Death of 9/11 law angers pols
Marvin Bethea, a former St. John's Hospital paramedic who responded to the Sept. 11 attacks, said he was disappointed with the recent failure of a federal bill that would have provided billions of dollars in health care to individuals sickened by toxins they were exposed to at Ground Zero. Photo by Christina Santucci
By Anna Gustafson

The defeat of a federal bill last week that would have provided billions of dollars in health care for those sickened by toxins released by the collapse of the World Trade Center towers Sept. 11, 2001, was a “disgraceful” move by politicians who have turned their backs on those who did not give a second thought about risking their lives to help, former St. John’s Hospital paramedic and Sept. 11 responder Marvin Bethea said.

“It’s a shame these elected officials stood on their soap boxes and said they were going to do what was right after Sept. 11 and now it’s back to politics as usual,” said Bethea, who lived in Fresh Meadows for 25 years before recently moving to Long Island.

Queens and city officials also slammed members of the U.S. House of Representatives for defeating the bill last Thursday.

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act failed by a vote of 255-159 last Thursday. Twelve Republicans and 243 Democrats voted for the act that proposed giving as much as $7.4 billion to people who were exposed to Ground Zero toxins, including first responders, firefighters, rescue workers, police officers, EMTs, cleanup workers, area residents and schoolchildren.

“The Party of No has reached a new low,” said U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills), a member of the House Health Subcommittee. “Ninety-three percent of the Republicans in the House turned their backs on the sick heroes of 9/11. Let there be no doubt anymore as to who supports the men and women who stand up for us.”

Weiner became outraged at Republicans on the House floor — in particular at U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Massapequa Park), who he repeatedly told to sit down after King interrupted the Forest Hills congressman.

“It’s Republicans wrapping their arms around Republicans instead of doing the right thing for heroes,” Weiner shouted. “It is a shame, a shame.”

The bill required a two-thirds majority to pass because it was placed on the suspension calendar, meaning no amendments could be attached to it. King, who cosponsored and voted for the bill, criticized the move to place it on the suspension calendar.

“Under the rules of the House, if a bill comes up in normal ways, you can offer amendments,” King said Friday on a radio show posted on his web site. “Democrats were worried Republicans would say illegal immigrants couldn’t take part in the program.”

U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) joined Weiner in criticizing Republicans.

“I am disappointed that my Republican colleagues were unable to rise above political gamesmanship and do what is right for the heroes of Sept. 11,” Crowley said. “There are no winners after tonight’s vote.”

Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside) was also irate over the vote.

“How can those who opposed this on the floor of the House claim we’re prepared to stand up to terrorists, then hide behind the argument that the price is too high when it comes to writing the check to help those who are gasping for breath and suffering in pain nine years after we took that first horrific hit?” Ackerman asked.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the bill’s defeat “outrageous.”

“The events of that day were an attack on America, and addressing its health impacts is a national duty,” Bloomberg said. “People from every part of the country perished on 9/11, and first responders and volunteers from all 50 states took part in the subsequent relief and recovery efforts.”

According to a release issued by Maloney, who also sponsored the bill, and King, more than 13,000 World Trace Center responders are sick and receiving treatment. About 71,000 individuals have indicated they were exposed to the toxins by enrolling in the WTC Health Registry, Maloney and King said.

At least 10,000 people came from around the country to help the aftermath of the attacks, Maloney and King said.

Those who were exposed to the toxins have experienced a range of illnesses, including respiratory, gastrointestinal and mental health conditions, Maloney and King said.

Bethea, for example, can no longer work as a paramedic because of ailments he suffers due to his work on Sept. 11 as a paramedic with the now-closed St. John’s in Elmhurst. He suffered a major stroke weeks after Sept. 11 and is now diagnosed with asthma, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and sleep apnea.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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