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NY Daily News — New 9/11 monument: A moral imperative

September 11, 2017

Today’s Oped in the NY Daily News by 911 Health Board Member Dr. James Melius and 9/11 Responder Advocate John Feal, thanking Gov. Andrew Cuomo, former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Jon Stewart and the board of directors of the National September 11th Memorial & Museum for announcing a plan to create a monument to honor the lives and struggles of the injured and ill responders and survivors, and those who have died from cancers and other illnesses.

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New 9/11 monument: A moral imperative

Not forgotten

BY Dr. James Melius John Feal

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Monday, September 11, 2017, 5:00 AM

We write on behalf of the thousands who are sick from the toxins released on 9/11. We want to thank Gov. Cuomo, former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Jon Stewart and the board of directors of the National September 11th Memorial & Museum for announcing a plan to create a monument to honor the lives and struggles of the injured and ill responders and survivors, and those who have died from cancers and other illnesses. We also want to explain why such a commemoration is so important.

As we approach the 16th anniversary of the attack, you might ask why we need a new monument. After all, the whole country knows the story of that terrible day. It is remembered in monuments all across the country — in every state, in small towns, in front of courthouses and fire stations, on license plates and bumper stickers and, of course, at Ground Zero.

The thousands of visitors who come to the 9/11 Memorial from all over the country learn through the many compelling exhibits in the museum about those who joined in the rescue and the recovery from every state in the union.

Through the powerful double waterfalls, ringed by names of the dead, they remember those we lost that tragic day.

What is not well known became clear us during the hard-fought multi-year effort to get Washington to pass the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. Nobody in Washington seemed to know or want to admit the extent of health crisis facing so many rescue and recovery workers as well as people living, working and going to school in the nearby area exposed to the toxic dust and smoke, who, as a result, have become ill with cancer, respiratory diseases and other health problems.

Perhaps this lack of awareness in Washington was because acknowledging the problem would be an admission that the response to 9/11 was not as good as it should have been. That maybe the air was in fact not safe as it had been claimed.

So responders and survivors had to walk the halls of Congress and push their wheelchairs, and tell disbelieving members of Congress and their staffs what was happening.

Aided by the fearless reporting and editorializing of the Daily News, we relayed the facts: that there were thousands of 9/11 responders and survivors who have at least one illness from 9/11; that over 6,500 have at least one certified World Trade Center-related cancer.

As of the latest count, 158 FDNY personnel have died of their 9/11 illnesses since the attack. 163 police officers have also succumbed, more than the number of police officers killed on 9/11.

And the deaths continue. You just have to be a reader of the headlines in this paper over the last few weeks we have read: “Retired firefighter, 59, dies of 9/11-related cancer, 16 years after he spent weeks at Ground Zero”; “FDNY engineer dies at 43 amid battle against 9/11-linked brain tumor, one year after his firefighter dad’s death”; “Retired FDNY firefighter Michael Duffy dead at 63 after battle with 9/11-linked cancer.”

It’s a grim, seemingly endless drumbeat.

We speak to ill responders every day, some facing terrible challenges with severe health problems. All of them say that if they had it to do all over again, knowing what they know now, they would still make the same heroic decision. While they greatly appreciate the health care and compensation that they had to fight for and are finally getting, they tell us what is missing is literally the concrete and marble recognition of what they are going through. That for them, 9/11 and its aftermath is still a daily battle, distinct in its own right.

This health impact is what a new monument on the plaza at the 9/11 Memorial must be about.

As more responders and survivors fall ill and pass away from their illnesses, they deserve a monument that they and their families can point to, visit and physically touch that speaks explicitly to the impact that 9/11 has had on the health of these heroes, survivors and the lives of their families.

Future generations need to know their stories, too.

Melius is a member of 9/11 Health Watch’s board of directors and administrator of New York’s Laborers Health and Safety Trust. Feal is a 9/11 responder advocate.