Yesterday, President Biden and the American people paid tribute to the events that happened 21 years ago in New York City, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Patriot Day marks the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that forever changed how we viewed our security and gave birth to a generation of veterans who fought what became known as The Forever War in Afghanistan.
On that day, 21 years ago, heroes were born. Legends were made as firefighters, police officers, retired first responders, emergency health services, and everyday civilians ran into the fire to help rescue their fellow Americans. In the days after, these heroes stayed behind to help with the recovery effort in hopes of finding survivors and preserving evidence for future justice and history.
This heroism came with a hefty price. Each year, more and more Americans who were at ground zero during those days are coming down with various illnesses, including cancers. As Americans and politicians post pictures and give speeches vowing Never to Forget, the quickly depleting healthcare fund for these 9/11 responders is facing potential extinction.
Congress set up what is known as the World Trade Center Health Program to cover the medical care that would come up for first responders who had been at ground zero the day of and the following weeks with the recovery effort. Those heroes inhaled incredibly toxic fumes and were around poisonous materials that have significantly negatively impacted their health.
Currently, there is a $3 billion deficit for the program. If the funding isn’t found, the WTC Health Program will be unable to take on any new members starting as early as October 2024. Since each person’s reaction to the toxic fumes and materials is different, this poses a significant problem. Those who don’t have health issues today could very well develop health issues related to their service at ground zero years from now.
We’ve lost more to the 9/11-related illnesses than we did on the day of the attack. Last year the Department of Justice confirmed this fact stating that since the terrorist attack, which killed 2,977 people, we have 3,300 Americans who died from Ground Zero health-related issues.
It’s incredible to me that this is even an issue. But unfortunately, it hasn’t been the first time funding appeared to run low in the WTC Health Program. Last year comedian and former Daily Show host Jon Stewart eviscerated Congress for not caring enough to ensure health benefits were provided to 9/11 responders and victims.
Perhaps just like with the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins (PACT) Act which provides medical care for veterans affected by burn pits, Jon Stewart will need to make his way back to D.C. to remind Congress what they were supposed Never to Forget.
As New York Representative Carolyn Maloney said recently:
“We should not have to have these men and women come back to Washington and walk the halls of Congress as they have repeatedly done to make sure that Congress does its job.”
I couldn’t agree more, but unfortunately, it seems that forcing these Americans to beg for the benefit they were promised is what it will take each time to secure funding.
As with most things the government touches, funding isn’t the only problem with the healthcare program. However, for first responders and victims still living in New York, finding medical care for their 9/11-related issues is relatively straightforward.
However, not everyone that helped that day was from New York, and not everyone decided to stay in New York. For those who came from other states or opted to move to another state, healthcare has run into a few snags over the years.
Those Americans have to go through an intermediary that acts as a middleman between the 9/11 community outside of New York and their health benefits. That middleman was Logistics Health Inc., which became Managed Care Advisors and OptumServe.
Reports have surfaced from patients that the program has failed to pay their medical bills and provided inadequate treatment options for those eligible for the WTC healthcare program. This comes as no surprise for those of us veterans who have had to rely on the Veterans Administration (VA) for our health care needs.
While $3 billion does seem like a hefty chunk of change, it pales in comparison to some of the funding we have provided recently to other programs and projects. For example, one only has to look at the funding provided to Ukraine to wonder why Congress is struggling to find a measly $3 billion.
This year alone, we have provided more money to Ukraine than to Afghanistan, Israel, and Egypt combined in 2020. And the total is difficult to nail down, to be honest. Just recently, we dedicated another $2.2 billion and $3 billion before that, besides the larger packages that included a $12.9 billion aid package.
However, it’s not just money we send outside the country that doesn’t seem to cause Congress to pause. For example, the student loan bailout is estimated to cost upwards of $519 billion.
So why is it so difficult to find $3 billion for Americans dying from 9/11-related illnesses? Perhaps we’ve forgotten what we owe these heroes.
New Jersey Representative Frank Pallone has warned:
“If Congress does not quickly address this impending crisis, then the men and women who put their lives on the line and who survived the 9/11 terrorist attacks will lose health coverage to treat the physical and mental illnesses that they sustained that fateful day.”
As if facing possible crippling medical bills that were promised to be covered isn’t enough, signs indicate that the next generation of Americans don’t know what they are supposed to never forget. Little wonder why, given that only 14 states currently require students to learn about 9/11.
And the cherry on top? Military prosecutors are negotiating a potential plea deal with 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, possibly saving him from facing a jury and the death penalty.
It’s not just money that is scarce for the 9/11 community; it would appear we are running low on justice as well.
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