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We Can’t, and Won’t, Turn Our Back on Them Now

When terrorists forever changed America’s landscape that fateful day, September 11, 2001, fire fighters, police officers, EMTs, dog handlers and many more didn’t hesitate to answer the call. Thousands risked their lives — and in some cases, gave the ultimate sacrifice — on that day and continued to work tirelessly in the weeks and months following the attacks to rescue survivors, recover victims, clear the area and help Americans see the true face of American resolve.

The first responders, construction workers and others on 9/11 didn’t give up on this country during a most critical time of need, but now, it feels like some in Congress are giving up on them.

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act, which provides compensation and medical treatment to those who worked at Ground Zero, expired in October. That the program, which has overwhelming support from both Republicans and Democrats, was allowed to expire at all is mindboggling. The fact that it was yanked at the last minute from a surface transportation bill (which is likely to make its way to the President’s Desk in the next few days) is shocking. It also doesn’t make sense. Congressional leaders had the chance to attach a must-pass bill that helps those still suffering health effects from their service during and after the 9/11 attacks to a must-pass bipartisan transportation bill — both of which enjoy strong support in both parties and have a clear path to enactment.

This is no way to treat true American heroes. As a country, we have an obligation to care for the personnel, cleanup crews and others who put themselves in harm’s way, and right now, we’re failing.

In case anyone needs a reminder, those who benefit from this legislation are the men and women who ran into burning, crumbling buildings while terrified citizens were trying to run out. They are the workers who painstakingly picked their way through the rubble and ruins to clear the area. They are the people who removed bodies so victims’ families could have closure. As a result of their heroic actions, many who worked at Ground Zero now suffer from severe and chronic health conditions, including respiratory problems, cancer and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Hundreds have succumbed to complications resulting from exposure to deadly toxins and other substances; many more continue to battle devastating diseases.

The services provided by the bill act as the lifeline to those who served at Ground Zero and who need support to deal with severe health problems.

Waiting until the 11th hour to pass this critical legislation puts lawmakers against a tight deadline to do right by Ground Zero’s workforce and their families. The best and likely final option Congress has to renew the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act this year is to include it in the upcoming Omnibus spending bill. That gives lawmakers approximately two weeks to act — and the clock is ticking.

Making sure the men and women who put their lives in jeopardy on and after September 11, 2001 are properly cared for is the least lawmakers can do. Congress should not go home for its holiday break until this vital legislation is renewed and those who sacrificed so much at Ground Zero receive the care our nation owes them. It is what a good and just nation does.

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