I was asked today what I think about the 9/11 first responders bill. The reason I was asked is that presumably, I may be eligible under it; I worked on the site for a year, including in the first few weeks and months when the rubble was still smoking. There's no way of knowing what may happen to my lungs twenty years from now; none of the workers in the trailer/construction office wore respirators.
The answer is that I'm confused, and I need to watch more testimony and do more research. What I do know is that a lot of the coverage I'm reading is at best confusing, at worst misleading. Most of it focuses on firefighters, cops, and EMTs. But EMTs were not a big need at the site, because tragically, there were so few survivors; the city's emergency rooms prepared for a wave of patients that they never got. The bulk of the personnel on site worked for city agencies or the construction companies doing the cleanup.
The policemen and the firefighters should be well taken care of. There was a wave of retirements and disability applications after 9/11, of course*, but as far as I know, those people all have their retiree benefits and/or workman's comp for injuries incurred in the line of duty. Any dispute about their healthcare is not an argument about whether we take care of police and firefighters. It's a fight over who has to pay for it.
The construction workers are the other big group from the site, and my father (among other people) helped set up a captive insurer to take care of their future claims in maybe 2003 or 2004. As I understand it, the purpose of the fund was mostly to streamline the billing process so that they could properly invoice FEMA. I believe that that fund was later taken over by the city, and some of it used to pay for firefighters and police--but I'm pretty sure that the price for that was that the city was supposed to then pay the claims of construction workers too. Which I think makes this also mostly an argument over who pays for the claims.
Now, you can certainly argue that the federal government is the right entity to pay for it (though of course, you could also argue otherwise). But as far as I can tell, in most cases, there is no question of first responders getting treatment for their problems. That will happen; we just don't know who will get the bill.
But as I say, this is preliminary, and I'm going to try to do more research in the slow week between Christmas and New Year.
* Given the way benefits are calculated, they'd have been crazy not to leave the department if they possibly could, with all that overtime they worked swelling their final year's pay.
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is a columnist at Bloomberg View
and a former senior editor at The Atlantic.
Her new book is The Up Side of Down