09/11/2008 03:40 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

United in Memory

Today, our nation is united in memory. As we observe the 7th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, the emotions of that day return. But the horror of those few minutes is mirrored by the ongoing plight of those who rushed into the toxic clouds at Ground Zero immediately following the attacks--volunteers from every state and many nationalities.

As they sifted through the rubble in the weeks after 9/11, poisonous dust covered their skin, coated their lungs and settled into the homes, parks, offices and schools of lower Manhattan. Seven years later, many of these responders are now so sick they cannot work.

Hearing after hearing and study after study have established that the science is true, and the suffering is real: thousands of people are sick from 9/11 and they deserve our nation's help.

How has the Bush administration thanked these men and women for the sacrifice of their health? With roadblocks at every turn. The administration even fired Dr. John Howard,
then-director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), who had established programs monitoring 40,000 first responders (and treating 16,000 of them).

My colleagues in Congress and I have worked to obtain funding for these heroes. Over six years we have provided more than $300 million for screening, monitoring and treatment of these first responders.

But we must do more. That's why I, along with Representatives Nadler, Fossella and King introduced the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act (H.R. 6594). Our bill would ensure that everyone made sick by or exposed to Ground Zero toxins receives the medical monitoring and treatment they deserve. It shouldn't matter who you were on 9/11 -- a first responder, clean-up worker, lower Manhattan resident, area worker, or schoolchild. Everyone who was exposed to 9/11 toxins should have access to health monitoring, and everyone who has become sick as a result of their exposure to 9/11 toxins deserves access to medical treatment.

The Bush administration has repeatedly shown a willingness to turn a blind eye to these living victims of the 9/11 attacks.

Governor Paterson, Mayor Bloomberg, the entire NYS Congressional delegation and John Sweeney of the AFL-CIO all support H.R. 6594, and Speaker Pelosi has expressed strong support for the cause. Together we can act to help thousands of residents and responders who are grappling with a catastrophic health crisis.

Here's what we must be saying to the heroes who served after 9/11: how can we help?