Hoosier first responders fighting for 9/11 compensation funding

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Hoosiers who served at Ground Zero after the 9/11 terrorist attacks are getting sick and they are worried funding for their medical bills is running out. The 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund is set to expire in 2020.

On Tuesday, Jon Stewart gave an emotional testimony on Capitol Hill, asking to make funding permanent. A day after his testimony, the House Judiciary Committee passed the bill. It now heads over the full House for a vote.

Members of Indiana Task Force 1 think it should pass since they did not volunteer to go to Ground Zero. Gerald George was a task force leader during their deployment to New York City. He now battles GERD, a digestive disorder. His said his doctor believes he got it because of his time at Ground Zero.

Around two years ago, he started getting help from the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund to pay for medical bills.

"We expect if we got injured at the job that workers comp would cover us," he said.

He's worried because the $7.3 billion fund is running out. In February, the special master of the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund, Rupa Bhattacharyya, said they received a record number of new claims in 2018. She determined that there was not enough money to pay all current and projected claims.

That means they had to cut some payouts by as much as 70 percent. That is why Congress is considering a bill that would reauthorize the fund until fiscal year 2090.

"People are having to make decisions whether to purchase medications to support their disease and make house payments," said Tom Neal, a division chief with the Indianapolis Fire Department.

Neal was also part of the team that went to Ground Zero. 62 members of Indiana Task Force 1 deployed after the second tower fell. For a week, they searched through rubble to find any survivors.

He believes more than 40 percent of their team is sick because of their exposure to toxins at Ground Zero. Three of their members have died from cancer. Neal is not sick but he wants that security if something comes up in the future.

"This just adds additional debt to our country but when the nation needed us, we responded," Neal said.

George considers himself lucky. He felt money should not come out of his pocket when the government asked them to serve.

"It’s being able to support people who went to help other entities during their time of need," he said.

Several House Representatives from Indiana co-sponsor this bill, including Congressman André Carson, Congressman Larry Buchson, and Congresswoman Susan Brooks.

A spokesperson for Senator Todd Young said he supports ensuring the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund continues for our brave first responders, and he hopes legislation will be considered in the coming weeks.

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