Passage of the 9/11 health care bill was thanks to the efforts of elected officials, labor leaders and emergency workers, who kept their promise to remember those who became ill or died after working at Ground Zero, speakers at a rally yesterday said.
"This is not a miracle. This is called being patriotic," said John Feal of the FealGood Foundation, an advocacy group for responders sickened by toxic dust at the site of the World Trade Center collapse. Feal was surrounded by New York elected officials, union leaders and first responders at a Ground Zero rally Thursday celebrating passage of the bill on Wednesday.
Branded "the warrior" by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Feal told the crowd that "we came together as patriots - together united as one." Feal, of Nesconset, started to push for the bill in 2006.
"This was a grass-roots movement that demanded that we stand by our heroes," said Gillibrand, who thanked Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Democratic Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Carolyn Maloney of Manhattan, and Long Island's Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford).
"This movement bubbled up from the bottom like all great American movements," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). "This bill saves lives and ensures that our first responders will get the medical care they need."
The $4.3-billion measure, which awaits President Barack Obama's signature, will fund health care costs for first responders, police, firefighters and other workers who labored at the World Trade Center site immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Phil Rizzo, 54, of Glen Cove, a retired corrections officer who attributes his respiratory problems to his work on the debris pile, said passage of the bill will ensure he can continue to see doctors at the 9/11 monitoring program at The Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan.
"I'm happy. This will give us the best medical care at Mount Sinai that has been able to connect the dots in treating first responders," Rizzo said.
Retired NYPD officer Glen Klein of Centereach said, "We fought the U.S. government and we won - and people said it couldn't be done."
However, Schumer stressed that "the work is not done. The next step is to make sure the money is in place by Memorial Day next year. We want to make sure that the best health care is up and going by then."