The tragedy of the September 11, 2001 attacks continue to have an impact more than 14 years after approximately 3,000 people were killed by terrorists on that day. That’s because the first responders who aided in the lengthy cleanup that followed have suffered numerous health problems, with a number of those individuals having either died or been diagnosed with debilitating or terminal illnesses.
When those health issues first began to surface, legislation was drafted and eventually became law in 2010 that extended the original victim’s compensation to those first responders for five years. The Zadroga Law was named after first responder James Zadroga, who died as a result of the effects from his assistance in the cleanup effort. When the law expired earlier this fall and was in danger of not being renewed over political debate connected to a spending bill, comedian Jon Stewart served as a major voice in the battle to create a greater awareness of the issue.
Stewart, who left as host of The Daily Show last August, had also played a prominent role in making sure that the original bill became law. On his show, he spoke with four first responders who were suffering health issues. Returning to the show as a guest in early December, Stewart made a passionate plea to again create awareness of the problem. In the most poignant moment, he again had a segment where he was to interview the same four men he spoke with in 2010.
However, just one of those individuals, firefighter Kenny Specht was still alive or healthy enough to appear. During the course of Stewart’s appearance, he also severely criticized Sen. Mitch McConnell for holding up the measure from being considered. The reason for the move by McConnell was tied to having a ban on oil exports lifted. Stewart accused McConnell of hypocrisy, noting the fact that McConnell had strongly advocated for a previous spending bill. That one had money set aside to compensate employees of nuclear plant who had been injured while working at the facilities, with many of those workers from McConnell’s home state of Kentucky.
The appearance and other negative media attention toward McConnell quickly changed the situation, when he indicated that he would support the bill. However, he made a point to indicate that he had always planned such support and that Stewart’s prominent intervention had no impact on the decision. The updated bill will extend the health funding to 2090 and cost approximately $8 billion, though some remaining political debate continues regarding what should be removed from the spending bill to cover such costs. The extension affects the estimated 33,000 individuals who have been diagnosed with medical conditions that can be connected to their work at the World Trade Center cleanup site.