America Leaves Heroes in the Dust

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Published October 8, 2015
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The Montclarion
Photo courtesy of Rebecca Wilson (Flickr).
America Leaves Heroes in the Dust

Daniel Falkenheim, a Journalism major, is in his first year as Assistant Sports Editor for The Montclarion.

A few weeks ago, we all recalled and relived the harrowing moments of 9/11 on its 14th anniversary. Some went to commemorative events, some tweeted and some wrote Facebook posts, but they all shared the same theme. “Never forget.” Now, with Congress letting the Zadroga Act expire, “Never forget” sounds more like a question rather than a declarative statement.

The Zadroga Act, a law providing health care to 9/11 first responders, expired due to inaction by Congress. Let that sink in for a moment. Congress could not extend a law that provided health care to some of our nation’s greatest heroes.
Undoubtedly, some of the same members of the Senate who tweeted and posted about how we should never forget are the same ones that let the law expire.

James Zadroga, the namesake of the law, was the first NYPD officer whose death was attributed to coming into contact with toxic chemicals at Ground Zero.

President Obama, almost five years after Zadroga died of a respiratory illness, signed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act into law and effectively provided thousands of first responders with free health care.

Now, the whole program is in jeopardy due to Congress’s inaction.

There are enough funds for patients to receive health care for another year, but, without an extension to the law, they could be faced with losing their health insurance. Our heroes might not be looked after by our government. I can’t reiterate that enough because of how ridiculous it sounds and how personally infuriating it is.

Almost as disgusting as Congress’s inaction is how there is seemingly no political price to be paid. It had bi-partison support, but no Senator took the opportunity to chastise their colleagues for not supporting the bill. We don’t even know for sure who stood in the way of extending the law.

That’s inexcusable. Every politician who refused to co-sponsor the bill is unfit to hold office. There’s no way politicians can call themselves public servants if they can’t even look after our heroes.

Our politicians’ apathy doesn’t end with the Zadroga Act. Our government is embarrassingly bad at caring for another group of America’s heroes: our veterans. The United States asks veterans to sacrifice their lives, but then doesn’t reciprocate when they return home.
There’s a disconnect between our elected leaders and citizens that is hard to understand. How can our leaders trot out the “support our troops” slogan like it’s part of the Ten Commandments, but not make sure every veteran has a home? How can they ask a person to sacrifice their life for their country, but not make sure every veteran has an ample meal? There are an estimated 50,000 homeless veterans and 60,000 veterans on food stamps and that is seemingly acceptable to most politicians.

I’m not saying this to discount the tremendous work that veteran’s facilities do and I am not saying that veterans don’t have some benefits. Nor am I saying that we don’t provide quality services for veterans. However, it goes to a common theme that our government does not take the utmost care of our heroes.

This isn’t a political issue: it’s an American issue. It’s simply inexcusable. Questioning whether there are funds available for the Zadroga Act should never be listed as a viable excuse to not extend this law permanently.

9/11 first responders sacrificed their lives to save the lives of others and the least we can do to repay them is fight for them and make sure they get the benefits they deserve.

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