First, it was the horror of that tragic day, 19 years ago, as first responders ran into the fire, even as the buildings collapsed and debris rained down.
Next came the months of grueling work to remove the bodies and clear the pile, as toxic dust filled their lungs.
Then, the illnesses. The asthma, the cancers, the COPD. Diseases that stole so many more lives of our police officers, firefighters and others.
And now, it’s the coronavirus pandemic, which, in so many cases, feeds off underlying conditions like the ones 9/11 survivors developed. For many with already weakened lungs and immune systems, this latest challenge has been too great to bear. It’s a severe level of devastation and loss, compounded over and over again.
Nearly 3,000 people died in the 9/11 attacks. More than 2,000 have died since from 9/11-related illnesses. As of now, it’s impossible to know how many individuals who died from COVID-19 were also survivors of the 9/11 attacks. But as Newsday reported this week, a story line is unfolding. At one law firm that represents 15,000 individuals and families in the community of those impacted by 9/11, more than 100 clients reportedly have died of the coronavirus. That included 17 Long Islanders, 12 of whom were first responders.
Many were individuals who survived the attacks, and then survived bouts with Ground Zero-caused illnesses, only to fall to the pandemic. Behind each person is a story of loss, recovery and loss again, of family members left behind, of bravery and heroism.
Now it’s up to the federal Victim Compensation Fund and the related World Trade Center Health Program, set up to provide money and health care for the victims of 9/11 illnesses, to make sure those who have fallen ill or died from COVID-19 receive appropriate compensation and care, just like anyone who dies directly from 9/11-related causes. The Fund has said as long as 9/11 illnesses are listed as underlying conditions related to a COVID-19 death, that individual should be entitled to a wrongful death claim and compensation.
If the illnesses are not listed, Fund officials will have to go through medical records to determine a connection. This must be done quickly and appropriately, so that bureaucratic red tape does not compound a family’s grief.
On top of that, the Trump administration, particularly the Treasury Department, reportedly has been withholding nearly $4 million in payments for 9/11 first responders’ medical bills. President Donald Trump should make sure that money is restored.
Nearly two decades after life changed in an instant for all of us, we are living through another life-altering moment. For those who survived the 9/11 attacks, it’s a moment when we must again be there for them, so all can get the care and compensation they deserve. — The Editorial Board