Chernobyl & Memories of September 11th, 2001

I recently saw a post on social media discussing the new HBO mini-series: Chernobyl, so I thought I would check it out. Before I was an author, I was a NYC cop. I remember when the incident occurred back in April 1986, and all the ensuing media coverage. What I didn’t expect was the flashbacks I would experience and the parallels, to what occurred on September 11th that I would be presented with.

First, let me say that, from a historical perspective, I highly recommend watching this show. They have done an amazing job and it is quite compelling. That being said, as I watched it I began feeling more and more anxious and recalling my time in lower Manhattan following the September 11th terror attack.

Here are a few reasons:

1.       After the explosion at Chernobyl, police and fire responded to the scene, completely unaware of the dangers they would soon face. Even after they realized something wasn’t right, they continued to stay and perform their duty. By the same example, on the morning of September 11th, it was obvious we were under attack, but that didn’t mean anything to the first responders. Even after the South Tower fell, everyone remained behind; and continued in the evacuation and rescue efforts.

 2.       Residents from nearby Pripyat gathered on a train trestle to watch the incident in the distance, unaware of the danger that lurked in front of them. In one scene, you can see the radioactive ash that was being carried along by the wind, enveloping the onlookers, while children played in it. It became known as the Bridge of Death. Sadly, I remember the streets of lower Manhattan being covered in the same ash. It wasn’t radioactive, but it was certainly contaminated with toxins. Everywhere you walked you breathed it in and kicked it up with your footfalls. It reminded me of a grey snowstorm, but instead of it being a winter wonderland it was actually a nightmare.

 3.       In one scene, a mask is given to one of the miners, brought in to dig beneath the destroyed reactor. He asks if the mask will do anything, and the reply is ‘probably not.’ The same thing happened on 9/11, when we were given basic painters masks to wear. It seemed ludicrous to me, knowing the masks provided zero protection from the particles we were dealing with. It was so bad that even the cartridges on the heavy duty respirators were clogging in minutes. There is only so much you can do before you end up just accepting your fate and work without the useless equipment.

 4.       Lies – Socialism is many things, but transparent it is not. The residents and responders were lied to ‘for their own good.’ The international community was even lied to when they were told the situation at Chernobyl was minor and that it was under control. Everything was about assuaging their fears, but the reality was that the lies were all designed to protect the government, not the citizens. We like to believe that our government is different, but it is not. After 9/11, the focus was on returning New York City (and the Stock Market) back to normal, as quickly as possible, following the attack. The EPA Director came out and emphatically stated that the air around Ground Zero was safe; it wasn’t and they knew that. It was bad enough that they lied to the first responders and construction workers, but they re-opened the area and exposed innocent civilians to risk, many of whom are now sick and dying. There was no consideration given to the secondary contamination risk and the majority of us brought our uniforms and gear home, exposing out families to the toxins. Sadly, the government won’t even acknowledge this, even though the data shows an increase in medical illnesses among family members versus the general public. In the case of Chernobyl, the State was aware of a flaw in the RBMK reactors, but they chose to bury that fact. Prior to 9/11, the government was aware that there was actionable intelligence of a planned attack, yet this fact was kept out of the 9/11 Commission Report. Ironically, the death toll from Chernobyl is estimated between 3,000 and 100,000 (initial explosion and long term sickness), although the official number stands at only 31. We lost 3,000 people in the initial attack on the World Trade Center site and since then almost the same number have died and there are nearly 100,000 people that are sick from their exposure.

 5.       Promises – Interestingly enough, the brave men they sent in were promised that the State would take care of them. I wonder how many went in believing that the State would keep its promise, only to find out it was a lie. It’s easy to promise something in the middle of a crisis, but when the crisis is over memories fade quickly. Today, 17 years after the terror attack of September 11th, the heroes and victims are still fighting our government to receive the care and compensation they were promised. Today, June 11th, 2019, Actor / Comedian Jon Stewart and many of the responders testified before Congress. Sadly, while the gallery was packed with those who were sick and dying, very few representatives even bothered to show up for the hearing. I don’t think I can put it any more poignantly than Mr. Stewart did: “What an incredible metaphor this room is for the entire process that getting healthcare and benefits for 9/11 first responders has come to. Behind me, a filled room of 9/11 first responders—and in front of me, a nearly empty Congress."

 At the end of the HBO show I was left asking myself a very difficult question: What separates the United States from Soviet Russia? The answer I arrived at: Nothing.

This isn’t an indictment of our system of government, but rather it is an indictment of our governmental leaders. The people of the Soviet Union didn’t elect their leaders, but we did. We expected them to be different, but in the end they caved to their own greed and hubris, just like those in the former USSR. This isn’t a democrat or republican problem, it is a CONGRESS problem. Both sides have turned their back on the victims and heroes.

To be fair, when the renewal for the Victim’s Compensation Fund came up, many eagerly jumped on to co-sponsor the bill, but they were the exception, rather than the rule. No, the vast majority of those current sponsors have had to be forced to support it. To them #NeverForget is a catchy phase they dust-off once a year; a campaign slogan that is hollow. It doesn’t personally affect them and they don’t care. The only time they care is when they are shamed into it at the threat of a political challenge.

No, the people of the Soviet Union didn’t have a choice, but we do.

I implore you, as a 9/11 cancer survivor, on behalf of all those who are sick and dying from the toxins they ingested, take one moment and contact your elected representatives and demand they take action to fully fund the Victim’s Compensation Fund. This September 11th should send a resounding signal to those who gave every last measure that day that their sacrifices will Never Be Forgotten.

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Stabbed in the Back (Again) – 9/11’s Forgotten Heroes

It pains me greatly to have to write this, but the reality is that the overwhelming majority of politicians in Washington, D.C. truly wish we would all die. That may sound harsh, but there can be no other answer to explain their callousness when it comes to this issue.

Every September 11th, they seize on the opportunity to wrap themselves up in faux patriotism, jump in front of the cameras, and boldly proclaim that they will #NeverForget, but the reality is that come September 12th, they have already FORGOTTEN.

Let me explain to you what is at stake here. Right now, there are thousands of first responders and victims of the attack who are dealing with terminal illnesses, as a result of their exposure to the toxins at Ground Zero. For some it is not a simple cancer diagnosis, but multiple cancer diagnosis. Many are incapacitated to the point that they cannot work, meaning they are left with skyrocketing medical bills along with their own personal bills. The stories are heartbreaking.

Imagine being one of these heroes, who spent countless hours of self-sacrifice at Ground Zero, risking their lives for others, but now you have to struggle to come up with enough money to keep a roof over your head? Yes, this is happening in America today. What’s worse is that the very system setup to help, has been slow-walking the processing of claims for years. My own VCF claim for cancer has languished in some federal employee’s in-box for well over a year and has not even been looked at. My lawyers tell me that it will be an additional six months to a year before it is even reviewed. I can guarantee you that every payday those dedicated employees are getting THEIR checks on time. I’m not sure what these employees are being paid for this work, but I can tell you that the Special Master in charge of running this program earns close to a cool quarter of a million dollars a year for running this debacle.

When the original Victim’s Compensation Fund was created, shortly after the attacks, it was NOT out of the kindness of their collective political hearts. They did it simply because they were playing a game of CYA. Why you ask? Well, for starters, the government lied to us by claiming that the air was SAFE, even though they knew it wasn’t. Then, they decided that in exchange for their quick settlement we could not sue the airlines or the government. But that original VCF plan only ran for a short time and was shut down.

It took a number of years, and a growing community of sick first responders and victims, before the politicians acquiesced. In 2010, they passed a new iteration of the VCF called the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, and then in 2015 they reauthorized, providing coverage for victims through 2090. The only problem was that they never adequately funded it. In fact, it was ridiculously underfunded. To be clear, the government was intimately aware of the escalating cases of deaths and diseases from exposure to toxins at Ground Zero and opted to slap a Band-Aid on the wound.

On February 15th, 2019, a notice went out from the Special Master. It effectively notified those who had claims waiting to be processed by the VCF that the fund was running out of money and that any awards would now be slashed by 50%. It further stated that any new claims that were filed would see a 70% reduction.

 

Mind you, this is the same government that sends billions of dollars annually to FOREIGN governments, but turns a blind eye to the heroes and victims of the worst terror attack in U.S. History. What has become of this great nation when we send more money annually to the nation that the 9/11 attack was launched from then we provide for the victims during the life of the program?

The government would like you to believe that the effects of the attack ended shortly after September 11th. Here is a newsflash: On September 11th, 2001, I lost 23 NYPD brothers and a sister. Since then, we have lost nearly 6x that number and those are only the ones that the NYPD has gotten around to approving. The actual number is probably closer to 200, if not more, and it will only rise. I wish I could tell you the number of FDNY, but it is safe to safe that it is even higher for them.  The reason that the numbers are even this low is because these agencies, in concert with the city, are trying to fight the awarding of any additional line of duty designations. In the end, it is all about money. The government certifies your illness as being directly attributed to the attack, but the city ignores it.

You would think getting approval for the funding of the Zadroga Act would be a political ground ball, but you would be wrong. To date, there are only 21 sponsors in the Senate and only 93 in the House; which means that of the 535 total members of Congress, 421 have FORGOTTEN. What is equally galling to me is the fact that from the Republican side, MY party, there are a combined total of twenty-five. Yep, those same folks who wrap themselves up in the flag every year and proclaim #NeverForget are a bunch of lying SOB’s. Hell, I can’t even get my own Congressman, Rodney Davis, to respond to my communications to him, let alone to co-sponsor the bill. All he can come up with is catchy tweets once a year.

This will not change unless Americans do something about it. If you are one of those people that reminisce every year about where you were on the morning of September 11th, then you need to do something for those people who were THERE on September 11th.

The heroes and victims of 9/11 are sick, dying and running out of time. They need YOUR help and they need it now. Contact your Senators and Representatives and DEMAND that they treat them just as well as we treat our ‘friends’. No more Foreign Aid until America’s heroes are taken care of first.

Media Outlets: If you are interested in discussing this matter, please CONTACT ME directly.

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Never Forget the Heroes: The 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund Act (S. 3591 / H.R. 7062)

FORGOTTEN – The lost Heroes & Widows of September 11th

This is a post I never thought I would have to write (again), but I should have known better.

You see, I spent twenty years as a cop in New York City. I learned early on that when the camera lights dim and the T.V. satellite trucks leave, the tragedy of the crime scene is quickly forgotten. In the days and weeks following the September 11th terrorist attacks we were told by the leaders of this great nation, who obligingly wrapped themselves in the flag for the photo-ops, that America would simply #NeverForget the heroes, yet 17 years later I can confirm to you that we have indeed been forgotten.

The reality is that the September 11th attack is not a distant memory. We are quickly approaching the time where we will have lost just as many to 9/11 attributed illnesses as we did on the day of the attack. The aftermath of the attack has never ended.

Those of us who responded that fateful day were aware of the dangers we faced, even after being lied to by the ‘Honorable’ Christine Todd Whitman, who was then head of the EPA, that the air was safe. Ms. Whitman now regrets her role in perpetuating the lie. Gee thanks for nothing, Chrissy. Anyone who was there can tell you that there was nothing even remotely safe, including the air, but they did their jobs without consideration of the risks. Unfortunately, as soon as the sicknesses began to set in, the politicians, like those T.V. crews, packed up and moved on.

“Heroes, what heroes?”

It took nearly a decade to get the James Zadroga 9/11 Health & Compensation Act passed.

As a Republican, I am profoundly ashamed to say that it was my party that stood in the way. What should have been a bill that both sides could have rallied around became a political football, with Republicans threatening to filibuster the bill unless they got tax-cut concessions. Apparently #NeverForget the Heroes is politician-speak for: “What can I get out of this?”

In 2015, politicians were once again shamed into backing an extension of the bill and once again it was the Republicans who dragged their heels. Amazingly, when it comes to their pet projects they are all about funding, but when it comes to helping out people who have truly earned it, they all become die-hard fiscal conservatives.

Now here we are, in 2018, and funding is again running out. And just like in the past, these same politicians need to be shamed into acting.

In 2015, my congressional representative, Rodney Davis, was on record saying the following:  “We will never forget. I remember we were on vacation and I was getting Toryn ready to go to the beach when a plane hit the second tower 14 years ago. Where were you?”

Well Rodney, I can tell you I wasn’t at no friggin’ beach like you were! But you already knew that (hint: Rodney and I used to be on a first name basis a few years ago, but then he got elected to congress and forgot about the people who supported him.)

Sadly, I had to shame Mr. Davis (How “Never Forget the Heroes of 9/11” turned into “Who?”) before he finally signed on as a co-sponsor for the 2015 extension

Back then I got a form letter e-mail response from him, something to the effect that he would be ‘looking into it.’ This time I didn’t even get so much as an e-mail acknowledgment (Perhaps it is lost in the internet). So, it looks like I am going to have to do it all over again. Who knows, perhaps he might even find himself in a contested election, the next time around…… You know, by an actual hero who won’t forget.

The sad reality is that the men and women who rushed in to help on September 11th, 2001, are sick and DYING and a lot of politicians would just be happy to see them go quietly into the grave. They are losing their homes because they are having to choose between receiving medical treatments or keeping a roof over their families head. Widows are being nickel and dimed to death through award ‘deductions’ in what the system cheerfully calls “collateral assets”…….. Funny how the Victim’s Compensation Fund is making victims out of us a 2nd time around.

I know we all have our problems, our own issues, but I am begging each and every one of you to stop for just a moment and please contact your elected representative and urge them to sponsor this bill. If they are a member of the Senate it is S. 3591 and if they are a member of the House it is H.R. 7062. Of all the things they can slash, it shouldn’t be the health benefits of those who gave every last measure that tragic day.

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These are the facts today:

  • The more than 42,000 people who are in the World Trade Center Health Program are suffering from at least one certified 9/11 condition caused by toxins at Ground Zero, the Pentagon and the Shanksville crash site, while a large percentage have multiple conditions.

  • Chronic diseases like asthma, obstructive pulmonary disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and cancer continue to plague those who were exposed to the many toxins and carcinogens on 9/11 and in the weeks and months thereafter.

  • Over 9,300 of those enrolled in the Health Program have been certified with a 9/11 related cancer, with more being diagnosed every day. Thousands more who have been diagnosed with cancer are only now joining the health program, so these numbers will increase dramatically.

  • 9/11 responders and survivors in the Health Program reside in all 50 states and in 434 out of 435 Congressional districts.



The Derailment of the Trump Train?!?!

The immediate aftermath of President Donald Trump signing the now infamous Omnibus Spending Bill seemed to be a visceral one. In fact, there were widespread reports of weeping and gnashing of teeth among some of the more hardcore followers.  To be fair, at face value, the bill does seem to be a direct affront to many of the things that the President campaigned on, but does it herald the coming of Armageddon?  The answer is a resounding: No.

I’m really not sure why people seem to be losing their minds over this, but they need to pause and take a deep breath. The reality is that you’d have to have just awoken from a coma to be shocked by any of this. Perhaps it has been the continuous chanting of drain the swamp, which led many folks to view things with rose-colored glasses, but the reality is draining a swamp as big as Washington D.C. is not going to happen for a LONG time.

To put it in terms everyone can understand, it is like adding 30lbs over the winter and then thinking you can lose it all in a few days before the start of the Memorial Day weekend. It just ain’t happening, sport.

It’s also not Trump’s job to drain it, but we the voters. We elected them, now we have to eject them!

Actually, if you take a moment to really read and digest the bill, something which 99% of lawmakers didn’t do before they voted on it, you’d get an interesting look into how your representatives view you.

The Omnibus Bill isn’t a budget, but a well contrived spending spree that was most likely drafted and voted on quickly to prove a point. Call it: The Swamp Strikes Back. Folks seem to forget that Congress was around long before Trump and will be there long after he is gone. The swamp didn’t form overnight and if you think they are just going to just roll onto their backs, and be submissive, you’re insane. Trump has been hammering them at every turn and they just did a push-back, showing him they aren’t quite as dysfunctional as many believe them to be.

The reality is that they KNOW what they are doing. The T.V. theatrics are just that, well-rehearsed theatrics. It is a spectacle, played by political parties, to appeal to their individual bases.  Republicans blame democrats, who in turn blame republicans, nothing gets done and they all get rich without having to actually accomplish anything.  Trump threatens that status quo and they are doing their best to push back.

Two years ago this month I wrote a post called The Curious Case of Donald Trump that questioned whether he was what we needed. Two years later I can say that I believe he is.

Congress, as a whole, believes they just played him, but I believe they actually played right into his hand. It would have been political suicide for a republican to come out and say that they were against funding the military. Likewise, democrats needed a win and they got it with Planned Parenthood. Most question why they didn’t address DACA, but to be completely honest that is an emotional issue and isn’t really a make-or-break issue for them. In fact, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer actually commented that:

At the end of the day, as the minority party, we feel good about being able to succeed in so many ways. We don’t have the House, we don’t have the Senate, we don’t have the presidency, but we produced a darn good bill for the priorities we have believed in.” 

Think about it for a moment: “…..the priorities we have believed in.”

Translation: DACA folks, you’re not our priority right now.

Remember, if you actually solve a problem then you are no longer able to campaign on it.

I believe majority leader’s Ryan and McConnell overplayed their hand and will come out of this much weaker. Trump campaigned on rebuilding the military, and he got the money for that. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see him pull a rabbit out of the hat, in terms of funding other projects, because the devil is always in the details. Republicans on the other hand excoriated the left for reckless spending, but did just that in this bill and they even managed to get democrats to praise it.

Personally, I think we need to hold a Roll Call of our elected reps and ask three fundamental questions:

1.       Did you draft any of the provisions in the bill and if you did which ones?

2.       Did you read the 2,232 page bill?

3.       If you didn’t, why did you vote the way you did?

In the end, I think many will look back at this bill as potentially a new Ides of March moment leading to the downfall of some in Congress.