Eighteen Years Later, 9/11 Grief Still Resonates

Times Herald Record - September 11, 2019

Eighteen years, and we still feel a chill from a crisp autumn day when the sky is that certain shade of deep blue.

Eighteen years and still people are dying from the attack that September morning, when the planes hit, and the towers fell and filled lower Manhattan with that massive cloud of ash, smoke and pulverized debris.

That morning, 2,977 people were murdered, and more than 6,000 were injured that day. Most of the dead - 2,606 - were in or around the World Trade Center in New York City.

The FDNY lost 343 that day, and more than 200 since then from sickness spawned by the toxic debris at ground zero. There were 72 police and peace officer fatalities at the WTC, and 229 since, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

Some of those first responders, and some of the civilians who died, lived in the mid-Hudson.

Here, like in New York City, worried teachers tried to shelter students from the news. Here, like in New York City, there were fathers and mothers, sons and daughters who never came home.

Whole communities came together in grief.

That grief is still there, every year, when we gather to honor the people we lost.

Never forget? How could we ever forget? How could anyone?

It took years to recognize the breadth and depth of that day’s toll on first responders and on the people who lived and worked near the towers. In January 2011, President Barack Obama signed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010 into law, allowing people made ill or injured by the WTC attack to get reimbursement for medical expenses. Although the law was named for first responders, it also covers people who lived or worked in the exposure zone.

Obama signed an extension in 2015, extending the filing deadline to December 2020.

In February, the special master overseeing the fund announced that the well was running dry, and claim payments would have to be reduced.

Cue a massive effort by advocates for further funding and reauthorization, some of them terminally ill firefighters such as Luis Alvarez. Entertainer John Stewart, their advocate for years, again stood with them.

Alvarez gave a moving, impassioned speech to a Congressional committee in June, urging them to take action, shaming them for their delays. He died shortly after, but his words and work achieved his legacy.

On July 24, Congress passed The Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. President Donald Trump signed it into law on July 29. Now the filing deadline extends through October 2090, with the ability to appropriate funds needed to fill claims.

And the claims will continue to roll in: 51,816 filed since inception, with about half deemed eligible. Through the end of August, the fund had awarded $1.193 billion to survivors.