9/11
A firefighter walks through the rubble of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Photo: Getty Images

Hundreds of 9/11 first responders, their family members and other supporters gathered in Washington on Monday to call for the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund to be fully financed, so that those harmed by Ground Zero toxins are able to receive financial support.

The Victims Compensation Fund is running out of money, the special master overseeing the federal fund announced on Feb. 15, meaning that firefighters, police, EMS, construction workers and anyone else who was diagnosed with cancer or otherwise made ill by 9/11 toxins could see their compensation awards cut by 50 to 70 percent.

This is more than just a New York issue, said LeRoy McGinnis, vice president of the FDNY Uniformed Firefighters Association union. There are now first responders and regular citizens who have been injured or made ill by those Ground Zero toxins in every state and all but one congressional district.

McGinnis hopes the Monday call to action highlights the urgency of this issue, and pushes officials to fastrack a bipartisan bill that would fully fund the Victims Compensation Fund and also make it a permanent fixture.

 

“Every 9/11 for 17 years, all politicians want to stand next to first responders and say the phrase ‘Haven’t Forgotten,’ or ‘Never Forget.’ All over the country they do this, every state,” he said, speaking by phone from Washington. “Well, here’s their chance to back up that with some action.”

The current act, which was passed in 2015, guarantees medical care for first responders until 2090, but does not provide the same length for monetary compensation, which helps with a slew of other burdens placed on these responders and their families.

Costs not covered by the medical portion of the act could include things like travel to and from health facilities, McGinnis said, along with financial help when someone has to take off from or quit their job to take care of a sick loved one and even expenses like outfitting a home to be handicap accessible — a situation faced by one of McGinnis’s good friends who passed away a little over a year ago.

The fight to keep the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund

The bipartisan bill, called the Never Forget the Heroes: Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act, was introduced Monday by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Chuck Schumer and Cory Gardner and Representatives Carolyn Maloney, Jerry Nadler and Pete King.

“When we needed them, they were there for us. So whenever one of our 9/11 heroes is diagnosed with a 9/11-related illness, we should be there for them,” Gillibrand said in a statement at the initial news of the compensation fund cuts.

Jon Stewart was one prominent figure to visit Washington on Monday and call for congressional support of the bill.

9/11 victims compensation fund
Jon Stewart and 9/11 responder John Feal visiting Hill offices on Feb. 25 to call on Congress to make the Victims Compensation Fund permanent. Getty Images

The bill does not include a gap on awards, with the text written as "all sums deemed necessary," Gillibrand said at a Monday press conference. By making the fund permanent, she added, this means anyone who develops cancer in the future as a result of 9/11 will still receive support. Unfortunately, that’s a serious reality.

As of Sept. 2018, at least 10,000 people have been diagnosed with cancer linked to 9/11, and many more are expected to get sick. The Victims Compensation Fund cuts mean that some people are missing out on aid just because of cruel timing.

“People being diagnosed with what’s considered World Trade Center cancer are now applying for the fund and suddenly being told, ‘If you would’ve been sick two years ago, you would’ve gotten more money,'” McGinnis said. “Now, because of timing, they’re not going to get as much. There’s obviously something wrong with that equation.”

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