After months of Republican sandbagging in the face of those who battled and advocated courageously on behalf of 911 first responders and volunteers, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act of 2015 was signed into law last Friday by President Barack Obama as part of a massive omnibus, spending bill/tax measure.
The Reauthorization Act extended the World Trade Center Health Program for at least 75 years. The legislation also renewed and provided full funding of the Victims’ Compensation Fund for the next five years. Although the victory is worthy of celebration, journey to legislative approval was long and arduous.
In the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001, Democrat and Republican Congressional Representatives stood side-by-side on the steps of congress and loudly sang God Bless America in full-throated defiance of the fear proffered by the 9/11 terrorists.
Many representatives found ways to position themselves in front of every media outlet willing to point cameras in their direction to loudly exalt the courage of America’s first responders who put it all on the line that fateful day and in the weeks and months that followed. They extolled epic tales of bravery, professed awe, inspiration and appreciation for their courage, their sacrifice—they, along with almost every American, found it hard to put into words the heart-felt appreciation for the selflessness of the 9/11 first responders. That is how they were celebrated by a grateful nation.
During those tumultuous days, party lines were blurred as America professed its love for the 9/11 heroes. However, overtime, many began to believe somewhere along the way Republican legislators lost their moral compass. They continued to speak the words of gratitude and appreciation; however, their actions did not match up. It appeared to a number of political observers, there were limits to Republican care and concern for the heroes and sheroes of 9/11. Those limits became most evident when many first responders started getting sick and looked to their Congressional leaders, to their government for help.
According to the World Trade Center Health Program more than sixty types of cancer has resulted from exposure to 9/11 toxins—cancers that are continuing to impact responders and survivors. Believe it or not, to date nearly 4,000 cases of cancer related to 9/11 have been identified among responders and survivors. Experts believe the number impacted will only continue to grow in the coming years.
As the 911 sheroes and heroes suffered and in some instances died from their illnesses and injuries, it took congress eight long years, yes, eight years to pass the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010, largely due to resistance from Republican legislators.
Since the legislation’s passage, however, thousands of 9/11 responders and survivors are receiving the medical attention they deserve but before the passage of the 2010 legislation, many could not afford. Yet, with the implementation of the legislation there was a catch—the bill included a sunset clause and as a result, was scheduled to expire in 2016 unless reauthorized by Congress.
In mid-April, H.R.1786 was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and S928 was introduced in the U.S. Senate titled the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act of 2015. Its purpose, to renew and make permanent the Health and Compensation programs currently helping the thousands of ill and injured 9/11 responders and survivors.
For months, Republican leadership in Congress refused to bring the legislation to the floor for a vote. Had the current bill been allowed to expire, the World Trade Center Health Program would no longer be available to thousands of first responders and survivors—at least two-thirds of whom have multiple injuries and illnesses. Examples of their afflictions include but are not limited to obstructive pulmonary disease, gastro esophageal reflux disease, chronic asthma and of course, cancer.
Those who put it all on the line for the nation during the 9/11 crisis and compromised their health in the process deserve the full support and ‘continued support’ of a grateful nation.
For more information regarding this legislation visit the Coalition to Help Injured and Dying 9/11 Responders and Survivors at http://www.renew911health.org/.