9/11 First Responders Deserve Better
9/11 First Responders Deserve Better
Yesterday was a day that should live in infamy. A sub-committee of the House Judiciary Committee met to hear testimony from 9/11 survivors in preparation for a vote to “extend a compensation fund for those ailing and dying of diseases linked to toxic debris at the disaster sites.” Except many of the committee chose not to attend the hearing. Former Late Show host Jon Stewart fought back tears during his testimony as he not only advocated for the survivors and their families but noted the lack of attendance by committee members. While I’m not normally a fan of Mr. Stewart, I applaud him today. He showed more concern for those brave first responders than our so-called representatives.
Sick and dying, they brought themselves down here to speak . . . to no one,” said Stewart, who fought back tears at times during his remarks. “It’s shameful, it’s an embarrassment to the country. . .
I’m sorry if I sound angry and undiplomatic, but I’m angry,” he said. ‘There is not an empty chair on that stage that didn’t tweet out ‘never forget the heroes of 9/11’ . . . well here they are! And where are they? And it would be one thing if their callous indifference and rank hypocrisy were benign, but it’s not. Your indifference cost these men and women their most valuable commodity: time. It’s the one thing they’re running out of.”
The disrespect shown by these lawmakers is unbelievable. Are they more concerned with doing whatever it takes to get Donald Trump out of office than they are with making sure our first responders are cared for? When did political agendas become more important to the Democratic Party than the welfare of those they supposedly support?
I know, I know. Foolish questions. Political agendas have taken the forefront where the liberals are concerned for years. Let’s face it, both parties are guilty of it. But this. . . this is something else. This behavior is something we, as voters, should loudly protest.
The 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund expires in 2020. Its purpose is simple: To “compensate for deaths and illnesses linked to toxic exposure at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after terrorists crashed four hijacked airliners on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.” Originally operated from 2001 – 2003, Congress reopened the fund in 2011. In 2015, it extended the life of the fund until 2020. In that time, it has paid out approximately $5 billion to more than 20,000 claimants. Of those, approximately 700 died payouts were for deaths that occurred long after that terrible day due to injuries or illness stemming from the attacks.
Now, the end is nearing for the fund and, unfortunately, for a number of those first responders. If that isn’t bad enough, the fund’s special master “previously announced plans to cut payouts by between 50% and 70% to ensure all are paid.”
One of the objections some have voiced to the fund is that it is strictly a “New York” problem. But, as Stewart points out, those first responders who have suffered, and who have died, as a result of their actions in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington DC were from more than just NYC and New York State.
“Al-Qaeda didn’t shout death to Tribeca — they attacked America, and these men and women and their response to it is what brought our country back,” he said.
But their sacrifice, their willingness to sacrifice everything in an attempt to search for survivors and to then help recover the bodies of the fallen, apparently isn’t enough reason for some members of the sub-committee to attend the hearing. My guess is they don’t have the stones to sit there and look those first responders and their families in the eye and hear their stories. Perhaps they are worried their hearts, like the Grinch’s, might grow and they might actually feel compassion.
Who knows, they might even realize there are more important things than trying to figure out their next mode of attack on the Trump Administration.
But don’t take my word on how certain members of the sub-committee feel about the fund. Watch the end of the video of Stewart’s testimony. Watch House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D) look around as those in the gallery applaud Stewart’s comments. He gives a remarkable imitation of someone who really doesn’t want to clap but knows he has to or he will lose all credibility. Then he gives what it little more than a golf clap.
Poor Jerry, things didn’t go the way he wanted apparently.
How long until he tries to blame the funding issue on Trump? After all, he blames Trump for everything else.
At least the Republican members of the sub-committee have said they would vote for the extension. We can only hope the others will as well.
The sub-committee members who failed to attend today’s hearing should be ashamed of themselves. They should have to answer some very hard questions from their constituents on why they weren’t there. (And why the would have been there, front and center, if they’d been discussing yet another way to turn time back so they could put Hillary in the Oval Office.)
Jon Stewart said it best toward the end of his comments: “They did their jobs with courage, grace, tenacity, humility. . .18 years later, do yours!”
I never thought I’d agree with Stewart when it came to anything nearing politics, but in this he’s right. Members of the committee and Congress as a whole should be held accountable for following through to their promises to these first responders and their families. Those who failed to show for the hearing should be ashamed of themselves. Our country should be ashamed of this shoddy treatment of those men and women who risked it all when they could have turned and walked away.
So, to paraphrase Mr. Stewart, “Members of the Committee, members of Congress, They did their jobs with courage, grace, tenacity, humility. . .18 years later, do yours!”
UPDATE: Earlier today, the House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously–as they should–“in support of a bill that would give fresh money to a compensation fund for those who are sick or dying from illnesses linked to their work amid the toxic debris at 9/11 attack sites.” Now the bill will go to the full House, presumably sometime next month. In typical WaPo fashion, the paper predicts it will easily pass the House but its fate isn’t as certain in the Senate. No explanation is given, other than Republican. But that is a post for another day. At least the first hurdle has been cleared. Now to see what the House does when the bill comes to the floor.
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Featured image: Fire fighter pointing amidst the rubble of a burned building. 14 Sept 2001. Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.
OK, I’m going to complain about this post, Amanda.
First, I’m never a fan of legislating in response to emotion. I don’t think gov’t should do things because people gave “tearful testimony” or whatnot. Sorry, but no. Legislation should be based on facts, jurisdiction, and reason. And Stewart’s whole rant – while correct in some ways – reveals that the committee meeting was centered entirely around tugging at heart strings. (I also believe criminal sentencing should not be based in this, either. “Victim’s statements” about how much they were hurt – outside of monetary damages – should be generally irrelevant to sentencing, imo.)
Second, nowhere do I see a list of who did and did not attend. Seems folks (not necessarily you) are pointing fingers at Dems, but without actually accusing any specific Dems. Who was actually there? Who was not there? Who’s on the sub-committee? (And Congresscritters skip sub-committee hearings all the time.)
Third, why do we care who was and wasn’t there? If it was Republicans not showing, I don’t care much, since they’ve already said they’ll pass the bill (assuming it doesn’t get larded up with other crap). If the Democrats who didn’t show have already pledged to support the bill (without larding it up), then they didn’t really need to be there either. Was there ANY testimony against the appropriation?* Because that’s all those people really needed to hear.
This goes back to a question of “Why even have the sub-committee meeting?” It’s a show, is why. I’m certainly not going to minimize the pain and suffering of those folks. But their testimony is largely irrelevant to a vote on the bill given no one really wants to be seen as insensitive to the 9/11 first responders. But it was a way to get things read into the Congressional Record and get some nice video/sound bites for the news archives.
As to the actual legislation, I am not as much a fan of its continuation as so many others. Why couldn’t this fund have been set up properly in the beginning with a proper amount of funding, and the survivors work within that funding? It’s been 18 years. Why does it keep receiving appropriations? (The answer to that is: Other People’s Money.**) If one of these survivors lives to 120, will we still be appropriating funds in 2099? If that’s the intent, then make it a recurring obligation in the budget, with a sunset provision for “when there’s no one left needing care for issues directly caused by 9/11.”
(A different question: Why not simply put all these people in the VA system, since it’s good enough for our veterans? Right, AOC? Then we wouldn’t need ongoing specific appropriations for them.)
(* Patton quote: “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.”)
(** Davy Crockett story: https://personalliberty.com/sockdolager-a-tale-of-davy-crockett-charity-and-congress/ )
Why is this an issue for the Federal Government. Is this issue so large, so intractable that the state of NY cannot handle it? The situations in PA and DC were plane crashes. What special issue is there for 1st responders in those two sites? This is emotional and political manipulation.
While I agree that the sub-committee hearing is “emotional and political manipulation”, the federal issue is one I’m mostly OK with because it was an act of war. It happened to involve a lot of civilians, but it was an act of war – and an act of war on any (or several) of the states involves war on the whole. And war tends to fall outside the normal jurisdiction of the individual or several states.
Was it an act of war or a terrorist attack? If it’s an act of war then the Geneva Convention should apply to the enemy combatants.
I don’t think we want to go there. It was a terrorist attack. The situation in DC and PA were not extraordinary from a 1st responder health perspective. The situation should be focused on NY and it should be handled by NY. Surely NY is capable of managing the health issues of its 1st responders.
Keep up the great writing. Love this site!
An act of terrorism IS an act of war. The distinction between an illegal act of war and a legal one is a side issue to it being an act of war.
What makes terrorism naughty is that it’s war conducted in a fashion that is “un-civilized” – by attacking what should not be legal targets. It’s still war. (Which is why I’ve often stated that attacking a military base is NOT terrorism, since they are legal targets.)
Also, undeclared war is still war by those “civilized” standards. Even though it’s naughty.
Oh, and I mostly agree on the “NY should be capable” thing. But I can see making it a national burden to care for them. But only because “act of war”, not because of ‘compassion’.
(Also, if you know anything about the Geneva Conventions on prisoners, etc., you’ll note that the conflict being a war doesn’t mean that all the combatants are ‘legal’ and thereby protected by the Convention. We screwed up how we handled terrorists in this 2-decade long war.)
Not just us. Every time “Hamas” or ISIS” fires rockets from the middle of civilian areas, or uses ambulances to transport fighters and weapons, or puts the weapons inside schools and mosques, they commit a war crime, called Perfidy.
The Geneva Conventions prescribe the response to Perfidy: full and unrestrained counterattack. When the rubble stops bouncing, you haul any prisoners out and execute them, all the way up to the head honcho, as being the ONLY ones responsible for the casualties and damage.
No one — not the Israelis, not us, not any of our allies — has been willing to apply that penalty. Which is why the practice continues.
One thing I’ll add is that it isn’t just FDNY or New York responders that are having these issues. Multiple FEMA task forces were deployed there, as were other specialists from Fire Departments across the country. Due to the wide dispersion of responders, as well as the fact the USAR Task Force mobilizations are a federal deal, I’d say that the involvement of the Fed in taking care of the responders is completely appropriate.
Is there any doubt Jon Stewart’s speech was thoroughly scripted, rehearsed and professionally performed to invoke maximum emotions?
Literally thousands of first responders all across the nation die early deaths, contract toxins and cancers due to their roles in putting out fires, mopping up toxic spills, etc. And their local communities, cities and states fund their health insurance plans to levels much, much lower than the mega-wealthy New York.
Why is New York more worthy of US taxpayer’s support than they are?
Do they have to hire professional actors to go to Congress to cry on cue too?
(I read some reporting about a $1 billion insurance fund to cover those claims, of which about $100+ million had been used for lawyer fees, and $300k for medical claims)
See my comment above as to why this SHOULD be a federal issue, and not just a NY one.. And yes, I’ve been a firefighter for over 30 years, so I totally agree with your other comments about the risks faced by all first responders.
Federal agencies cover health insurance for FEMA and other federal responders. New York can cover New York responders.
We’ve already given $8 billion. If we can’t provide this level of care to Joe firefighter in Moore, OK or John EMT in Bugtussle ID, then enough is enough.
An interesting article hitting the notes I did, and more:
I disagree with the author a bit, especially in “5. The Alternatives Are Far Worse”. I think Congress doing a LOT fewer things – including subcommittee pony shows – would be the BEST alternative we could get out of the deal.