The political bickering that consumes Washington, D.C., and much of the nation has been a death knell for many bipartisan pieces of legislation that have come before Congress in recent years. Legislation, which in the past would have received the support of both parties, is now held hostage by one group or another in an attempt to leverage political power in a highly partisan House and Senate.
Last November, the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University estimated that the cost of America’s War on Terror will surpass $6 trillion sometime this year, including the cost of Homeland Security and services provided by Veterans Affairs.
The War on Terror is unlike any war this nation has ever fought and the first action in this war became apparent at 8:46am on 9/11 when American Airline’s Flight 11 slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center; we all know too well the horror that followed. While the rest of the nation watched on television, men and women from around the New York metropolitan area rushed to the scene. Many were fireman, police, and EMS workers who were doing the job they had trained for, while others were construction workers, government employees, healthcare professionals, and plain old New Yorkers who refused to sit by and watch as a massive New York landmark crumbled to the ground and continued to smolder and burn while emitting highly toxic fumes for over 3 months.
Now, nearly 18 years later, we find that those who took part in the initial response and the months-long effort to clear the Ground Zero site are suffering from a variety of cancers and respiratory ailments at a much higher rate than the general public. In addition, those who worked, lived or attended school in lower Manhattan at the time of the attacks and in the months that followed are suffering from many of the same health issues, even though they had been told at the time that the air was safe to breathe. As of mid-February the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund has awarded $5 billion in over 20,000 cases where the health issues or deaths have been certified by the World Trade Center Health Program. The $7.3 billion allocated to the fund under James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act has nearly run out, while over 93,000 responders and survivors are being monitored by World Trade Center Health Program.
In 2015, I was proud to stand with Congressmen Peter King and Dan Donovan along with Joseph Zagroda, the father of James, as we called for extension of the Act. In the Assembly, I’ve voted twice for much needed legislation that extends filing dates for programs for responders and survivors that are administered by New York State; it was, simply, the right thing to do.
Those sick and dying, especially our responders, have paid a high price for their bravery. A few weeks ago, I attended the dedication of a plaque at Ladder Company 82 here in Staten Island. The plaque was in memory of Fire Department veteran Ronald Svec who passed away in February after a 9-year battle with lung and spine cancer; no one deserves to suffer like that.
Firefighter Svec was only one of the more than 180 FDNY and over 200 NYPD members out of the nearly 2,000 responders whose lives have been cut short due to 9/11 related conditions. Currently, 11,000 responders and survivors have been diagnosed with one or more of the 60 different cancers linked to the toxic fumes and materials that covered Ground Zero and much of Lower Manhattan.
When you look at the statistics, it becomes obvious that the sickness and deaths linked to 9/11 ailments will increase for the foreseeable future and the bottom line is we, as a nation, have a moral obligation to these individuals, just as we do to those who served in our military. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi needs to bring the reauthorization bill to the floor for a vote because any further delay is inexcusable. When it does come before them, I encourage members of both parties, in the House and Senate, to do the right thing and vote for it. There’s no better issue to prove to the American people that bipartisanship still exists in our nation’s capitol.
The funding allocated to date and what will be needed to replenish the fund is a large amount. But, it’s a small price to pay for the sacrifices made by those who responded in the first hours, days and months that followed the attacks on our city and nation. They were there for us and, now, Congress must be there for them.