Over the last week, a petition asking Congress to approve a bill that will extend compensation and health care coverage for first responders and survivors was trending.
“Tell Congress we will never forget 9/11 first responders and survivors” has amassed more than 103,000 signatures in the five days since it was launched.
Started by first responder John Feal, the petition asks Congress to reauthorize the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which was first passed in 2010. The law helps pay for the health care of 9/11 survivors and first responders who developed diseases and illnesses following the attack, such as the Act’s namesake, James Zadroga, a police officer who died in 2006 from respiratory disease sustained at Ground Zero.
“I’ve been to 144 funerals since September 11, 2001 including services for many first-responders who joined me at Ground Zero days after the attacks,” wrote Feal, a US Army veteran and demolition supervisor who volunteered at Ground Zero. “I know there are thousands of more families out there who continue to face steep medical bills and struggle every day just to survive.”
More than 33,000 responders have developed illnesses from their time at the 9/11 sites, with 3,700 developing cancers attributed to toxins at Ground Zero, according to the New York Times.
Feal had to have his foot amputated after a piece of steel fell on it at Ground Zero, according to a profile of him in The Wall Street Journal. His own injury didn’t fall within the constructs of the first 9/11 victim compensation fund created by Congress because it was sustained more than 96 hours after the attack. That is what drove him to “get loud” and spearhead the Zadroga Act in 2010.
There are two programs in the Zadroga Act that are set to expire soon. The World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program expires at the end of September. It helps pay for the ongoing treatment of first responders and survivors dealing with chronic diseases or respiratory disorders. The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund expires in October 2016. A nearly $3 billion fund, according to New York Magazine, it helps compensate those who suffer economic losses as a result of injuries or illnesses sustained during or in the aftermath of 9/11.
Along with more than 100,000 signatures in support of the re-authorization, the petition has already received a response from New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, one of the Zadroga Act’s staunchest supporters.
“Only by raising all our voices will we succeed in passing the re-authorization of funding for these critical 9/11 health and compensation programs,” writes Gillibrand. “On Wednesday, we’re going to have a day of action on Capitol Hill and I hope you’ll all join in…by contacting your members of Congress and letting them know you support the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Re-Authorization Act.”
9/11 first responders and their supporters will be in Washington, DC tomorrow to talk to members of Congress about the act. Currently, its reauthorization has bipartisan support – with 129 members of the House and 30 in the Senate co-sponsoring, according to the New York Times – but has yet to be pushed through Congress.
Congress struggled to pass the Zadroga act in 2010 as well, due to debates over the expense of the bill, according to New York Magazine. Feal was instrumental in negotiating the details of the act with Congress and pushing it through then as well.
Want to support 9/11 survivors and first responders? You can sign the petition here.