National compassion for 9/11 first responders

NYPD Officer James Zadroga died 13 years ago.

We knew then that a crisis was underway. First responders and others who had been at the World Trade Center site during and after the 9/11 terrorist attacks were getting sick and dying. But we didn’t know how awful it would be — or how disappointingly long it would take to help them.

While it took more than a decade, Congress finally did the right thing, and President Donald Trump did his part, too, when the Victim Compensation Fund, born from an act named after Zadroga in 2009, was finally made permanent this week. The bill Trump signed Monday poignantly included two additional names — Ray Pfeifer, an FDNY firefighter who died in 2017, and Luis Alvarez, an NYPD detective who died in June.

The new law ensures that none of those who suffer from 9/11-related illnesses will ever have to go back to Washington to fight for money. The law permanently funds the critically important VCF, essentially creating a blank check to compensate tens of thousands of people who headed into harm’s way and worked on the tragic site known as “the pile.” Perpetuation of the fund and its companion, the World Trade Center Health Program, permanently funded in 2015, are the least America can do.

More than 22,000 individuals have been awarded money from the VCF; another 21,000 claims await decisions. Since February, payments were reduced when the fund ran low. Now, the Justice Department, which oversees the VCF, should pay what is owed, quickly. Appropriate administration of the VCF and the health program should continue, unlike the misguided attempt last year to weaken the health program by moving it out of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Each claim represents a story, a family and a reverberation from the attacks. Tragically, many more people will get sick, and many more will die. Now, these brave responders and others who suffer know their country will care for them and their families. And out of the darkness of such a horrific time, comes a ray of light.