NESCONSET, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — The fight for the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund is heating up, with hundreds of New Yorkers ready to march on Capitol Hill on Monday.
They’re calling on lawmakers to stop sharp cuts to the fund which could impact first responders like retired NYPD Detective Glen Klein from Centerach, who has contracted multiple afflictions from several weeks spent digging through the rubble of Ground Zero.
“We climbed through these piles every day, climbed in as deep as we could and looked for victims,” Klein said.
He’s among those being treated for post traumatic stress disorder, as well as debilitating respiratory and esophageal diseases.
“American people who stepped up and went above and beyond on 9/11 and after have to struggle to pay their medical bills is just inconceivable,” Klein said.
Klein and thousands of others are learning that the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund is depleted, and payouts may soon drop 70 percent.
Officials say the fund has been overwhelmed with claims. The FDNY gathered in Manhattan on Friday to announce as many as 60,000 people are stricken with illnesses and cancers from exposure to toxic fumes and waste.
“These cancers that we’ve contracted from 9/11 have no expiration date,” John Feal from the FealGood Foundation said. “Congress cannot continue to put deadlines on legislation, it’s an insult to those who are deathly ill.”
Feal is a demolition expert whose foot was crushed by steel beams at Ground Zero. He’s lobbying for long-term assistance through his Long Island Based foundation.
His bags are just some of the thousands packed for the trip to Capitol Hill. New York lawmakers are responding in kind, saying they will roll out plans for permanent re-authorization of the funding program.
Congressman Peter King (R-2nd) calls it “a federal issue.”
“The federal government’s obligation is to protect us,” King said. “This was an attack from outside our borders.”
King says it’s a national emergency, and he’ll be leading the way in the bi-partisan effort next week to replenish the fund without time limits for expiration.
The $7.3 billion fund has already paid out $5 billion, with tens of thousands of unpaid claims remaining and many more to be filed.