CONGRESS FINALLY GIVES FIRST RESPONDERS A NEW LIFELINE
By: Robert Foreman
After what has seemed like endless political debate, the Senate voted 97-2 to fund the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund through 2092. The House had already passed the funding bill weeks earlier after former Daily Show host Jon Stewart and numerous first responders essentially shamed Congress into finally taking action. Stewart, and many of the first responders, were on hand when the bill passed the final hurdle to ensure that the victims of 9/11 would finally get the permanent lifeline that they needed.
While Stewart has been considered by many to be the public face in the fight for the 9/11 Fund, John Feal has also been on the front lines of the battle from the start. Feal, a former construction worker, has worked tirelessly to get justice for himself and others impacted by 9/11. Just as Stewart shamed the House of Representatives into taking action, Feal took up a public campaign to finally force the Senate to take action and both he and Stewart did not mince words when it came to the senators who refused to support the funding bill. Feal was injured when a steel beam fell on his foot at Ground Zero and ultimately forced a partial amputation. He was denied compensation for his injury since it happened outside of a 96-hour window of the terrorist attacks.
Feal turned his anger into action and founded the FealGood Foundation in an effort to lobby Congress to provide more funding for 9/11 first responders. The foundation is dedicated to assisting all emergency personnel workers, including volunteers, sanitation workers and construction workers, in the United States who were injured, or face serious injury, due to action or omission while performing their duties or in their daily lives. Additionally, the foundation seeks to educate lawmakers and private entities about the various problems, issues and concerns that first responders deal with on a daily basis.
While it is great news that Congress has finally done the right thing by the first responders who were impacted by 9/11, in reality it never should have taken this long. Taking care of the first responders who survived 9/11, and who have spent the ensuing years battling health issues, should have been priority number one. It’s one thing to say on TV and at campaign rallies that you honor the sacrifices that these brave men and women made. Yet, making them come hat in hand to Congress, more than once, just to get the proper compensation for their multitude of health issues is just inexcusable. Actions speak much louder than words ever could.
When the fund was initially established it paid out over $7 billion dollars in compensation for victims and their families. After much political wrangling, Congress reactivated the fund and set aside $7.4 billion dollars which was set to run through 2020. However, the onslaught of claims has strained the fund and advocates have been pushing for a more permanent lifeline. Sadly, hundreds of first responders have already lost their lives due to the health complications that resulted from Ground Zero as Congress dithered over money. If not for Stewart, Feal and the other first responders continually holding lawmakers’ feet to the fire who knows if the struggling survivors would have gotten the long-awaited justice that they deserved. Thankfully, that is a reality that we won’t have to imagine any longer.
The new funding bill is named in honor of Luis Alvarez, James Zadroga and Ray Pfeifer, who all died from health complications that arose from their work at Ground Zero. While the three first responders did not live to see the final passage of the extension, their family, friends and former colleagues may take some small comfort in knowing that their memories and sacrifices are now immortalized in a bill that will benefit other 9/11 first responders for decades to come. Anyone wishing further information about the FealGood Foundation can visit their website: https://fealgoodfoundation.com/