On September 11th, 2001, my wife and son were in Logan Airport waiting to board a flight to New York. I was almost 4,000 miles away working in Mostar, Bosnia.
At the time I was a war crimes investigator working for the United Nations and I was in Mostar to take a statement from a former Bosnian Prisoner of War who had been tortured by his captors.
When we finished for the day I went next door to a small café and my eye was drawn to the television in the corner, which was running footage of emergency crews responding to some kind of major disaster.
It took a few minutes for the full story of what had happened in New York to unfold and, as it did so, my blood ran cold.
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Yesterday, while still on vacation in Hawaii, President Obama signed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act into law, laying the groundwork for a $4.3 billion fund to cover the healthcare costs of first responders suffering from medical complications arising from their service at Ground Zero.
The act will come too late to help former NYPD officer James Zadroga, who died in January 2006, but 100s of his fellow officers, firefighters, steelworkers and volunteers will benefit enormously. In the words of Mike Paladino, President of the New York City Detectives Endowment Association:
“The USA has done the right thing.”
It is shocking to note that New Yorkers had to wait nine years for this burden for so many heroes of 9/11 to be lifted. It is even more shocking to note that if had not been for public outrage at the political shenanigans that accompanied the dying days of the last Congress this act would still be languishing at the bottom of politicians’ ‘to do’ list.
So, we would like to take this opportunity to give a shout out to all of you who raised your voices on this issue and to those who took our online action. You can be very proud of a good day’s work.
It is not yet clear how exactly the act will be implemented but you can rest assured that going forward Amnesty International USA will be keeping a watchful eye on Washington to make sure that all those first responders and residents of lower Manhattan who need medical help in the months and years ahead receive it.
The 9/11 Heath & Compensation Act would ensure medical treatment and compensation for 9/11 responders and other survivors.
The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010 (H.R.847) — named for a 9/11 responder whose death has been attributed to exposure to toxic dust and debris at the Ground Zero site — will help ensure medical treatment and compensation for 9/11 responders and other survivors, including firefighters, police officers and clean-up workers, as well as area residents and workers adversely affected by the attacks.
The New York Times reported that Detective Zadroga’s father, Joseph Zadroga, said he was pleased the bill was named after his son. “It’s an important issue because of the first responders,” he said. “They’re not getting the proper care that they should be getting.”
The bill was defeated earlier this year when some Representatives complained that it would create a new entitlement program and waste taxpayer dollars, and objected to the inclusion of undocumented workers who helped respond to and clean up 9/11 sites.
However, the bill will be voted on again soon, possibly even this week , so we need you to email your Representative, urging her/him to support it.
Under international human rights laws and standards, victims of crimes such as the attacks of September 11have a right to reparations, including medical care and compensation. Passing H.R. 847 would be a crucial step toward fulfilling this right.
It is shocking that U.S. government representatives would turn their backs on the very people who put their lives on the line to be involved in rescue, recovery and clean up efforts. It amounts to nothing less than revictimizing people already traumatized by the attacks. Nine years later, it is long past time to move beyond the rhetoric of being in “solidarity” with victims, and actually pass the laws and adequately fund the programs that victims not only need, but have a right to.