Republicans Crush Hope for 9/11 Heroes

By Donna Smith

‘Tis the season.  As the Republicans gloat over the tax breaks they’ve fought so hard to protect for the wealthy and the potential to extend those Bush-era breaks for two more years, 9/11 first responders asked them just to allow a vote on their bill -- the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.

So many thousands of New York rescue workers are still ill following their exposure to toxins and debris in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City.  And so many fought to move this legislation that would finally secure healthcare coverage for thousand of people who need help and upon who so many people relied in the face of the 9/11 crisis.

For months, even years, following the attacks, many people praised the first responders for their service.  But many became too ill to work, and many lost their insurance coverage, their incomes and their homes.  Other residents of New York City also became ill from the dust and the debris.  

When the buildings burned and began to crumble, there were no reports from ground zero that first responders stopped those in danger and checked on their political affiliation before helping.  Yet, today, Republicans Senators broke the promise and vow we all heard their Republican President George W. Bush make to never forget their bravery and their sacrifice.  

The Republicans in the Senate in December 2010 did worse than forget; they just didn’t care.  

The House approved the bill after months of hard work by first responders and their allies.  Nine years after these brave souls were pressed into service and so many were permanently sickened, they finally had reason to hope for a more stable and broad mechanism for getting the care and compensation they need.

“Republicans denied adequate health care to the heroes who developed illnesses from rushing into burning buildings on 9/11,” he said. ``Yet they will stop at nothing to give tax breaks to millionaires and CEOs, even though they will explode our deficit and fail to create jobs. That tells you everything you need to know about their priorities.”

The bill is named after a New York City Police Department detective who participated in the rescue efforts at ground zero. He later developed breathing complications that were common to first responders at the site, and he eventually died in January 2006, reported the New York Times.

Let’s put this in context, shall we?  The Republicans want and welcome adding $900 billion to the federal deficit to make sure the richest people in the nation – the richest 2 percent – get tax cuts.  Yet, the James Zadroga bill had a total price tag of $7.4 billion to help thousands of the estimated 60,000 people still suffering and needing healthcare as the result of 9/11.  

That’s the reality of the greed and the cruelty in our government today.  Is it any wonder that so many American distrust government?  Through glaring example after glaring example, the rich and privileged are protected and the rest of us are dismissed or used as political fodder.

I recall sitting in the dining room in a hospital in Cuba with Billy Maher, Reggie Cervantes and John Graham, the three 9/11 rescue workers featured in Michael Moore’s 2007 documentary film, SiCKO.  We were all in Cuba getting care we could not get in the United States.   

I was arguing with Billy and telling him the American people would not forget them and that we do care what is happening to them.  Billy fired right back at me that I was wrong, that most people would forget what happened to the 9/11 workers, and that our telling of our stories in SiCKO would probably be pointless because of that ignorance and the greed and the political corruption that protects the wealthy and so easily ignores the suffering. Defiant, I insisted we would never allow him to be forgotten.

I’m so sorry, Billy, I am so sorry.  You were right.

Donna Smith is a Community Organizer and Legislative Advocate for National Nurses United/California Nurses Association.