Fire Fighters demand Trump release funds for 9/11 victims’ care
A lone firefighter moves through piles of debris at the site of the World Trade Center in New York, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. | Graham Morrison/AP

NEW YORK—The Fire Fighters are demanding the GOP Trump government pay the New York clinic that treats post-September 11 victims some $3.7 million the Trump Treasury has withheld from the medical facility for the last several years.

IAFF President Harold Schaitberger told Treasury to pay up, now. The New York Daily News had reported the withholding on September 10, the day before the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaeda attacks.

“On the eve of 9/11, the failure of your department to act is offensive and completely unacceptable,” Schaitberger wrote Trump Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin the day of the news story. “The Treasury Department must act immediately to reimburse FDNY [the Fire Department of New York] for their services to Fire Fighters made ill by the response and recovery efforts at the World Trade Center.”

Firefighters, rescue workers, and other personnel work on clearing the area of the remains of the World Trade Center Twin Towers’ in downtown New York Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2001. | Lawrence Jackson/AP

“Nearly Half of FDNY First Responders have a WTC Sickness,” Fire Fighters Local 94 told New York media. “Nearly half of the 15,000 FDNY responders who were working on 9/11—and survived—have gotten sick from their exposure to the toxins that swirled around the World Trade Center site.”

Members of Fire Fighters Locals 94 and 854 rushed to the Trade Center when it was attacked. They helped save more than 10,000 people. But almost 3,000 people, including 343 Fire Fighters and their Catholic priest, died when the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center collapsed after the two al-Qaeda-commandeered jetliners hit them.

Since the attacks and the subsequent cleanup, a special federal fund, established under the James Zadroga Act—named for a dead Fire Fighter—pays for medical bills for the surviving ailing, ill and dying first responders to the WTC site. Or, it’s supposed to do so.

Those responders also include union members, many of them from the Operating Engineers, the Laborers, and other building trades, who came to the site to search for bodies and remove the rubble in the following weeks.

But those survivors suffer and die from high rates of unusual cancers and other ills caused by the lethal particulates, toxins, asbestos, and flaming jet fuel unleashed when the towers collapsed. The GOP George W. Bush administration told first responders it was safe to search and later to clean up the ruins without maximum protection against the fumes.

It wasn’t. Some 228 members of Local 94 alone have died since then. Number 228, Timothy Burke of Rescue Company 5, died on Sept. 11, 2020, of WTC-related cancer. Meanwhile, the medical center that treated Burke and treats others is short of the money it’s supposed to get, Schaitberger said.

“It is my understanding the Treasury currently owes the FDNY an estimated $3.7 million, and this matter has been brought to your attention by the FDNY, members of Congress and others to no avail,” Schaitberger wrote Mnuchin.

“The FDNY World Trade Center Clinic provides comprehensive physical and mental health services to all active and retired FDNY members who responded to the 9/11 attacks. As you know, the health impacts on 9/11 responders are significant and far-reaching.”

The twin towers of the World Trade Center burn behind the Empire State Building in New York, Sept. 11, 2001. In a horrific sequence of destruction, terrorists crashed two planes into the World Trade Center causing the twin 110-story towers to collapse. | Marty Lederhandler/AP

Besides the Fire Fighters killed when the Twin Towers collapsed, “Thousands more suffer daily from lung diseases, cancers, gastrointestinal diseases, mental health ailments, and many other ailments,” Schaitberger pointed out. They’re considered line-of-duty deaths.

Schaitberger isn’t alone in raising the issue of repaying the treatment center. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., first wrote Mnuchin about it several months ago. Treasury explained a technical issue led to withholding the money. It promised to straighten things out. It hasn’t.

The treatment center used the same corporate ID number as other New York City medical agencies, including one that owed almost $2 million to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Treasury said. So it withheld the FDNY center’s funds to offset that other agency’s debt.

King told WNBC News that explanation was “incredible” and “disgraceful.” He raised the issue again with Trump Vice President Mike Pence at a 9/11 commemorative ceremony on Sept. 11, 2020. There is no response, to either King or Schaitberger, on Treasury’s website.

Tweeted Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., whose congressional district includes the Trade Center site, and its memorial: “There is no excuse for behavior this callous and cruel. #NeverForget means more than words—it’s the actions we take to support the 9/11 victims & survivors who sacrificed so much for us. The Trump administration has betrayed our heroes. Shame on them.”

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.