Finally! Almost ten years after the terrorist attack in New York, that saw thousands of first responders selflessly rush in to help their fellow Americans in the terrible aftermath:
Obama signs 9/11 health bill
By Ed Henry, CNN
January 2, 2011 6:43 p.m. EST
President Barack Obama signs the 9/11 health care bill into law
Washington (CNN) -- President Barack Obama signed the 9/11 health bill into law in Hawaii on Sunday, White House spokesman Bill Burton said.
Obama signed the bill during his Hawaiian vacation, with no signing ceremony held. In a statement issued later, the president said he was "honored" to sign the bill, which pays for health care for responders believed to have been sickened by pollution at the ruins of the World Trade Center in New York.
"We will never forget the selfless courage demonstrated by the firefighters, police officers, and first responders who risked their lives to save others," Obama said. "I believe this is a critical step for those who continue to bear the physical scars of those attacks."...(CNN here)
My regular readers know that the people affected by 9/11 hold a special place in my heart and, to me, it is an absolute disgrace that it has taken so long to do the honourable thing for those heroes - and their families - who gave no thought for their own safety as they worked tirelessly at Ground Zero, not only on 9/11, but in the weeks and months following.
Since that time, almost 900 first responders have already died long, slow and painful deaths as a result of what they were exposed to.
I introduced readers to John McNamara, 9/11 firefighter here.
In that article (which includes a video interview John McNamara did before his premature death,) his wife Jennifer also has harsh words for the politicking that has taken the place over a genuine compassionate desire to take care of those who took care of their countrymen.
Petitions have been signed, phone campaigns have been launched, politicians have been lobbied. And the years have rolled by, and more first responders have died, and continue to struggle with major health issues as a direct result of 9/11.
John Feal, founding president of the FealGood Foundation, a group that advocates for 9/11 responders,
... that he knows of up to 80 responders who have died since the department stopped keeping track.
While lacking hard data, Feal believes that more than 900 responders have died -- a figured he called conservative.
"I still think the number is low. We cannot keep a national average; it's just impossible," he said.
"I can guarantee over the last nine years, someone from small-town America has died from 9/11-related illnesses when that small-town doctor didn't know what he was looking at," he added. "All the undocumented workers who went home, a lot of the Spanish workers, they went home and died." (here)
Back last March, I wrote a column on this issue titled: 9/11 rescuers/responders: What price heroism?
Thursday, March 18, 2010
EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman and John Henshaw, US Department of Labor Assistant Secretary for OSHA, announce that their two agencies “have found no evidence of any significant public health hazard to residents, visitors or workers beyond the immediate World Trade Center area.” [emphasis mine]But later in the statement, they acknowledge that to date, “Of 177 bulk dust and debris samples collected by EPA and OSHA and analyzed for asbestos, 48 had levels over 1 percent, the level EPA and OSHA use to define asbestos-containing material.” Additionally, they say that out “of a total of 442 air samples EPA has taken at Ground Zero and in the immediate area, only 27 had levels of asbestos above the standard EPA uses to determine if children can re-enter a school after asbestos has been removed….” [Environmental Protection Agency, 10/3/2001] (here)
We all now know that the heroic actions of that day - and in the months following - have exacted a heavy toll on the Americans who suspended their own lives to aid in the recovery efforts. This week, the msm has been full of the story of the $657 million settlement being offered for those heroes who were not only first responders on that terrible day, but for the contractors, fire department personnel, et al; those brave souls who dedicated themselves to search and rescue - and then recovery - of all who we lost in the terrorist attack in New York. These men and women, 10,000+, spent many months breathing in the noxious, deadly legacy, with no thought for their own safety. These heroes made a moral choice to dig through rubble for months with no consideration for their own long term health.(More here)
In that column I introduced retired NYC Police Detective Gary White.
...White writes himself memos to aid his memory in his Bay Terrace home. The 9/11 first responder has cognitive difficulties stemming from a stroke brought on by illnesses he says were contracted by working at Ground Zero.In the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, NYPD squad commander Gary White of Eltingville logged upwards of 100 hours at the Fresh Kills landfill, where World Trade Center debris was sifted in a recovery effort for the remains of those who were lost.
Now 55 and retired after 23 years on the job, White has cancer, suffered two strokes, has a range of neurological problems and a host of other ailments including sleep apnea.
He also suffered from post traumatic stress disorder so profound that at one point he didn't leave his home for three weeks, hanging dark sheets over the windows to keep the world away.
He attributes all of it to the events of 9/11....
Then there is:
..retired detective Al Schille, 45, of Great Kills who was first routed to St. Vincent's and Beekman hospitals to await the arrival of survivors of the Twin Towers who never came.
He then made his way to Ground Zero with a colleague to search for the man's firefighter son who was never found.
In the weeks that followed, Schille spent 300 hours at Fresh Kills, "sifting through ash that big dump trucks would dump. We went through it with rakes, shovels, our hands, going through it, looking for anything, pieces of flesh, fragments of bone."
He developed chronic back pain and then cancer. Despite near-debilitating treatments, "I wanted to go back to work," said Schille, who finally retired in 2007. "But my bones are too compromised to do anything."
Please go back and read that column here, and meet just a few of the American heroes who have paid very dearly for stepping up - no, running - to serve in the dark days of 9/11.
That column was written when $657 million was on the table as offered settlement. All through these long years since 9/11, as our heroes have been getting very sick, and dying, Washington has been politics as usual. I don't know at this point what the final dollar figure will be to adequately care for any of our 9/11 first responders. I DO know that no amount of care not money that we can pay the thousands - yes, thousands - who still suffer and still are dying because of split second decisions they each made to serve America can adequately compensate them.
As my friend Poet Warrior said, in part, as a comment on that column:
...That being said, everything always comes down to money. You are all complaining about the government, but it all comes back to taxpayers. Simply put, just take care of these people. The real problem is the it should not even have taken legal action. The waste of funds is there. [...]They could care less about the patriots who selflessly served in this incredible time. If the government had stepped up and done what was right without all the crap it would have saved millions, served its people, avoided all this negative garbage, and we would not be here...
So today we have headlines and the photo of BHO signing a bill that says it will take care of our 9/11 first responders and their families.
Will this bill meet the needs of them all? I very much doubt it. But at least it is a step in the right direction: an acknowledgment of our moral obligation, to commit to making a real effort to take care of those who took care of their countrymen. Now is a time for all of us to keep paying attention, to ensure the government does, indeed, honour this bill in not just words, but by their actions.