Honoring Those Impacted by 9/11 - A Letter From Executive Director Laura Stradley

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“Never forget.  This is the mantra we, as a nation, have used since 9/11 in reference to that horrific day. 

We say “Never forget“ to consciously remind ourselves that nearly 3,000 innocent lives were wrongfully taken by a callous attack on our nation.

We say “Never forget” to remember the more than 4400 men and women who have died in combat operations since 9/11, and to remember the 31,000 additional service members that were wounded. 

We say “never forget” to remember the 2,000 first responders who were in and around the two World Trade Centers when they collapsed on 9/11 that have died of cancer they developed as a result of exposure to the toxic blend of ash, chemicals and other materials they dug through to find survivors.

And we say “Never forget” to remember the veterans who have taken their own lives since 9/11… a figure that has increased more than 30% over the last 18 years… a figure, that is horrifically well over 100,000 since 9/11.

It takes active effort and intentional advocacy to ensure that our fellow Americans Never Forget.  Too many people aren’t touched anymore by the events of that day or the struggles and loss that have occurred since.  We have to remind them.

We applaud the fact that NY State now has an official September 11th Remembrance Day.  This new law allows for a brief moment of silence in public schools in New York every 9/11.

Now our children will Never Forget.  

Earlier this year, through the efforts of many advocates and impassioned people, we successfully reminded Congress of the responsibility our government has to care for those whose health has been impacted by the exposures on September 11th.   Just over a month ago, the President signed into law the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund which is a bill that will provide health care benefits for first responders and survivors of the 9/11 attacks for the next 70 years.

This bill had already been in place but was due to expire.  It was formally named the “Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act.”

If you watched any of these proceedings, you probably know some of the backstory.  But if not, first responder Luis Alvarez- who was named in that original bill- testified alongside comedian Jon Stewart before a House Judiciary subcommittee in June urging Congress to pass the legislation.

The 53-year-old former NYPD detective, who was diagnosed with cancer linked to his work at the 9/11 site, said the following during his testimony to Congress: “Less than 24 hours from now I will be starting my 69th round of chemotherapy.  Yeah, you heard that correct. I should not be here with you but you made me come. You made me come because I will not stand by and watch as my friends with cancer from 9/11, like me, are valued less than anyone else because of when they got sick and died.”

And yet, many members of Congress didn’t even sit through the whole hearing. Jon Stewart said about that, “Behind me, a filled room of 9/11 first responders, and in front of me, a nearly empty Congress.  Sick and dying, they brought themselves down here to speak to no one.”  Luis Alvarez, the first responder, died just a few weeks after the congressional hearing.

Never forget.

Now here’s the good news: Despite spotty attendance at the hearings, the passage of this bill did receive overwhelming bipartisan support from both the House and the Senate, which thankfully shows that our elected officials understand and appreciate the sacrifices of those who acted so bravely when our nation was under attack.  Similarly, this Congress also approved the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act in June, which finally allows all of our Navy veterans to file for compensation as a result of their exposure to Agent Orange during the war they fought… for some, more than 50 years ago.

Never forget

Here in Rochester, we will never forget the service and sacrifices of those who rushed to the rescue of Americans in need on September 11, 2001.  We will never forget the veterans who have served our country faithfully since that time, and all who served before 9/11 during the Gulf War, Vietnam, Korea, World War II, and so on, including the periods of time in between each of those major conflicts. 

Veterans Outreach Center will never forget, and neither will any of my friends at the City of Rochester,  Monroe County, the VA, the Vet Center, or other veterans organizations. God Bless you and God Bless America.

Laura Stradley
Executive Director
Veterans Outreach Center
U.S. Army Veteran

Chris Stocking