‘We vowed to never forget’: Queens lawmakers rally for extension and full funding of 9/11 health bil

Just before the 17th anniversary of the conclusion of recovery operations at Ground Zero, City Councilman I. Daneek Miller, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and advocates called on Congress Wednesday to pass the permanent authorization of the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund Act which will expire next year.

Gathered across from the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in Lower Manhattan, attendees at the May 29 rally demanded full financing of the VCF through 2090.

“The notion that the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund could one day cease to exist is unimaginable,” Miller said. “The escalating crisis of sick and injuries seeking help through the VCF to address their health needs have grown beyond the program’s capacity and must be resolved quickly and definitively. We proudly lend our support towards this initiative to provide every afflicted responder and survivor the peace of mind they rightly deserve, as they bravely face the many challenges ahead.”

More than 2,000 active FDNY personnel and nearly 1,000 members of the NYPD have been forced into early retirement due to debilitating 9/11 illnesses, and close to 400 of them have died from illnesses linked to their work on “the pile” at Ground Zero.

“On Sept. 11, 2001, our nation lost 2,997 people, but soon deaths from 9/11-related illnesses may outnumber those who were killed on that horrific day,” Maloney said. “We vowed to never forget the first responders, survivors and families who risked their lives and made incredible sacrifices for our country. Congress passed the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act that I authored to cover health care and provide compensation to those made ill by the toxic materials released when the towers fell. While we need to make the health care permanent, the compensation fund is running out of funds. We need to make sure these heroes never have to go without the support they need.”

The bill has earned bipartisan support of more than 330 congressional officials and is scheduled to be heard next month by the House Judiciary Committee.

John Feal, a 9/11 activist and first responder at Ground Zero, who has led survivors on lobbying missions on Capitol Hill for years, says the 2090 date would cover the expected life expectancy of survivors if their health needs are met with the bill.

“Passing this bill will mean that we no longer need to go to the nation’s capitol to request assistance on behalf of 9/11 first responders and survivors,” Feal said. “The more than 330 co-sponsors on this bill is inspiring and indicative of the deep respect this country has for these heroes.”

Overall, the rate of responders and survivors who have become sick or died has surged since 2004 as their bodies are ruined by cancer, asthma, and gastrointestinal illnesses. These responders and survivors are spread across the country with over 95,000 living in all 50 states.

“The greatest sacrifice still lies ahead for too many of our police officers and our other first responders, in the forms of cancer and other diseases that are still emerging all these years later,” PBA president Patrick Lynch said. “It is unconscionable that families struggling with loss or serious illness will be turned away of forced to accept less than they deserve. Congress must honor its obligation by permanently reauthorizing and fully funding the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund.”