NY Post - June 13, 2019by Mark Moore
Jon Stewart, the former host of “The Daily Show,” and Luis Alvarez, a retired NYPD detective who responded to Ground Zero after the 9/11 terror attacks, were among those who testified Tuesday at a House Judiciary subcommittee.
They appeared on behalf of reauthorizing the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund for those suffering from illnesses related to their time at Ground Zero.
This is Stewart’s testimony to the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties:
I want to thank Mr. Collins and Mr. Nadler for putting this together. But as I sit here today, I can’t help but think what an incredible metaphor this room is for the entire process that getting health care benefits for 9/11 first responders has come to. Behind me, a filled room of 9/11 first responders and in front of me, a nearly empty Congress. Sick and dying, they brought themselves down here to speak to no one. Shameful. It’s an embarrassment to the country and it’s a stain on this institution. And you should be ashamed of yourselves for those that aren’t here. But you won’t be because accountability doesn’t appear to be something that occurs in this chamber.
We don’t want to be here. Lou (Alvarez) doesn’t want to be here. None of these people want to be here. But they are, and they’re not here for themselves. They’re here to continue fighting for what’s right.
Lou’s going to go back for his 69th chemo. The great Ray Pfeifer would come down here, his body riddled with cancer and pain, where he couldn’t walk, and the disrespect shown to him and to the other lobbyists on this bill is utterly unacceptable.
You know, I would be so angry at the latest injustice that’s been done to these men and women. Another business card thrown our way as a way of shooing us away like children trick-or-treating rather than the heroes that they are and will always be. Ray would say, “Calm down, Jonny, calm down. I got all the cards I need.” And he would tap his pocket where he kept prayer cards. Three hundred forty-three firefighters.
The official FDNY response time to 9/11 was five seconds. Five seconds. That’s how long it took for FDNY, for NYPD, for Port Authority, EMS to respond to an urgent need from the public. Five seconds. Hundreds died in an instant. Thousands more poured in to continue to fight for their brothers and sisters.
The breathing problems started almost immediately and they were told they weren’t sick, they were crazy. And then, as the illnesses got worse, and things became more apparent, “Well, okay, you’re sick, but it’s not from the pile.” And then when the science became irrefutable, “Okay, it’s the pile, but this is a New York issue. I don’t know if we have the money.”
And I’m sorry if I sound angry and undiplomatic. But I’m angry, and you should be too, and they’re all angry as well and they have every justification to be that way. There is not a person here, there is not an empty chair on that stage that didn’t tweet out “Never Forget the heroes of 9/11. Never forget their bravery. Never forget what they did, what they gave to this country.” Well, here they are. And where are they? And it would be one thing if their callous indifference and rank hypocrisy were benign, but it’s not. Your indifference cost these men and women their most valuable commodity: time. It’s the one thing they’re running out of.
This should be flipped, this hearing should be flipped. These men and women should be up on that stage and Congress should be down here answering their questions as to why this is so damn hard and takes so damn long, and why no matter what they get, something’s always pulled back and they gotta come back.
Mr. (Mike) Johnson (R-La.), you made a point earlier and it is one we’ve heard over and over again in these halls, and I couldn’t help but to answer it, which was you guys are obviously heroes and 9/11 was a big deal but we have a lot of stuff here to do and we’ve got to make sure there’s money for a variety of disasters, hurricanes and tornadoes. But this wasn’t a hurricane. And this wasn’t a tornado, and by the way, that’s your job anyway. We can’t fund these programs. You can.
Setting aside that, no American in this country should face financial ruin because of a health issue. Certainly 9/11 first responders shouldn’t decide whether to live or to have a place to live. And the idea that you can give them only five more years of the VCF because you’re not quite sure what’s gonna happen five years from now. Well, I can tell you, I’m pretty sure what’s going to happen five years from now. More of these men and women are going to get sick and they are going to die. And I am awfully tired of hearing that it’s a 9/11 New York issue. Al Qaeda didn’t shout “Death to Tribeca.” They attacked America, and these men and women and their response to it is what brought our country back. It’s what gave a reeling nation a solid foundation to stand back upon. To remind us of why this country is great, of why this country is worth fighting for.
And you are ignoring them. You can end it tomorrow. Why this bill isn’t unanimous consent and a standalone issue is beyond my comprehension, and I’ve yet to hear a reasonable explanation for why it’ll get stuck in some transportation bill or some appropriations bill and get sent over to the Senate, where a certain someone from the Senate will use it as a political football to get themselves maybe another new import tax on petroleum, because that’s what happened to us in 2015.
And we won’t allow it to happen again. Thank God for people like John Feals, thank God for people like Ray Pfeifer, thank God for all these people who will not let it happen. They responded in five seconds. They did their jobs with courage, grace, tenacity, humility. Eighteen years later, do yours. Thank you.
Luis Alvarez, who is battling liver cancer from his time at Ground Zero, also testified to the House panel. Here is what he said:
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Luis Alvarez and I’m a retired NYPD detective on the bomb squad and a proud military veteran. Less than 24 hours from now, I will be starting my 69th round of chemotherapy. Yeah, you heard that correct. I should not be here with you, but you made me come. You made me come because I will not stand by and watch as my friends with cancer from 9/11 like me are valued less than anyone else because of when they get sick, they die.
I’ve been lucky enough to have had 68 rounds of chemo. Yeah, you heard me right. Sixty-eight rounds. Many others haven’t had the opportunity to have five and some have had none. Their families would love to have time with them, and mine have time with me because I have been lucky enough to have the pain and suffering of 69 rounds of chemo and countless other treatments and surgeries.
It is my goal, and it is my legacy, to see that you do the right thing for all 9/11 responders. Please, understand that we are not here for anything for ourselves. We became police officers, firefighters, paramedics to help others. We went to Ground Zero, the Pentagon, Shanksville to help people first and help their families bury someone or something. We were there for one mission and we left after completing that mission.
I have been to many places in this world and done many things, but I can tell you that I didn’t want to be anywhere else but Ground Zero when I was there. We were part of showing the world that we would never back down from terrorism and that we could all work together. No races, no colors, no politics. Now that the 9/11 illnesses have taken many of us and we are all worried about our children and spouses and our families if we are not here. VCF has done a wonderful job and treated my family with greatest respect. But my life isn’t worth more than the next responder to get cancer. My family needs are not worth less than any others who have already died.
This fund is not a ticket to paradise. It is there to provide for our families when we can’t. Nothing more. You all said you would never forget. Well, I’m here to make sure that you don’t. You made me come down here the day before my 69th round of chemo and I’m going to make sure that you never forget to take care of the 9/11 responders. Thank you for your time.