The Invisible Diseases of 9/11

2014 911 911 stRescue workers conduct search and rescue attempts, descending deep into the rubble of the World Trade Center, September 15, 2001. (Photo: Jim Watson / US Navy Photo)We have money for wars but not for heroes.

Today is 9/11, the anniversary of one of the darkest days in American history.

On that fateful day, nearly 3,000 people lost their lives at the World Trade Center, on the hijacked planes, and at the Pentagon.

But 9/11 is still claiming lives, some thirteen years later.

Often lost in talk about 9/11 is the story of the brave men and women who rushed to the World Trade Center, to help rescue victims and save lives.

These first responders dug through piles of rubble, inhaled countless asbestos particles and other toxic chemicals, and risked their own lives to save others.

And on that terrible day, a total of 411 first responders lost their lives.

Today, those first responders who managed to survive 9/11 are dying off, and our government is doing very little about it.

According to the latest figures, more than 2,500 New York City police officers, firefighters and EMTs reported they had cancer as of last year – twice as many as was reported in 2013.

Similarly, the New York Fire Department has said that at least 863 current or former firefighters and EMTs have cancers directly related to their work on September 11, 2001.

And, the World Trade Center Health Program, which provides health care treatment for police officers, construction workers and others who had a role in rescue efforts on 9/11, reports that it has 1,655 patients with cancer – up from 1,140 cancer patients in 2013.

Additionally, according to 9/11 Health Watch, at least 30,000 first responders have some sort of injury or illness from 9/11.

And, at least 70 firefighters and 60 NYPD officers have already died from 9/11-related illnesses, like cancer.

One of those 9/11 first responders who has since passed away was John Devlin, with whom I had the opportunity to speak to on multiple occasions on The Big Picture.

John was a healthy and athletic engineer, who arrived on September 12, 2001 as part of the wreckage-removal process.

He worked at Ground Zero twelve hours a day, seven days a week, for nine-and-a-half months.

For nine-and-a-half-months, John dug through rubble and wreckage that was filled with toxic chemicals while the Bush Administration assured him and the rest of the first responders that everything was safe.

In 2009, John was diagnosed with throat cancer, which, since he wasn’t a smoker, almost certainly developed because of his exposure to the toxic chemicals at Ground Zero.

Unfortunately, John’s throat cancer progressed, and he lost his battle with that dreadful disease six months ago today.

So, with dozens already dead, and more and more first responders developing cancer and other deadly illnesses from their life-saving work on 9/11, you would think that our politicians would be doing everything in their power to make sure these men and women, these heroes, have access to the health care they need and deserve. Right?

You would be wrong.

You might remember that it wasn’t until 2010, NINE YEARS after 9/11, that some form of comprehensive legislation was passed by Congress to help first responders, and even that was a struggle.

That’s because, as part of their Obama presidency sabotage efforts, back in December of 2010, Republicans in the Senate initially filibustered and blocked the passage of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.

That’s right; Republicans put politics ahead of the lives of the thousands of men and women who sprang into action on 9/11.

Scoring cheap political points was more important than saving lives.

Two weeks later, thanks to Republican sabotage, a drastically trimmed-down version of the bill with much less funding was passed by the Senate and signed into law.

Today, there are still thousands of people, first responders and others, waiting to get health care compensation under the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund (VCF), which was re-booted under the Zadroga Act.

Meanwhile, the VCF reported this week that a staggering 44 percent of its cases are still pending.

The VCF is set to run out of money in 2016, meaning that Congress will once again have to pass legislation to fund and extend it.

Lawmakers are rolling out a bill this week that would do just that, but given the current levels of Republican obstructionism in Washington, and what happened the first time around, that’s far from a certainty.

Speaking about the need to extend the VCF and Zadroga Act, Republican Congressman Peter King of New York said this week that, “This is not a Republican issue. This is not a Democratic issue. This is an American issue. We have an obligation as Americans to provide them with the health care that they need, the families the compensation that they need. And again, we all say we’ll never forget 9/11 but if we forget the victims of 9/11, we have forgotten 9/11.”

Congressman King is right. But he’s one of the few Republicans talking like this, and he’s probably only talking like this because he represents New York.

Helping the men and women who risked their lives to save others on 9/11 shouldn’t be treated as a political issue. It’s a moral one.

We have an obligation to help these men and women and their families.

Along with the victims of 9/11, the first responders bore the brunt of that deadly day, and now, they’re basically getting screwed by Republicans in Congress, and they’re starting to die off.

It’s ridiculous that we’re off fighting wars and about to spend billions on more military operations against ISIS, when we can’t even take care of America’s real heroes.

It’s time for America’s heroes to get the help and support they deserve, and to prevent the diseases of 9/11 from claiming any more lives.

Call your Republican members of Congress and tell them for once, put politics aside, and do the right thing: Support an extension of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.