9/11 First Responder Luis Alvarez Dies Weeks After Capitol Hill Testimony

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Retired NYPD bomb squad detective and 9/11 first-responder Luis Alvarez died Saturday in New York. Alvarez died in a hospice due to 9/11-related cancer. 

On June 11, Alvarez joined many of the first-responders to Washington to give his testimony in a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing for the extension of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (9/11 VCF). He provided accounts of his illness and pleaded the House to extend the 9/11 VCF until 2089.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell confirmed that the 9/11 VCF will be fully funded according to his statements in a CNN report.

Last June 19, Alvarez entered an end-of-life care hospice. He posted an update on Facebook stating, “I’m now in hospice because their [sic] is nothing else the doctors can do to fight the cancer. It had nothing to do with my trip to DC, that was just [a] coincidence.”

Despite his condition, Alvarez continued to fight for the extension of 9/11 VCF, stating, “So now I’m resting[,] and I’m at peace. I will continue to fight until the Good Lord decides it’s time. I will try to do a few more interviews to keep a light on our fight for the VCF benefits we all justly deserve.”

The 9/11 VCF was created to financially assist survivors with injuries and deaths related to the 9/11 attacks. It was active for two years, with over $7 billion spent. 

Not long after, first responders started developing illnesses caused by spending time at the site breathing in harmful air with debris. According to the World Trade Center Health Program (WTC Health Program), there are almost 75,035 responders enrolled in their program with high numbers.

Among its total 95,320 members, 60% are general responders and 18% were responders from the Fire Department of New York. 

Jon Stewart was in attendance during the subcommittee hearing to show his support for the cause. Stewart delivered a passionate speech about his disappointment of House members’ absence during the session. 

Government Fund Almost Gone

The 9/11 VCF operated from 2001 and was deactivated after 2004.  Since then, cases of post-9/11 illnesses started surfacing as responders and survivors show symptoms years after their exposure at the site. 

Back in 2010, Congress and President Barack Obama agreed to pay for the medical costs and reopened the 9/11 VCF. A total of $2.7 billion was allocated to pay for victims recently diagnosed with chronic health problems. In 2012, the government added cancer patients to be compensated as well from the fund. It was able to operate for five years–from October 2011 to October 2016.

However, it was not enough. In 2015, before the expiration of the reactivated 9/11 VCF, Congress added a $4.6 billion, but with additional controls and limits. Included in those limits are caps on non-economic losses caused by cancer and non-cancer diseases at $250,000 and $90,000, respectively. 

Aside from the benefit cap, a Special Master was appointed to prioritize claims for victims who may be suffering from the most debilitating physical conditions. In 2019, the Special Master determined that claims could reach $11.6 million due to the increase of serious illnesses diagnosed and deaths. 

According to the WTC Health Program, the illnesses that surivors and responders have are cancer, musculoskeletal and acute traumatic injuries, mental health concerns, and aerodigestive conditions such as asthma and reflux.

Support from Jon Stewart

Aside from 9/11 responders and survivors’ testimonies, Jon Stewart’s angry speech made headlines from the June 11 hearing. 
Stewart, a comedian and activist know for his scathing commentaries in The Daily Show, could not hide his disappointment after seeing an almost empty hall. 

“As I sit here today, I can’t help but think, what an incredible metaphor this room is for the entire process that getting health care and benefits for 9/11 first responders has [sic] come to,” Stewart said. 

“Behind me, a filled room of 9/11 first responders, and in front of me, a nearly empty Congress,” Stewart emphasized. 

According to McConell, members of the Congress did not attend because there are a lot of work being done. “That frequently happens because members have a lot of things going on at the same time,” said McConell. 

McConell, who received criticisms from Stewart in The Daily Show, wonders why Stewart is “all bent out of shape” about the 9/11 VCF. He reiterates, “Well, many things in Congress happen at the last minute. We never failed to address this issue and we will address it again.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer defended Stewart in a tweet saying, “Ease everyone’s worthy concerns right now by committing to put the bill on the floor for a stand-alone vote as soon as the House passes it.”

The proposal is expected to be up for voting before the end of August. 

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