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For 9/11 Responders, Some Peace of Mind as Congress Clears Aid Bill

December 22, 2010 at 6:25 PM EST
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A last-minute compromise led to Senate passage of a bill that will provide up to $4.2 billion for monitoring and treating illnesses for 9/11 responders who worked at Ground Zero. Jeffrey Brown speaks with Glen Klein, a former New York City police officer who was among the first to respond to the attacks.
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JEFFREY BROWN: Now: a closer look at two major bills that were just approved — first, the health and compensation package for 9/11 responders, workers, and survivors.

As we heard earlier, a last-minute compromise led to Senate passage of a bill to provide up to $4.2 billion for monitoring and treating illnesses related to Ground Zero and to reopen a victims compensation fund for another five years. The House, which had approved an earlier version, passed it again a short time later.

This afternoon, legislators from the New York area and supporters held a press conference to hail their victory.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-N.Y.): On 9/11, our country was attacked by terrorists. Certain men and women — the strongest, the bravest among us — raced up those towers when everybody was coming down. They were the ones who went to the pile first to look for survivors, then to find remains, and then to do the cleanup. And they never failed. They never stopped. They never wavered. They never had any concern for themselves.

Our government said the air was safe. But they didn’t care. They were there because they were answering the call to duty. I want to thank them.

JOHN FEAL, founder, FealGood Foundation: We have gone eight — eight Christmases without federal assistance. We have gone eight years not knowing what the following year would bring to us on New Year’s.

This Christmas, while you might not get a check by Friday morning or open a box with the help — that says the government helped you, you can have rest and peace of mind knowing that help is on its way in 2011. And to me, that’s better than opening any Christmas — any Christmas present this year.

JEFFREY BROWN: A short time ago, I spoke to Glen Klein, who had just come from that press conference. He was a New York City police officer who was among the first-responders to the attacks on the World Trade Center and one of those who performed rescue and recovery work on the site for many months.

He retired in 2003, after experiencing health problems as a result of his work. Mr. Klein is a member of the FealGood Foundation, which advocated on behalf of 9/11 responders.

Glen Klein, welcome to you. This was a long time coming. Give us your reaction to today’s action.

GLEN KLEIN, 9/11 first-responder: Yes, thank you, Jeff.

Right now, it’s still settling in a little bit. But I can tell you right now that the members of the FealGood Foundation and myself, we’re absolutely ecstatic that we will be able to bring home this bill to 9/11 responders who have been waiting so many years for vindication.

JEFFREY BROWN: What kind of illnesses and problems is this package designed to address? Remind us what — remind us what this is about.

GLEN KLEIN: It’s going to address all types of breathing problems, asthma, lung damage, post-traumatic stress disorder, gastrointestinal problems, the whole gamut. And, as far as I know, I believe that things can be added on as time goes on, different types of cancers that pop up and things of that nature.

JEFFREY BROWN: And you yourself experienced a lot of this, right?

GLEN KLEIN: I have some lung damage. I have scarring and nodules on my lungs. I have exercise-induced asthma, gastrointestinal problems that have put me in the hospital several times, and post-traumatic stress disorder also.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, the compromise hammered out in the Senate today is for less money than originally asked for. How will the money be used?

GLEN KLEIN: Well, the compensation part of the money will be given to the 9/11 responders who haven’t had a job for several years and had to pay for their own medical expenses. It will help get them out of the hole that they’re in right now.

The medical portion will keep the Centers of Excellence open. Those are the hospitals and clinics that are treating all the 9/11 responders and which have doctors that are trained to handle the different types of illnesses that we’re seeing now from 9/11 responders.

JEFFREY BROWN: There was — as you have said, this was a long, drawn-out affair. And there was opposition over the amount of money. There was opposition as to how it would be administered. What do you think, in the end, overcame that?

GLEN KLEIN: It was persistence by us, the FealGood Foundation, the unions that came out with us, the fact that the bill was cut down. There was a lot of dealing going at the last minute. And we were able to work out a deal.

And we feel that getting $4.2 billion out to the responders who need it is better than not getting anything.

JEFFREY BROWN: A lot of people pointed to the championing of this by Jon Stewart on his show, by FOX anchor Shepard Smith, who was talking about it — it got a lot of attention in the last week or so. Do you think that played a role?

GLEN KLEIN: I’m sure it had something to do with it.

But, again, I say it was the persistence of the unions, the FealGood Foundation, the deal-making, so on and so forth.

I mean, Jon Stewart was great. I’m sure he put a little bit of pressure on them. And it was a combination of everything altogether.

JEFFREY BROWN: And are you confident now, going forward, that it will be administered and how the money will be used and administered?

GLEN KLEIN: I’m very confident. I’m sure there’s going to be oversight. You know, we take it very seriously that, if anybody claims they were at Ground Zero, and they weren’t, or anybody who claims they’re sick, and they’re not, we want to make sure that they don’t get what they don’t deserve, and it goes to the people who do deserve it.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Glen Klein, New York City — former New York City police officer, thanks very much.

GLEN KLEIN: Thanks for having me on. Have a happy holiday.

JEFFREY BROWN: Thanks. You, too.