First responders to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. are using the backdrop of the carnage in Paris to urge Congress to act on a languishing proposal to renew their health care benefits.
Organizations backing a renewal of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act rallied Tuesday outside the Capitol to push for action and scored their first major victory when four additional lawmakers, including Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, announced that they would sign on as co-sponsors of the legislation.
“Programs designed to meet the unique health needs of those Americans should be renewed, and those who rely on them should not face uncertainty and continued anxiety over their future,” Mr. Rubio, Florida Republican, said in an announcement Wednesday.
Mr. Rubio is the first high-profile Republican candidate to come out in support of renewal of the Zadroga Act. All three Democratic candidates have voiced support.
The Zadroga Act expired in September but has funding to last another year. Those who were injured or developed health problems as a result of their response to the Sept. 11 attacks are asking Congress to renew the act to provide indefinite medical monitoring and treatment through the World Trade Center Health Program and September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.
“What kind of message does it send to America if folks like this have to stand up in front of Congress and beg for health care support?” said first responder Paul Rieckhoff, founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “With the appalling attacks on Paris and Beirut still fresh in our minds, more than ever, our country needs to send a signal that it supports those who have answered the call to service.”
The legislation has 65 Senate co-sponsors and 249 House co-sponsors, including three lawmakers in addition to Mr. Rubio who joined Tuesday. But the bill has languished as other lawmakers have put forth proposals to extend the benefits for five years.
More than 33,000 first responders and Sept. 11 survivors have illnesses or injuries related to work at ground zero.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler questioned how a lack of renewal of the Zadroga Act, named for a New York City Police Department officer who died of a respiratory disease attributed to his participation in recovery operations, would resonate with those asked to fight terrorists today.
“We just had a huge terrorist attack in Paris,” the New York Democrat said. “We have all kinds of people saying we should send the troops in, etc. Are we going to tell those troops, ‘If you get wounded, you’re on your own’?”