Care for America’s heroes

Dec 11, 2015
In The News

In the aftermath of 9/11, then-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was often referred to as “America’s mayor.” So you might call the police and firefighters who courageously rushed to the scene that day “America’s first responders.”

Mr. Giuliani still enjoys his title on occasion. If only the nation’s memory of all the frontline heroes of that day was so enduring.

Sadly, it doesn’t seem to be, at least not in Congress, which continues to haggle over paying for the health care that they need and deserve.

Following the attacks on the World Trade Center, it became apparent that many of the first responders were developing long-term health problems. Various ailments associated with inhaling toxic dust began to manifest themselves, particularly cancers. Some workers have died, others are ill, and others are living with the prospect of falling sick. Right now, estimates are that 33,000 first responders and survivors suffer from a 9/11-related illness or injury.

To help them, Congress in 2010 passed the World Trade Center Health Program and the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund, known as the Zadroga Act. It was named after James Zadroga, who in 2006 was the first New York Police Department officer whose death was due to exposure to toxic substances at ground zero. Action didn’t come easily; Republican budget hawks insisted that its cost be covered by cuts in other domestic programs before they’d agree to passage.

The act expired in September, and they’re insisting on that again. The fund is expected to start running out of money in February and, if it isn’t re-funded, to shut down next summer.

Frustratingly, what seemed to be a bipartisan agreement has hit some snags. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Michigan, says funding for the Zadroga Act must be specifically paid for. He suggests cuts in Medicare and Medicaid that are unpalatable to Democrats. Another idea: a tax on people who get lump sums in settlements – potentially including 9/11 victims themselves. Mr. Upton cynically casts it as a small tax on millionaires for the sake of heroes. And Republicans are resisting making the act permanent, preferring, it seems, to force ailing first responders to plead yet again for care five years from now.

All this is swirling while Congress fails to pass budget legislation; the best it could do was pass an extender to fund the government until next Wednesday – two days before Congress is set to adjourn for the year. There’s talk of putting the Zadroga Act in the omnibus budget bill, but that’s up in the air.

These people did not check their health plans on 9/11 before rushing into harm’s way to save lives. It is shameful that politicians who once lauded them now use them as just another bit of leverage for horse trading. They’re America’s heroes, and America must take care of them.