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Saturday, September 25, 2021

9/11 first responders deserve more than a hashtag

Oct. 3 marks a crucial date for more than 30,000 Americans: the expiration of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.

It is named after former NYPD first responder James Zadroga, who died of a respiratory disease he likely contracted from the twin tower’s toxic, dust-ridden environment in the aftermath of 9/11.

The Zadroga Act primarily ensures funding for health care programs that provide care for 9/11 responders and survivors, like the World Trade Center Health Program.

"Why was this bill set to expire in the first place?" You may wonder. At first, the Zadroga Act failed to pass entirely in July 2010.

House Republicans stiffly opposed the original budget proposal (to be funded by the closing of a corporate tax loophole), and House Democrats feared public controversy so close to election season. In December 2010, when the act moved to the Senate, a stiff Republican filibuster nearly dashed all hopes.

Then, former "The Daily Show" host Jon Stewart responded to this congressional backlog by dedicating his entire Dec. 26, 2010 episode to the Zadroga Act. Stewart called out senators like Mitch McConnell and Jon Kyl for their dismissiveness, then hosted a sincere interview with four 9/11 responders.

Because of Stewart’s efforts, as well as those of New York senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer, strong advocates and co-sponsors of the Zadroga Act, Congress finally agreed to legislation consisting of a five-year commitment to Zadroga.

In fact, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg cited Stewart as "one of the biggest factors that led to the final agreement."

All of this background raises some noteworthy questions: How do we know these health issues are directly related to the 9/11 aftermath?

Why can’t these responders simply turn to their insurance for health benefits?

We tend to focus our attention only on the fall of the towers, but the aftermath for many of these responders was just as grueling.

First responder John Devlin noted on "The Daily Show" in 2010, "Almost 10 months, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, we were down there, breathing in all that toxic... like a thousand toxicities down there."

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Furthermore, doctors of the WTC Health Program report the rates of heart conditions, respiratory problems and cancers are shockingly high among these first responders, many of whom were in good health and fitness before 9/11.

On top of battling their health failures, these responders faced another uphill battle to get medical coverage.

Many became unfit to work when their conditions developed, so they lost access to health insurance.

As for workers’ compensation, insurance representatives would contest whether these conditions were actually work related or simply unfortunate coincidences.

The result: About 33,000 9/11 responders and survivors, nationwide, depend on the benefits provided by the Zadroga Act.

And the legislation is set to expire on Oct. 3.

Starting Wednesday of last week, Jon Stewart, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and hundreds of 9/11 first responders and supporters gathered on Capitol Hill to lobby Congress.

Back in April, New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney drafted a reauthorization and amendment of the Zadroga Act, which calls for extending the benefits of the act permanently.

"(Congressmen) tweet on 9/11 ‘never forget.’ Well, guess who they forgot?" Jon Stewart remarked last Wednesday in the halls of Congress. "I mean the disconnect is jarring and shocking… For the amount of money that they have wasted on adventures outside of this country, it is, in context, very little money to give them the security that they need to fight the illnesses that they got on that pile."

We the people are not helpless in the fight.

Renew911health.org generated an efficient search engine that displays which Congressmen have sponsored the Zadroga Reauthorization Act.

For our representatives here in Gainesville, only Sen. Bill Nelson is a sponsor.

House representatives Ted Yoho, Corrine Brown and Senator and Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio (also a UF alumnus) are not sponsors, nor have they communicated their reasons why.

Phone numbers to the offices of each Gainesville congressmen are listed below. If you wish, call our representatives and advocate for the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act.

I can personally testify on the ease of the calling process, and with enough voices, we can contribute to a genuinely worthwhile cause.

In these next two weeks, remembering 9/11 is simply not enough. Scores of 9/11 responders and volunteers did their part to serve us.

Now, it is our turn to serve them.

Office of Marco Rubio: 202-224-3041

Office of Ted Yoho: 202-225-5744

Office of Corrine Brown: 202-225-0123

David Hoffman is a UF history and physics sophomore. His column appears on Tuesdays.

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