Alfonse D'Amato

Congress must not fail the first responders


At 12:01 a.m. on Oct. 1, Congress missed an important deadline to reauthorize the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, and that, my friends, is totally unacceptable.

Our government has a moral and ethical obligation to provide health care and benefits for those heroes who responded after the worst terrorist attacks on American soil. Now, two vital programs, the World Trade Center Health Program and the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund, have come to an end. This means that the first responders and survivors of the attacks will no longer be provided health care or financial support.

This is shameful.

It has been 14 years since the 9/11 attacks, yet people continue to die. It is a fact that the brave men and women who ran into the towers and worked around the clock to clear the rubble for month after month were exposed to dangerous toxins and particles that have poisoned their bodies.

James Zadroga, a New York City police officer, took part in the rescue and recovery efforts at ground zero. He suffered from respiratory illness for five years before dying at age 34. His father, Joe, has led the fight in Congress. He said he will “gladly describe to any D.C. legislators what it’s like to watch your son die over a five-year period for not having the proper care.”

Over the years, more than 72,000 first responders and survivors have received medical monitoring for cancers and other illnesses particular to the 9/11 first-response community. Tragically, 1,700 of those selfless people have died.

In 2010, led by a bipartisan coalition from New York and New Jersey, Congress passed the Zadroga Act. The lawmakers who sponsored this critical legislation never intended for the bill to expire so quickly. However, in another sad story out of Washington, politics triumphed.

In a joint op-ed on Sept. 30 in the political newspaper The Hill, U.S. Reps. Peter King, Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler wrote, “Delay may be a hazard of doing business in Washington on some issues, but it is simply unacceptable when talking about caring for the responders and survivors of 9/11.”

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