After September 11, volunteers from all corners of the United States came to ground zero. These men and women stepped forward to confront the horror of that day for days, weeks and months to come.
Killed on 9/11 were 2,977 men, women and children, and the wounds our nation suffered will never be forgotten. The victims we forget are those first responders who still suffer serious health problems — like respiratory illnesses and cancers caused by toxins and carcinogens inhaled at the terror sites. Many of those first responders who suffer in silence today are right here in Illinois.
One of those unrecognized heroes is Arthur Noonan, a retired Chicago firefighter who volunteered at ground zero and contracted leukemia in 2004. Noonan served 30 years with the Chicago Fire Department before retiring in 2004 because of his cancer diagnosis. He has been left out of a settlement that covers the health claims of more than 10,000 workers at the World Trade Center site, leaving the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program as one of his only options for health care and support.
The program was designed to provide healthcare access and care for those who are suffering from these toxin-induced illnesses. Signed into law in 2011, the WTC Health Program provided healthcare treatment for our first responders like Arthur. But the program’s benefits, including medical monitoring and victim compensation, are set to begin expiring in October.
We cannot allow that to happen. The program has monitored the illnesses and injuries of more than 63,000 first responders and more than 7,800 injured survivors, 170 of whom live in Illinois. Currently, more than 33,000 responders and survivors have an illness or injury that is related to the attacks.
To continue the WTC Health Program, I joined Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York in introducing the bipartisan James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act.
The bill is named for James Zadroga, a New York City Police Department officer who died in 2006 from a respiratory disease attributed to the time he spent at ground zero. While this bill is named for James, his story is not unique.
The horror our nation witnessed on 9/11 will forever be seared into our hearts and our minds, as will the ways in which we came together as a nation.
I will never forget being at Soldier Field for the Bears’ home opener on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Thousands from Illinois and more than 130 first responders gathered to remember the lives lost and the sacrifices made that day. The volunteers who rushed towards danger are too often forgotten as we remember that awful day. The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act can help show our gratitude for their fearlessness.
Mark Kirk, a Republican, is the junior senator from Illinois.
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