I'm not saying that all of the brave souls who responded on that terrible day aren't heroes, but I grow increasingly frustrated by watching so many politicians and pundits borrow against that heroism for their own gain while offering nothing in return. How can we take our politicians and pundits seriously when they stand at the microphone and talk about the heroes of 9/11 when we as a nation have failed to treat the first responders like the heroes they are?
If you are not prepared to treat them as heroes, then please don't say the word.
The tragedy of 9/11 isn't just something that happened a decade ago, it continues. The death count continues to grow. Our heroes who responded that day are sick, many of them terribly so. And while they have suffered with the most horrible health problems, we as a nation stood by and did nothing, and worse. It took us almost ten years to pass a healthcare bill for our 9/11 heroes. Yes, it took us almost a decade to give meaning to the word hero by agreeing to pay for their healthcare. Of course, we had to cut deals and get past republican filibusters in order to finally pass the bill. Yes, the GOP filibustered the bill. In fact they blocked it numerous times, in numerous ways and ultimately weakened it in order for it to pass.
But our national insult to our heroes goes beyond making them and their families suffer for a decade before we would acknowledge their very real health problems. Now that the bill has passed, many of them still fail to receive care and treatment for their illnesses. It turns out that cancers were not covered by the James Zadroga 9/11 Health Compensation Act because it has been determined that there is insufficient evidence that the cancers are the direct result of working at Ground Zero . As a result, our heroes suffer still.
Don't our heroes deserve more? What difference does it make if any of their health problems are the direct result of working at Ground Zero or not? Shouldn't we take care of the best among us, including all of their healthcare, as a national show of appreciation for all they have done?
So during this week of remembrance I ask our politicians to resist tying their star to the hard work and great sacrifice of our 9/11 heroes unless they are prepared to treat them as such. I don't want to hear any cheap rhetoric. I don't want to see any opportunistic legislation . I want to see real action. I want to see our heroes treated with the dignity and respect, not just that they deserve, but that they quite literally have earned.
Words have meaning. Among them, hero should be reserved for the highest praise, the highest respect, and should only be used with the intent to treat our heroes accordingly. If you choose to use the word this week, I hope you will also choose to introduce, cosponsor and vote for legislation to finally treat our first responders like the heroes they are. It's time we put an end to the suffering of 9/11.