Gottheimer Stands with First Responders, Victims, Calls for the Restoration of the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund

Mar 04, 2019
Press

 

Above: Gottheimer demands Congress fully fund the VCF alongside first responders, Jaime Hazan, 9/11 first responder and VCF beneficiary, and Jaime’s service dog Bernie

 

TEANECK — Today, joined by fire fighters and law enforcement, Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-05) demanded that the full benefits of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund be restored and extended alongside fund beneficiary Jaime Hazan and North Jersey first responders.

On February 15, 2019, the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund announced that injured and ill 9/11 responders and survivors will receive cuts to the awards that they were expecting of 50% for pending claims and 70% for future claims. Gottheimer is an original cosponsor of new legislation that will ensure the VCF is fully funded.

“On 9/11, our first responders ran directly into danger when others ran out. They are heroes and need our help,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-05). “The 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund expires in 2020 and, as time has passed, many of the victims who were exposed back in 2001 are first developing symptoms now. And there just aren’t enough allocated resources to cover all of those who and have suffered. Because of this funding shortfall, it was recently announced that injured and ill 9/11 responders and survivors – like Jaime Hazan with me today – would receive across the board cuts of 50 or 70 percent of the benefits that they were promised. That’s absolutely unacceptable. That is why I am proud to be an original cosponsor of bipartisan legislation, the Never Forget the Heroes Act.”

“I appreciate Congressman Gottheimer’s work on behalf of first responders who are still suffering from the aftermath of 9/11,” said Jaime Hazan, a 9/11 first responder, advocate, Victim Compensation Fund beneficiary, “There are thousands of us still dealing with illnesses and cancers because our work on the pile on 9/11 and the days and weeks after. I’m calling on ever member of Congress to pass the Never Forget the Heroes Act and do right by our first responders.”

Video of the event can be found HERE.

Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery can be found below:

I want to thank all of the first responders here today. 9/11 is the ultimate example of how they put their lives on the line for us every single day, standing up to danger, threats and terror. 2,977 souls were lost that morning. Bergen County alone lost 147 residents – people working in the buildings, fire fighters, law enforcement officers, EMS — 147 families torn apart, never to be the same again – including seven tragically lost here in Teaneck.  And we remember them every time we see the beautiful memorial just feet from here, as we do at other powerful memorials across northern New Jersey. 

Firefighters and local law enforcement have lost scores that morning and countless others since.  It’s been reported that more than 2,000 have died since – 10,000 first responders been diagnosed with cancer. Port Authority suffered the single greatest loss of life for a single police department in our country’s history — their headquarters was at the World Trade Center. 37 Port Authority police officers walked out of their homes that morning, not knowing they would not return. In total, the Port Authority lost 84 in the terrorist attack. They were the first to respond to the scene because they were literally at the scene. The first to respond to a front in the war on terror – al Qaeda, ISIS, and a new rash of homegrown, long wolf, ISIS-inspired terrorists at home. 

Since then, in the War on Terror, we have thousands of brave young men and women from North Jersey serve our country overseas, and at home, to protect America’s interests and those who seek to threaten and destroy our way of life. A few weeks ago, I spoke to a group of more than one hundred members of the New Jersey National Guard, who were being deployed to fight terror in North Africa – to prevent another 9/11. 

On 9/11, our first responders ran directly into danger when others ran out. 

Just like we must always stand by our veteran and active duty, we are here today because we must continue to get the backs of all first responders, and others, who get ours – who stood up to the terrorists and ran into the burning buildings on 9/11 and in the weeks that followed.  They are heroes and need our help. The idea that some want to walk away from them is simply unacceptable; it’s appalling. We will continue this fight until we get the backs of all of our 9/11 heroes. 

This is a fight where we’ve had many champions, from Jon Stewart to Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney to Congressman Peter King, to all who are here today and walking the halls of Congress and I’m grateful.

I wanted to take a moment to tell Robert’s story, which builds on Jamie’s, because I believe they get at the very heart of the reason we’re here today. Robert grew up here in Teaneck, in the same house Tracy was raised in. He joined the fire department, as a volunteer, and, he held two part time jobs: one as a Coast Guard Reservist serving one weekend a month on the Governors Island fire department, and another with the EPA in Edison. 

On the morning of September 11th, 2001, Robert was headed to Edison when the planes hit the Towers.  Like so many others from our area, Robert immediately grabbed his turnout gear from his trunk, hopped in a car with other federal employees, and drove through the tunnel into the city. There, he joined up with other firefighters who spent the entire day at the scene, sifting through the rubble to rescue his fellow citizens trapped underneath. 

He even had to run to escape the collapse of Building 7. Having spent the entire day working on the pile, Robert boarded a pick-up truck an officer flagged down to bring him to the George Washington Bridge, where so many of Jersey’s brave first responders were picked up by their loved ones, and where he was met by Tracy’s mother.

Robert and Jaime’s stories are remarkable, and their patriotism, service, and sacrifice is proof that we truly live among heroes. On 9/11, as our world changed in an instant, hundreds of Jersey cops, firefighters, and EMTs — just like Jaime, Robert, and so many brave North Jersey first responders represented here today by the FMBA and the PBA — answered the call of duty and rushed towards the pile. 

Many stayed for days and weeks. As those horrible images flashed across every TV screen in the country, and we didn’t know what was going to happen, the brave men and women of so many local departments offered us hope. For the thousands they pulled from the rubble to return to their loved ones, these heroes were their saving grace.

And if you ask how they were able to summon the courage that day, they will tell you that they were simply doing their job. 

Our nation has an obligation to do everything in our power to take care of the responders and survivors of these attacks. 

Because as you’ve heard here today, their heroism did not come without a cost. Many brave first responders have already died — or are still suffering — from serious illnesses and cancers from exposure to harmful toxins, smoke, and debris from the pile, and in the aftermath of 9/11.  During those first few days, many didn’t even wear a mask or the appropriate mask – they were told that they would be fine.

After 9/11, our country set up a Victims Compensation Fund, with a Special Master to oversee it, to help cover and compensate for 9/11 illnesses and injuries, and lose earnings, benefits, and out-of-pocket medical expenses. 

But here’s the problem: the fund expires in 2020 and, as time has passed, many of the victims who were exposed back in 2001 are first developing symptoms now.  And there just aren’t enough allocated resources to cover all of those who and have suffered. 

As a result, the Special Master of the Victims Compensation Fund recently announced that because of this funding shortfall, injured and ill 9/11 responders and survivors would receive across the board cuts of 50 or 70 percent of the benefits that they were promised.  That’s absolutely unacceptable. 

We can’t leave law enforcement with brain tumors and end-stage lung disease caused by 9/11 by the wayside.  

We know that these conditions often lay dormant — many for years — before showing symptoms later-on in life. By 2004, thousands of first responders and survivors were diagnosed with illnesses related to their exposure to the rubble. Finally, in 2010 — long after action should’ve been taken — Congress passed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. 

I spoke to a friend of mine this morning who was at Ground Zero; his doctors told him that his stage four cancer started developing soon after 9/11.    I’ve heard too many similar stories from law enforcement. – I’ve heard from many that they view it as not a matter of if, but a matter of when they are diagnosed with these cancers or other illness related to what they were exposed to on September 11th and the days and weeks after. 

There are still hundreds of first responders and volunteers going through the Mt. Sinai monitoring program, hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. It’s in the back of the minds of all who were there that day – “When will I be diagnosed? Will it be too late? What will happen to my family?”

They did their job, now it’s time for us to do ours.

That is why I am proud to be an original cosponsor of bipartisan legislation –The Never Forget the Heroes Act — to fully-fund the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, so that no 9/11 survivor has to ever worry about his or her health care being covered. This legislation will fully cover any victim whose compensation has been cut and cover any victim going forward. We cannot fail the cops, EMTs, firefighters, volunteers, and survivors, who served and protected us when we needed it most.

As of earlier this year, more than 47,000 claims had been filed with the Victim Compensation Fund, and more than 11,000 additional claims are expected by 2020, when the fund is sent to expire unless Congress acts. We must do right by our first responders – once and for all, no excuses. 

Just a few years later, sick first responders who had our backs in our darkest hour, had to fight to get Congress to reauthorize the Zadroga Act in 2015. It’s unthinkable that are even having this fight again today. 

It has taken us far too long to learn many of the lessons of 9/11, and to put in place all the measures necessary to prevent future terrorist attacks. Last year, a bipartisan bill I introduced, the Saracini Aviation Act named for Captain Victor Saracini, the pilot of the hijacked United Airlines flight 175, was finally signed into law. This legislation requires all new aircrafts to have secondary barriers to the cockpit to prevent terrorists from seizing the flight deck and hijacking another plane. This Congress, we re-introduced legislation to ensure that all commercial aircraft — new and old — are retrofitted with secondary barriers to protect our country from another attack.

I also introduced the Drake Act, which will help law enforcement thwart deadly lone-wolf, ISIS inspired attacks. I also introduced the FASTER Act, which will speed up our efforts to combat homegrown terrorism, which will help give law enforcement the tools to freeze the financial assets of homegrown terrorists.

I want to thank all the first responders here with us today once again for all they do for us every single day. We must pass the Never Forget the Heroes Act as soon as possible so it can be signed into law. Our first responders have our backs every day – here in New Jersey, they are part of what make our communities such safe and special place to live. I am urging every single one of my colleagues in Congress — Republicans and Democrats — to support this legislation to ensure that we take care of the first responders who stood by us. 

May God bless you and may God continue to bless the United States of America. 

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