9/11 advocates sought $3 billion for a projected Health Program shortfall caused...

 9/11 advocates sought $3 billion for a projected Health Program shortfall caused by inflation and a higher number of participants. Credit: Raychel Brightman

John Feal is tired, cranky and disappointed.

And, he says, "I'm angry — 24/7." 

It's no wonder. The Nesconset resident has been fighting for more than two decades. After he was seriously injured serving as a demolition supervisor at Ground Zero after Sept. 11, 2001, Feal made it his life's work to advocate for first responders, residents and others hurt or sickened because of the attacks. But even after establishing the Victim Compensation Fund and the World Trade Center Health Program, even after conquering complicated political landscapes to keep them funded, the ugly fight — often led by the heroes themselves — sadly never seems to end.

Every request meets with pushback, from those who don't want to help New York, who don't want to spend the money, who promise to "never forget" even as they do. Yet, somehow, those same elected officials from other states won't have qualms begging New Yorkers to meet their own needs for disaster relief, water shortages and other challenges.

In the latest chapter, 9/11 advocates sought $3 billion for a projected Health Program shortfall caused by inflation and a higher number of participants, and $600,000 for Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania survivors and for research into those who were children when the attacks occurred, along with some important fixes to the funding formula.

Rep. Andrew Garbarino and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand led the charge. But while Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has long been a staunch advocate for the programs, and reassured everyone the latest fixes would get done, negotiations around the effort ultimately failed. 

A last-minute compromise provided the health program with $1 billion, buying a bit of time.

A small victory, but not nearly enough.

"It's putting a Band-Aid on a machine-gun wound," Feal said.

Now Feal and his fellow 9/11 survivors will have to return to Washington for yet another round of what longtime advocate Ben Chevat, who heads Citizens for the Extension of the James Zadroga Act, calls "the sort of performance art you end up having to do."

The walk through the halls of the U.S. Capitol. The march from office to office. The meetings. The news conferences. The begging for help.

All by those who are or likely will become very ill, because they headed into that toxic pile of dust, debris and death, day after day, week after week, month after month.

Feal is gearing up, starting with a Jan. 24 news conference. When you catch his optimistic side, he says a deal could get done by May. 

But he is tired.

"I just don't want to do this anymore," Feal said. "We're a finite number … We are sick and dying. Just leave us alone, fund the World Trade Center Health program so we don't have to keep coming back, let us die with dignity and let us have a fighting chance by going through this program."

The fight begins again next month.

Unfortunately, it probably won't be the last one.

Columnist Randi F. Marshall's opinions are her own.

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