Detective Luis Alvarez’s heart-wrenching words Tuesday ought to settle the question immediately: Congress has a clear and urgent duty to replenish the 9/11 Victims’ Compensation Fund.
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Gaunt and rail-thin, the former NYPD cop testified: “I will not stand by and watch as my friends with cancer from 9/11 like me are valued less than anyone else.”
This is not “a New York matter,” as many in the House and Senate seem to think, but a stain on the nation’s honor.
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The fund helps cover the costs, mainly medical, suffered by the firefighters, cops, construction workers, etc., who spent weeks in the post-9/11 recovery and cleanup effort.
Just as the terrorists attacked America on that day, these Ground Zero workers served the entire nation in the months that followed. Even as the fires burned on into December, they searched and cleared the wreckage, leaving the site ready for reconstruction and the country able to begin to heal.
And they did it amid a host of toxins from the wreckage — with everything from asbestos to mercury in the dust. Medical science is still grappling with how toxic the mixture was, but major respiratory ailments and some cancers are clearly more common among the veterans of Ground Zero.
Every New Yorker old enough remembers the smell from miles away, well into the fall: That air was nothing natural.
Congress has already opted twice, in 2011 and 2016, to compensate these workers for the delayed effects. But it didn’t OK enough money. The fund has spent $5 billion (as of February) of a $7.4 billion authorization that was to last to 2021. The shortfall forced it to start paying out claims at 50% — and new claims at just 30%.
Luis Alvarez is starting his 69th round of chemo; he has liver cancer. He shouldn’t have to go to DC to ask the nation’s leaders to do right by him and his fellow sufferers. Nor should it take a comedian like Jon Stewart to call out the lawmakers who didn’t even bother to attend the hearing.
To start, Congress needs to replenish the fund so full payments can go out. And it needs to settle on a long-term answer so that Detective Alvarez, or any other hero of the recovery effort, never needs to go back to Washington to demand simple justice.