York’s junior senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
During recent television appearances, Senator Gillibrand noted that over 1,700 first responders, including more than 200 FDNY and NYPD personnel, have died since 9/11 related illnesses caused by toxins emitted at ground zero. Adding, “More police officers have died since 9/11 than on 9/11.” (Italics are mine)
The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act was named after a New York City police officer who died of respiratory failure stemming from the September 11th attacks. Congress passed the law almost four years ago and it was subsequently enacted by President Obama in January 2011. The bill allocated $4.2 billion to create the World Trade Center Health Program but lapsed last month when a habitually divided Congress could not agree on an extension or a permanent resolution. Every first responder whose deteriorating health is linked to working at Ground Zero earned and deserves compensation. It IS an entitlement.
When the anniversary of the attacks rolls around there’s a ceremony held at Ground Zero, where thousands died and thousands of others, who, without a second thought, attempted to rescue those buried in the ruins of the World Trade Center.
It’s estimated we’ve spent about $1.7 trillion on the wars in the Middle East since 9/11/01. Yet, Congress, who former late night talk host Jon Stewart aptly branded “the worst responders,” cannot sense the urgency to spend a tenth as much to care for those who thought nothing of their efforts on that tragic day.
It’s time for politicians to put an end to mealy-mouthed excuses, remove the flag pins from their lapels and apply their so-called patriotic values to permanent health care funding for the ailing first responders who walked into the smoldering, crumbled remains of the Twin Towers and now live with the ill effects of their daring.
What's more, legislators with reservations about how to fund this program must devise a viable plan to sustain it. Though it would be unprecedented and magnanimous, perhaps our not-so-hardworking legislators forgo any wage increase for themselves over the next decade. Kinda like tying social security increases to the annual cost of living, which, more often than not, is meager.
More than fourteen years ago, a stunned nation watched as hundreds of first responders went where few would even imagine going, but, now, when many of these same individuals face untold financial burdens to pick up the tab for health setbacks, most likely resulting that fateful day, some of our self-styled leaders have turned their backs when they most require our support.
It’s appalling enough that our veterans’ hospitals are still poorly maintained, years after media exposes revealed the rampant neglect, and still do not provide first-class treatment for those who return from overseas duty, but to delay or deny quality health care for those who live with the consequences of 9/11 is shameful and inexcusable.

It certainly would have been appropriate to enact a permanent Zadroga law before Thanksgiving, but, since that hasn’t happened, the best alternative would be for the worst responders in Congress, without further delay or debate, to get on board with their colleagues and endorse consequential legislation for ailing first responders who categorically deserve this program.