New York Police Department Officer James Zadroga died 13 years ago.
We knew then that a crisis was underway. First responders and others who had been at the World Trade Center site during and after the 9/11 terrorist attacks were getting sick and dying. But we didn’t know how awful it would be — or how disappointingly long it would take to help them.
While it took more than a decade, Congress finally did the right thing, and President Donald Trump did his part, too, when the Victim Compensation Fund, born from an act named after Zadroga in 2009, was finally made permanent last week. The bill Trump signed last Monday poignantly included two additional names — Ray Pfeifer, an FDNY firefighter from Hicksville who died in 2017, and Luis Alvarez, an NYPD detective from Oceanside who died in June.
The new law permanently funds the critically important compensation fund, essentially creating a blank check to aid tens of thousands of people who headed into harm’s way and worked on the tragic site known as “the pile.” Perpetuation of the compensation fund and the World Trade Center Health Program, which was permanently funded in 2015, is the least America can do.
More than 22,000 individuals have been awarded money from the compensation fund; another 21,000 claims await decisions. Since February, payments were reduced when the fund ran low. Now, the Justice Department, which oversees the compensation fund, should pay what is owed, quickly. Appropriate administration of the fund and health program should continue, unlike the misguided attempt last year to weaken the health program by moving it out of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Tragically, many more people will get sick and die. Now, these brave responders and others who suffer know their country will care for them and their families. And out of the darkness of such a horrific time comes a ray of light.