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One Step Closer to Justice for Our 9/11 Heroes and Survivors (VIDEO)

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On September 11, 2001, when thousands of innocent men and women lost their lives, tens of thousands more came to their assistance. We as a nation saw greater acts of heroism than we could ever have imagined: first responders from all over New York and all over the country came to Ground Zero to save innocent lives, provide proper burial for lives that were lost, and assist in the enormous effort to clean up and recover from that devastating attack on our nation.

While we are all too aware of the damage that was done on September 11th, what is less well known is the long-lasting harm that has been done to the health and well being of the thousands of first responders who were on the scene that day as well as all the men, women, and children who were exposed to the toxic debris that was spread all throughout Lower Manhattan after the towers fell. Shortly after the attacks, Congress passed the Victims Compensation Fund, which compensated victims of the attack; since then, however, thousands of heroes and community survivors have developed deadly illnesses due to the exposure to the toxic debris. It's time we took care of them.

As we approach 9 years since the attack, nearly 20,000 responders and innocent residents of New York have fallen ill due to the harmful toxins released at Ground Zero. These include New York firefighters, EMTs, police, construction workers, clean-up workers, and innocent men, women, and children who lived and worked in the area. But while the majority of these people live in the New York/New Jersey area, at least 10,000 of those who are sick or are being monitored for signs of illness today reside in all but four Congressional districts across the country.

People from all over the U.S. responded to the call for help in the aftermath of the attacks and tens of thousands currently face life threatening health ailments. We have an undeniable moral obligation to provide them the help and treatment they deserve.

That's why, over the past several months, I have reached out to my colleagues in the Senate and the House, to the firefighters, police and others who responded to the tragedy and to family members of workers who have since lost their lives to rally support for the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010. And I am very pleased to report that after years of inaction, today this bill will have its first hearing in the Senate on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

This legislation would:

- establish the World Trade Center Health Program within the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to provide medical monitoring and treatment to the thousands of WTC-responders and community members for health conditions caused by the toxins at Ground Zero.

- expand access to an additional 15,000 participants in the responder medical monitoring and treatment program - currently capped at about 40,000 - to make sure no one feeling the health effects of 9/11 is left behind from getting the care they deserve. In addition, it would ensure 55,000 WTC responders get the care they need.

- extend and expand support for the World Trade Center Health Registry and provide grants for the mental health needs of individuals not otherwise eligible for services under this bill.

- establish a community program to provide initial health screenings, treatment, and monitoring to eligible community members, including geographic and exposure criteria to define who may be eligible for the program (i.e. those who lived, worked, or were present in lower Manhattan, South of Houston Street or in Brooklyn within a 1.5 mile radius of the WTC site for certain defined time periods.)

- reopen the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund (VCF). The fund would be reopened until December 22, 2031 to provide compensation for economic damages and loss for individuals who did not file before or became ill after the original December 22, 2003 deadline.

- ensure that we continue critical research into the long lasting health effects that threaten these men, women, and children and provide appropriate financial assistance for the irreparable harm that these innocent people have endured.

America must always taken care of its heroes and this should be no exception. The attack on NYC on September 11, 2001 was an act of war and we have a moral obligation to take care of those who have suffered health effects as a result.

In February, I asked President Obama if he would commit to working with Congress to pass a fully paid for 9/11 health bill and he said he would. With our hearing in the Senate today, we are now closer than we've ever been to passing this important legislation. It is long past time that we passed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health & Compensation Act and began to repay the enormous debt we owe our 9/11 heroes.

On June 18, I stood at Ground Zero with Reps. Maloney and Weiner as well as some of our brave 9/11 first responders, union workers and community survivors who've been helping fight for this legislation to announce today's hearing. Some video from that press conference is below.