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What's next for New York's first responders?

You have probably told the story of where you were when you first saw or heard the events of 9/11 many times. It's impossible to forget the sight of smoke trailing out of the World Trade Center tower before it collapsed.

New York's first responders were there. They saw the collapsed building up close. They inhaled it while they were saving lives, and years later, many of them are dying from cancers and lung problems related to their heroic efforts.

Honoring the men and women who responded to the emergency

According to the World Trade Center Health Registry, tens of thousands of men and women responded to the collapse of the Twin Towers. They included firefighters, police officers, EMTs, and thousands of other laborers, contractors and volunteers. While they worked, these men and women breathed air laced with hundreds of tons of pulverized plaster, glass and asbestos.

Studies show their efforts now put them at significantly greater risk for many different diseases and ailments, including:

  • Lung disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Blood cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Mesothelioma

Responding to these studies, congress helped create the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund to help first responders cover their medical expenses. The fund was created in 2011, but its money began to run out by the beginning of 2019.

For years, ailing first responders had unsuccessfully petitioned congress to extend the funding. Then in a fiery, eight-minute speech, comedian Jon Stewart argued on their behalf. He noted that "the official FDNY response time to 9/11 was five seconds" but that the first responders still had to plea for health coverage eighteen years later. The speech went viral, and the next day, the House of Representatives unanimously passed the funding bill.

Why the continued funding is important

One of the victims Jon Stewart named in his speech was scheduled for his 69th chemo treatment. Chemo and the other treatments for cancer are expensive, and NPR recently reported that victims had already used $5 billion of the $7.3 billion fund by February 2019. Still, there were 19,000 unpaid claims to address at that time, and some first responders might not yet have noticed the effects of their exposure. Diseases like mesothelioma can take decades to manifest.

Senators recently sat down with first responders to discuss continued funding. While it is unclear if and when the proposal will pass in the Senate, there have been positive indications that it will move forward. 

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