Bethlehem Press

Monday, September 16, 2019
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Tuesday, September 10, 2019 by DEB GALBRAITH dgalbraith@tnonline.com in Opinion

Fighting for the 9/11 first responders, volunteers

As we remember the horrific events from Sept. 11, 2001, we cannot ignore the many first responders and volunteers who ran toward the twin towers of the World Trade Center to help those in need.

These heroes have been in the news recently, fighting for the compensation fund to continue to care for those facing serious medical issues as a result of the survivor search and debris removal efforts.

Due to recent legislation, these first responders will get the help they need.

Thanks to Zoe Wilson-Meyer, in the office of U.S. Rep. Susan Wild, D-7th, I was able to learn more about this fund.

On Sept. 22, 2001, the Air Transportation Safety and System Stabilization Act was passed.

“The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund was created and operated from 2001 to 2004. The fund was created to provide compensation for any individual (or a personal representative of a deceased individual) who suffered physical harm or was killed as a result of the terrorist-related aircraft crashes of Sept. 11, 2001, or the debris removal efforts that took place in the immediate aftermath of those crashes,” according to its website, www.vcf.gov.

As first responders continued to fall sick, the fund was reactivated.

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010 was signed into law Jan. 2, 2011, by President Barack Obama, with a reauthorization for five years, expiring in October 2016.

President Obama signed into law a bill reauthorizing the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010. It was extended for five years – allowing individuals to submit claims until Dec. 18, 2020.

The law also instituted changes to the policies and procedures for evaluating claims and calculations such as capping loss from a cancer, calculating other noneconomic loss, prioritizing claims for victims and removing the $10,000 minimum award.

News about this fund came to the forefront in June when former Daily Show host Jon Stewart advocated for 9/11 first responders by appearing before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. He began advocating for this fund and the first responders in 2010.

In a Newsweek article from 2016, Dr. Michael Crane, World Trade Center Health Program, said first responders were breathing burning jet fuel, plastics, metal, fiberglass and asbestos while trying to search for survivors.

Crews worked at Ground Zero without respirators, as they were told the air was “safe to breathe and the water is safe to drink,” by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, according to an article by Matt Stieb for The Intelligencer.

Wild co-sponsored and voted to pass the Never Forget the Heroes: Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act, ensuring that the fund to compensate victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks never runs out of money.

“When we promise to never forget the events of 9/11, we promise to never forget the needs of the first responders and survivors living in the aftermath. It is our moral duty to provide enduring and unfailing support for all those who showed enormous courage in one of our nation’s darkest hours – both those who were there at the World Trade Center on 9/11 as well as those who risked their lives in the months of cleanup that followed,” Wild said.

The vote was 402-12 in favor of funding the VCF Act in the House of Representatives. Nineteen members did not vote.

The vote was 97-2 in favor of funding the VCF Act in the Senate. One member did note vote. Both votes were cited on www.Gov.Trak.us.

On July 29, President Donald Trump signed into law the Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th VCF.

“The VCF Permanent Authorization Act extends the VCF’s claim filing deadline from Dec. 18, 2020, to Oct. 1, 2090, and appropriates such funds as may be necessary to pay all approved claims,” according to the fund’s website.

The funding comes from the federal government. The costs of VCF benefits and administration were financed by the $2.775 billion in appropriations provided by the Zadroga Act (2011 law). Costs for benefits and administration are financed by the one-time appropriation of $4.6 billion provided in the Zadroga Reauthorization Act of 2015 (2015 law). The total funding available for the VCF since its reopening is $7.375 billion.

As of Aug. 31, the VCF has found 24,907 claimants eligible for compensation. Another 26,909 claims have not yet been decided, are awaiting review, are duplicates or cannot be processed.

I never knew about an issue with this fund until Jon Stewart was featured on the news advocating for those first responders who could not speak for themselves.

Would the compensation fund have continued without a celebrity bringing the issue to light?

Passing this law was necessary; however, this will not bring back the lives of those who have died as a direct result of 9/11 or those who are suffering with cancer or a chronic illness.

May God be with those first responders and volunteers now as He was with those who lost their lives Sept. 11, 2001.