On November 5, 2015, Marci Simms became a casualty of 9/11.
Early in her life, Simms decided she wanted to be a policewoman. And after graduating from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, she joined the New York Police Department in 1998. She worked in Manhattan and Brooklyn before joining the 107th Precinct in Queens in 2013.
Eventually she reached the rank of lieutenant–a major achievement in a department that’s still largely a macho man’s club.
Simms was still a rookie when Al Qaeda terrorists slammed two jetliners into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
The World Trade Center on September 11, 2001
For the next four months, she joined thousands of other responders at Ground Zero, searching for survivors and human remains and removing tons of hazardous waste produced when the Twin Towers burned and crashed.
Most of those responders didn’t wear respirators or even face masks as protection against the toxic dust they breathed every day. Meanwhile, the Federal Government assured them that the air was safe.
Firefighters rescuing victims at the World Trade Center
During a 2014 interview, she spoke of the conditions she had faced: “It was smoky. You felt like it was just burning your throat.
“I had a back ache. I thought I did something wrong working around the house. But I noticed a lump on my stomach. Even my doctor thought it was nothing but a cyst.”
That cyst turned out to be stage four lung cancer. Just 16 months later, on November 5, 2015, Marci Simms died. She was only 51.
The only positive aspect of her illness: Her medical costs were covered by the Federal Government.
In 2010–nine years after the worst terrorist attack in American history–Congress passed the Democratically-sponsored James Zadroga 9/11 Health And Compensation Act.
The law was named for a New York City detective who died of a respiratory disease in 2006 after his contact with toxic chemicals at Ground Zero.
Previously, the responders had been forced to bear the massive costs of healthcare for diseases like cancer and pulmonary fibrosis.
The law authorized $1.8 billion to be spent over five years to treat injuries of police, firefighters, emergency workers, construction and cleanup crews caused by exposure to toxic dust and debris at the site.
Republicans bitterly opposed the legislation. They argued that providing healthcare for ailing September 11 heroes would bankrupt the nation.
Of course, they hadn’t voiced such concerns when President George W. Bush lied the nation into a $1 trillion war against Iraq in 2003.
For Republicans, the heroes of 9/11 had become “welfare-seeking bums.”
Slandering the Act as an “entitlement program” like Medicare, they demanded that the responders return to Congress every year to make their case–allegedly to prevent fraud and waste.
Republicans forced Democrats to accept an amendment that deliberately cast a slur on the men and women who answered their country’s call in its supreme moment of agony. Only then was the legislation passed.
The amendment read: “No individual who is on the terrorist watch list maintained by the Department of Homeland Security shall qualify as a screening-eligible WTC survivor or a certified-eligible WTC survivor.
“Before determining any individual to be a screening-eligible WTC survivor…or certifying any individual as a certified eligible survivor….the Administrator, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, shall determine whether the individual is on such list.”
The amendment provoked outrage among non-politicians, Democrats and even some Republicans. Among these:
- Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) whose district encompassed Ground Zero, said it was “absurd” to consider that any of the 9/11 heroes would be terrorists. He added that the screenings were a “waste of money.”
- Rep. Peter King (R-NY) called the exercise “shameful” and “a waste of time,” adding: “It put a cloud over extraordinarily good people for no reason.”
- “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart noted that the federal government didn’t run background checks on any other group of people receiving financial benefits. These included Social Security recipients, Medicare patients and even Wall Street bankers bailed out during the recession.
Specifically, responders seeking help were told that the following would be reported to the FBI to prove they were not terrorists:
- Government ID number
- and other personal data.
By August, 2011, the FBI had screened some 60,000 emergency responders to the attacks on the World Trade Center and had not uncovered any suspected terrorists.
To date, no known terrorist has been found seeking treatment.
Glen Kline, a former NYPD emergency services officer, best summed up the disgrace of these background checks: “This is absurd. It’s silly. It’s stupid. It’s asinine. I mean, who are we even talking about–the undocumented workers who cleaned the office buildings?
“We know who all the cops, firefighters and construction workers were. They’re all documented. Is the idea that a terrorist stayed to help clean up? And then stayed all these years to try and get benefits?”
Unable to prevent the heroes of 9/11 from receiving medical care for their ailments, Congressional Republicans waited for their chance to strike.
In October, they refused to renew the Act, which is set to expire in October, 2015.
Meanwhile, 2,500 Ground Zero workers–so far–have been stricken with cancer.
Thus, self-righteous Right-wing legislators–who never lifted a beam from a trapped 9/11 survivor or inhaled toxic fumes that spewed from the crater that was once the World Trade Center–continue to stand in judgment over those who did.