Helping our 9/11 Heroes

BY U.S. Senator Kristen Gillibrand

Nine years have now passed since the horrific terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. And it is almost impossible to believe that nine years later the heroes of 9/11 who selflessly risked their own lives to save others are still not getting the health care and treatment they deserve. Congress has an undeniable moral obligation to provide care for the community survivors and first responders at Ground Zero, and we must not allow another anniversary to pass before we act.

 As we mourn the darkness of thousands of innocent men and women who lost their lives, we must also honor the shining light created by the tens of thousands who came to their assistance. We as a nation saw greater acts of heroism than we could ever have imagined: first responders from all over New York and all over the country came to Ground Zero to save innocent lives, provide proper burial for lives that were lost, and assist in the enormous effort to clean up and recover from that devastating attack on our nation.

The responders and survivors living in the area were told by the federal government that the area was safe.  They removed debris and recovered victims with little to no safety equipment to protect their lungs from the toxic ash that invaded Ground Zero for months.  And they tried to return to their normal lives as best they could because that was what our nation asked them to do.

 Now, years later, tens of thousands of these Americans are sick and dozens, perhaps hundreds, are dying. 

 Every day, first responders, firefighters, construction workers, and innocent men, women and children are facing life-threatening health ailments linked to the toxic debris from the attacks. Some of the brave 9/11 workers and community survivors that I have had the privilege of meeting are suffering from chronic coughing, serious health conditions, and terminal illnesses. Mothers and fathers have described to me the horrible asthmatic conditions of their children who were enrolled in day care near the World Trade Center.

 We must repay our enormous debt owed to our heroes by passing the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act to provide permanent monitoring, treatment, and screening for first responders, workers, students and community members. Legislation has languished for far too long, and these heroes cannot wait any longer. Our failure as a nation to confront this tragedy should offend all of us to our core.

 The horrific damage of 9/11 did not end when those buildings came down.  For thousands of Americans, the horror and the pain began weeks, months and sometimes years later.  We must never forget the way these men and women have sacrificed for our country.  And I will not stop fighting for them until we have finally fulfilled our obligation in Congress.