DENVER (CBS4)– A Colorado first responder says, it is “shameful” that Congress has put off passing a bill to help victims of 9/11 related health problems. The Senate will vote next week on a bipartisan bill to ensure a victims’ compensation fund related to the Sept. 11 attacks never runs out of money.
“All of those individuals answered the call. When the country needed them, they were there. And now those individuals need the country,” says West Metro Division Chief Steve Aseltine.
He’s among 64 members of Colorado Task Force 1 who were called to Ground Zero after the World Trade Center was hit.
“Searching through the rubble pile; helping extract victims from the rubble pile.”
Specialized in urban search and rescue, the task force was vital in finding survivors and recovering bodies. Today, their mission has exacted not just an emotional toll but physical toll as well. Aseltine says, last year, West Metro engineer Aaron Lybarger died from 911 related cancer and two other task force members are sick as well. Aseltine says they knew the air at Ground Zero was bad.
“We did everything that we possibly could with the technology we had at the time to protect ourselves as much as we could.”
Recognizing their sacrifice, Congress established the 911 Victims Compensation Fund to help pay for their medical care. But that fund is now rationing payments and will go broke next year unless Congress acts. Colorado’s U.S. Senator Cory Gardner, a Republican, is one of the lead sponsors of a bill to permanently reauthorize and fully fund it.
“No one should be at risk of standing up at an hour when this country needed them the most and questioning whether the American government has their back.”
But, Congress has dragged its feet on approving the bill. It passed the House but Senator Rand Paul blocked a vote to fast track approval in the Senate, citing the cost.
“When I meet Coloradans who were part of this effort, I’m so proud of the work that they did and I’m so grateful that they stood up in a time of need. I want them to know that I’m fighting for them each and every day and that we as a country are fighting for them each and every day. Congress needs to pass this bill now.” said Gardner.
Aseltine agrees, “I believe it’s completely shameful. I still believe that ultimately, as a country, we’ll do the right thing.”
More than 260 Coloradans are enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Registry and more than 160 have requested help through the Victims Compensation Fund.