10 years after 9/11: Striving to save our 9/11 heroes
September 11th 2001 galvanized this nation like no other single event in recent history. While some of the sights and sounds of the attacks on our nation horrified us, we watched with great pride as our police and fire responded to these attacks like platoons of soldiers in a battle for their lives.
As days passed, the nation grew closer and patriotism was at an all time high. President George W. Bush stood at ground zero in front of the still smoldering pile of rubble and stated, “I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”
Citizens of this nation cheered the President as we embarked on a mission to bring justice to the terrorists who committed this monstrosity on innocent civilians.
That day the President was surrounded by men and woman whom volunteered to conduct rescue and recovery operations at ground zero. These heroes didn’t hesitate to risk their lives for the countless police, fire and civilian buried under the world trade center. The President, in his speech to the rescuers stated “our country will never forget your sacrifice.”
Forgotten First Responders
Despite the former President’s promise, the sad reality is politics have dealt these American heroes a dirty hand. The truth is, this country has forgotten the responder’s sacrifice or at least the politicians have. These men and woman still struggle to get the proper medical care and benefits they need to treat the illnesses contracted by the smoke and pollutants as they searched and recovered our dead and injured Warriors that grim month of September 2001.
You see, cancer has struck 263 NYPD officers that responded to ground zero — 45 have died in the short ten years after that tragic day — and new cases are being reported even now. The most common types include lung, colon, pancreatic, leukemia, and other blood-cell cancers, records show.
Countless other firefighters and civilians responded to ground zero and the number of victims that need assistance is staggering.
I spoke with one of these heroes — a man for whom I have great respect and a man I consider a true Patriot. His name is John Feal, the founder of the Feal Good Foundation and he indicated to me that more than 1,000 rescuers have died in the short period since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Many of these deaths can be attributed to cancers.
We watched for weeks as these men and women sifted through the rubble, searching for victims. We all saw firsthand the smoke and gases they were breathing. In the back of most of our minds as we watched the operation we knew the smoke these people were breathing wasn’t good. John Feal and the many other rescuers knew this also but John said “we did what needed to be done because that’s what we Americans do.”
That type of patriotism is found in many Americans but to run towards the danger as most ran away is not as common. John pointed out that this country was built by men like the responders to ground zero and I have to agree but what most of don’t know is our government didn’t keep it’s promise to never forget the sacrifices these men and women made.
In Tragedy, Triumph
On September 12th 2001, John and his team of construction demolition experts were called to Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan to aid in the cleanup and recovery mission. The greatest City in the world needed expert hands to remove twisted steel, rubble and debris from atop the thousands of people thought to be lost underneath. Having no hesitation, John rushed down to direct his team. Tragically, on Day five of the mission John became the mission. While supervising his team, roughly 8,000 pounds of steel came loose from the huge pile and crushed his left foot. After 11 weeks in the hospital, doctors amputated half of John’s left foot. John went through years of surgeries and innumerable hours of therapy — as well as extensive stays in the hospital.
What John did next was true to his nature: he turned his personal drama into public success. He experienced hurdle after hurdle with medical bills, time lost from work, overtime not gotten and bills piling up. He heard the word ‘No’ too many times from insurance companies, doctors, and elected officials, and John decided right then and there that no American, after serving honorably at “Ground Zero” for the good of our nation, should be treated like a junkyard dog looking for scraps.
The irony is John’s own reputation closely resembles that same junkyard dog when a member of the U.S. Senate or Congress pushed him aside. In the end it was Mr. Feal standing on the steps of the U.S. Congress with a new law proudly and securely in his hands.
John started his effort when he put his home phone number on the “Feal Good Foundation” website when he founded the non-profit organization in 2005. He wanted it to be easy to locate him and easy for people to get help.
World Trade Center Health Program
He has dedicated himself to raising awareness and money for first responders who were injured or got sick after 9/11. He believes many have been denied disability money due them. John made 91 trips to Washington D.C. from his home in New York, to push lawmakers to pass the “James Zadroga 9/11 Bill.”
The passage in December 2010 established the World Trade Center Health Program and ensured $2.7 billon in funding to treat medical ailments of eligible first responders. John Feal’s foundation gives money and support to responder families, “we do whatever we can,” he says. “Some might need a wheelchair so we get them a wheelchair, someone needed oxygen, and we got them oxygen.”
His own mending continues. His foot injury led to back problems, and he has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome. Still, he says, “I haven’t taken a single pill. My foundation is my therapy.
Since 9/11 a commission was formed to hash out the many and various issues as a result of the problems that we haven’t faced in recent history, and that’s the attack on the American mainland with civilian first responders on the front lines of an obvious declaration of war.
The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Bill, although delayed nine years, was a good start in keeping President Bush’s promise but it falls short due to typical politics that are played out everyday on capital hill. Cancer treatment was stricken from the original bills coverage. This is due to one doctor’s opinion and not due to cold hard facts of the large number of responders that have contracted and are/or have died from cancer.
John made a comment to me that makes perfect sense “if you bottled the dozens of toxins that were recognized by health officials as being present in the air at ground zero that we were breathing into individual bottles they would have a skull and crossbones warning label on them but we didn’t breath just one bottle, we had to breath a toxic soup of all these dangerous fumes mixed together for weeks.”
It’s not a far stretch to consider the fact that these toxic fumes could contribute to or trigger illnesses such as cancer especially since the medical community has no idea what causes cancer or how to prevent it. Regardless of the illness we need to keep our promise to these brave and suffering men and women.
As you officers read this article I want you to remember the feeling we get when the public support pours out from our communities when one of are own are taken from us in the line of duty. The local support can be overwhelming and it definitely reminds us of why we took the oath to protect and serve many years ago. Today, these hero responders from Ground Zero need that support but the local community support isn’t enough. They need “National” support so the senate and congress will add Cancer to their benefits. Without national support this issue will fail and what a disgrace that would be to the men and woman whom have already died when all they did was what any on of us would have done.
They Came From Everywhere
John indicated that responders from 400 congressional districts (out of 435 in the nation) responded to ground zero. Men and women from all over the country worked at Ground Zero for months and was exposed to this toxic soup. Clearly this issue isn’t a local New York issue nor can they get it done themselves in Washington D.C., they need all of our support and the politicians need to hear all of our voices.
Don’t assume that your representative supports the changes to the James Zadroga 9/11 Bill because the Republican version of this bill falls way short of keeping President Bush’s promise and their bill is what’s causing the grid lock as the Democrats could pass their version of bill that Feal now supports in the Senate today. So today I ask you to join me and take fifteen minutes of your day and contact your senator and congressman and ask them to add “Cancer” as a benefit to the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Bill. After all, it could be you and I needing this support!
Please visit the website for the Feal Good Foundation and see the many touching videos of victims’ news articles, information and perhaps show your support by donating to this noble cause.
Sgt. Glenn French