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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

It’s been almost a decade since the Sept. 11 attacks. For those who dug through the ash and trudged through the fallen towers to save those trapped underneath, Congress is offering a balm for their wounds.

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010, which was signed by President Obama on Sunday, allows thousands of people who responded on Sept. 11 to get medical care.

The $4.3 billion bill promises evaluation and treatment for responders and other provisions, including research into physical and mental conditions, and more compensation for families affected by Sept. 11.

Firefighters, police and bystanders who rescued people in the falling buildings and dug people out of the wreckage were exposed to dust, smoke and other toxins. Some of them have breathing problems, psychological disorders or cancer as a result and cannot afford treatment.

The bill passed in the U.S. House of Representatives on Sept. 29, was blocked in the Senate on Dec. 9, but ultimately passed on Dec. 22 following public pressure by citizens and celebrities, including “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart.

“The responders finally got someone to come to their aid,” said Jeff Lane, Gainesville Fire Rescue district chief and the president of the Gainesville Professional Firefighters.

Lane said he was glad that Congress could work past the politics to help those who stepped in to serve their country at a moment’s notice.   

“I think it’s a positive step that brings some closure to one lingering issue after 9/11,” he said.

Bill O’Connor, a 62-year-old UF journalism senior, was a firefighter in New York City for 23 years. He retired a month before Sept. 11, and he said if he hadn’t retired he would have been one of the responders.

“You have to realize that when that building collapsed, it wasn’t only steel and dust and asbestos,” he said. “It was human bones.”

He said he was delighted the bill passed, though he was frustrated by the politics behind the process.

“The Republicans only allowed it to pass because it was so politically abhorrent to a large majority of people,” he said.

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