12.22.10

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act

I have heard complaints over the past few days about why we in the Senate are still working so close to the Christmas holiday.  All of us would rather be home with our families, but of course we were sent here to serve the American people.  We were sent here to the Senate to do the work of the American people, and we have been trying to complete our work for the past several weeks.  One remaining issue demands our attention: taking care of the Americans who responded to the terrorist attacks on September 11th.  We cannot turn our backs on these injured and ailing first responders.  This is a defining issue of our American values – how we serve those who have sacrificed for our Nation. 

Almost a decade ago, in the aftermath of attack, I visited the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island, New York.  There, I witnessed detectives and medical professionals conduct the heartbreaking work to sort debris from the World Trade Center towers in order to recover the remains and personal effects of those killed in the 9/11 attacks.  It is difficult to describe how moving and powerful this was.  It affirmed my faith in the goodness of America and its citizens.   

These Americans were doing everything they could to bring what little comfort and closure they could to the survivors of those killed.  They were acting not for themselves but for their fellow citizens.  These men and women were driven by the same sense of patriotism and compassion that drove so many brave Americans to rush from across the United States to respond at Ground Zero.  Their acts of heroism, selflessness, and patriotism were emblematic of how Americans came together for one another. 

The legislation we consider today is the least we can do for these men and women who answered the call of their nation in our moment of crisis.  It is for the 30 New York City police officers who have died since September 11, 2001, as the result of illnesses brought on by exposure to the toxic dust and debris.  It is for the 13,000 first responders who are sick as a result of their brave actions at Ground Zero.  It is for the thousands of men and women who came from across the United States to help the people of New York and our country.  And it is for the thousands more who will need medical care in the future.  They deserve the continuing support and assistance of their government, on behalf of all Americans.     

It is deeply disappointing that passing this legislation has been so difficult.  It should not be.  If there is one thing on which we should find unanimity, it is fulfilling our obligation to the men and women who gave so much to help others on 9/11.  These men and women asked nothing before they acted.  They did what they thought was right.  It is long past time for the Senate to do what is right by them. 

I applaud the Senators from New York.  They have worked tirelessly, and in the end agreed to compromise with a few of Senators on the other side of the aisle who were blocking action on this bill to help these first responders.  The legislation we will pass today does not go as far as many of us hoped and believe appropriate, but it will go a long way to help the dedicated police officers, firefighters, construction workers and medical personnel who were injured because of their service at a time of great national need.  I cannot think of a better measure to end our work on in this chamber than the message that we honor their service by taking care of the injuries they sustained while serving.

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