Eighteen years ago, the collapse of the World Trade Center at the hands of terrorists claimed 3,000 lives. Today, the death toll from the tragedy that occurred nearly two decades ago continues to climb.
First responders performed their duties when hijacked planes devastated the nation on 9/11, and they are still suffering as a result. Asbestos and other carcinogens were released into the air among the debris, permanently harming whoever’s lungs they were inhaled into.
In February, the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, or VCF, was forced to limit their payments to victims by 50 to 70 percent because the number of sick survivors had skyrocketed. Latency periods allowed diseases to lie dormant for years and to expose themselves to survivors unexpectedly. Fortunately, the president signed the permanent authorization of the VCF in July to fully fund the program so it may continue its mission to “provide compensation for any individual … who suffered physical harm or was killed” following 9/11.
However, there is still more to be done. Beautiful memorials were constructed to pay respects to the fallen, but there is neglect toward the health of living survivors. The New York Times quoted a woman whose husband died because of cancer related to 9/11 as saying, “We are yesterday’s news.”
Although President Donald Trump extended the VCF, he has otherwise acted nonchalant regarding 9/11. Then-candidate, he did not correct himself after a 2016 rally where he called the tragic day the name of a convenience store. He “watched our police and firemen down at 7/11,” he said. Three days before the commemoration of 9/11, he canceled a secret meeting he had scheduled with the Taliban at Camp David that would likely have been viewed as a blatant act of disrespect.
The number of victims in need of medical aid and compensation can rise exponentially. Dormant cancers are one of the many health risks that anyone who was on site after or during any of the attacks on Sept. 11 were exposed to. A study published days ago affirms firefighters who were present at Ground Zero have an increased risk of heart disease. The finding corroborates the common argument that the health issues included under coverage must be expanded.
The government-run sister program to the VCF, the World Trade Center Health Program, has a cap on the number of responders it will cover. The cap of 75,000 seems high at first glance, but it is worth knowing that it was already raised after the original cap of 50,000 was reached. With health problems suddenly appearing rapidly, the new cap will soon be reached and will be an unnecessary barrier to the benefits responders need and deserve.
Programs and funding can prevent even more deaths than have already occurred, so long as they are inclusive.
I have been told the day after 9/11 was a day of kindness. Flags sold out in stores as patriotism was on full display, drivers were cautious as they looked out for each others’ safety and everyone was respectful. A divisive tragedy resulted in a unified country.
Today should be no different. Although time has passed, the effects of 9/11 remain. Respects are paid to those who died, but they should also be given to those who did not. Programs and funding are fundamental to 9/11 victims, but senseless caps and limits to what and who they cover show disregard and cause survivors to feel like “yesterday’s news.”