RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Local retired police officers, who responded to the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, are asking for help for their families future.
Ernest Long, Robert Young and Daniel Gravius want Congress to pass a bill to permanently reauthorize the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, part of the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.
“I see the guys that I stood next to are not here anymore and girls. Numerous of those guys aren’t here anymore because they’ve passed, died from cancer-related to what we did that day or days after, or months later or years later,” said Young. “We’re not asking for anything for ourselves. We’re asking for our families.”
Long, Young and Gravius are each certified by a medical board as having 9/11 related illnesses.
Gravius says he was perfectly healthy before the attack.
“Since 9/11 I’ve been tracked, studied and approved for having Gerd, for having Sarcoidosis, and for having lung disease,” he said.
On September 11, 2001, Gravius, was an NYPD officer working at precinct 37 in the Bronx. He was part of the rescue and recovery effort at Ground Zero in the days and months following the attack. His former partner died when the towers fell.
“They never recovered his body. They recovered his gun,” he said.
Young, also a former NYPD officer, worked out of 7 World Trade Center. He happened to be home on the morning of September 11, 2001, rather than his office. After the attack, he searched the wreckage– known as the pile– looking for survivors.
“It’s the smell that I could today still smell from the pile when we were pulling out the remains,” he said.
Long was in Far Rockaway, Queens working with the marine until of the US Park Police when the first tower was hit. Long rescued 27 people by boat from lower Manhattan.
“I witnessed the second tower collapse, and was covered in plum just like everyone else,” he said.
After retiring, all three men moved to North Carolina.
“I moved to North Carolina in 2006, and within six months of moving to North Carolina I began feeling ill,” said Gravius.
Young helps run the Raleigh chapter of the 10-13 Club, an organization that helps former NYPD relocate. Young says of the Raleigh chapter’s 150 members, 50 are suffering from 9/11 related illnesses.
“Those go from respiratory diseases where they’re having breathing problems and can’t go out,” he said. “Then we have members that have been hit with cancer.”
The trio says that’s why they feel the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act is important not only to New Yorkers.
“We’ve done what we did for this country. It had nothing to do with living in or being a New Yorker, or being from Washington DC or being from Pennsylvania. It’s about being an American,” said Young.
The program pays for medical studies to monitor victims’ health. The men say they aren’t eligible for life insurance because of their 9/11 illnesses and the program provides compensation to their families.
The 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, part of the Zadroga Act is up for renewal. The Justice Department says the fund is being depleted and benefit payments are being cut.
“Who is going to take care of my wife, my daughter if something were to happen to me,” said Gravius.
A bill to replenish the fund passed a House Panel but still needs to go before Congress. The men say they’ve reached out to Senator Richard Burr, and Senator Thom Tillis asking them to support it.
“It makes me feel upset. I did my job and I would do it again,” said Long. “I think our politicians need to stand up and recognize what needs to be done.”
A spokesperson for Senator Burr said he has sponsored prior versions of the bill, but the current bill has not yet gone through the committee process in the Senate.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Senator Tillis said “Senator Tillis believes we have a responsibility to help the families who lost a loved in the attack against our country on 9/11. The legislation is currently being considered in the House, and Senator Tillis will carefully review and consider it once it comes before the Senate Judiciary Committee.”
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