“Still here. Still breathing. Still fighting.”
Op-ed by Congressman Lee Zeldin
Almost eighteen years ago, our nation experienced the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil in the history of our nation, and these many years later, it’s not over. On September 11th and in its wake, there were countless heroes who stepped up to the plate without a moment's hesitation when our country needed them most.
In the face of unconscionable evil, they were the ones who ran in when everyone ran out, who worked 12-hour shifts on the pile for months returning victims to their families, and who refused to bow in the face of fear and helped hold our country together.
In 2011, to help these heroes, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act was signed into law, and five years later, the Zadroga Act was permanently reauthorized and included $4.6 billion for the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund (VCF).
The Victim Compensation Fund was established to provide compensation for the victims of 9/11 and their families, and continues to provide compensation for those suffering from 9/11 related illnesses and their loved ones.
However, in February, the Special Master of the fund issued an alarming report, which stated its funding was insufficient to compensate all claims and the fund would have to make 70% cuts across the board.
I can vividly recall in years past how so many first responders who had fallen ill were forced to come to our nation’s capital to beg for the benefits they rightfully earned. Now, here we are again, not even four years later with sick and dying 9/11 first responders being forced to travel to Washington to beg for the benefits that they have been promised.
One of those heroes was Lou Alvarez, a 9/11 first responder, Long Islander, and American patriot. In 2016, just like so many other 9/11 first responders, Lou was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, one of the thousands of cancers now attributed to the inhalation of the toxic air and debris at Ground Zero.
Just two weeks ago, Lou Alvarez gave the most inspiring speech before the House Judiciary Committee, and, immediately afterward, Lou rushed home for his 69th round of chemo. Unfortunately, when he got home, things didn’t go as expected. Lou went into hospice vowing to continue fighting until the very end so that other 9/11 first responders don’t have to. Lou says, “Still here. Still breathing. Still fighting.”
Lou is an American hero, but his spirit and grit is representative of the thousands of 9/11 first responders who have fallen ill. For them and for our nation, Congress needs to do its job and pass H.R. 1327, the Never Forget the Heroes Act, which would fully fund the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund.
In the aftermath of 9/11 we vowed we’d never forget, and now we must make sure of it.
Congressman Zeldin represents New York’s First Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives and is an original cosponsor of the Never Forget the Heroes Act of 2019.