Dozens of New York 9/11 first responders and firefighters boarded buses to Washington, D.C. last week to urge lawmakers to reauthorize the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. Retired NYPD Officer David Howley offered gripping testimony during a congressional hearing on extending the 9/11 World Trade Center Health Program before it expires in late September.
“If you end this program, people are going to die.” he said. “What happened on Sept. 11, 2001 with concern to the mixture of concrete, glass, chemicals, etc. plus the fire at temps over 2,000 degrees had never before occurred in history. As a result, the illnesses and cancers that have occurred had not previously been seen in the medical community. The men and women who worked tirelessly, day and night at the towers and then became sick have every reason to expect their country will provide assistance to them, the same way they provided assistance and protection to the people of New York City.”
In 2010, congressional Republicans initially balked at the cost of the multibillion-dollar program, which provides health care treatment to 72,000 first responders and volunteers who worked around Ground Zero after 9/11, and others who lived near the World Trade Center. Howley has battled cancer and related ailments since 9/11 and would have died without the program.
“This is something that shouldn’t have any political fighting,” he said. “This should be absolute bipartisan 435-0 type bill.”
Dr. John Howard, the administrator of the World Trade Center Health Program, told members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee June 11 that extending the law would help clinicians treat victims and allow administrators to better plan patient care.
“It’s stressful to be told on a year-to-year basis that your care might be taken away,” Howard said. “From the administrative perspective, it’s stressful because we constantly prepare for when this may end.” He pointed out that there are affected individuals in 429 of the 435 congressional districts.
The reauthorization bill would make permanent the two programs for the surviving victims who suffer from cancer and respiratory diseases nearly 14 years after they breathed in the toxic dust at Ground Zero. The medical program expires in late September and the compensation program will run out of funding in September 2016.
The testimony appeared to sway Republican committee members. “I don’t believe you’re going to have to lose any sleep about shutting this program down,” U.S. Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) said.
After the first responders finished their testimony, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria), the bill’s sponsor, declared the hearings a success. “This was a crucial hearing for our efforts to extend the Zadroga Act and it could not have gone any better,” she said. “The dozens of firefighters and first responders and survivors who traveled from New York filled the room and sent a strong message about how seriously they take the issue. For many, this is a life and death issue, and we’re treating it with a level of urgency. So I am thankful for all those that made the trip.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr
©2015 Community News Group
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