The opening of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum is a clear sign that the nation has not forgotten the events of that horrible day now almost 13 years ago.
Throughout the country, too, there are memorials to those that were killed on 9/11 at the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon and at Shanksville, created by states, cities, towns and volunteers to ensure that future generations remember what happened that day.
But 9/11 is not just in the past.
What all too many in our country don’t realize is that thousands are still suffering—not just the family and friends of those that died that day, but those who responded to the attacks, who came to Ground Zero to help in the rescue and then the cleanup, and those who returned to the neighborhood to live, work or go to school at the urging of officials who declared the air safe to breathe when it was not. Indeed, it took Congress almost a decade to pass legislation providing healthcare and fair compensation to those that were still sick and living with their injuries. (And that legislation, the James Zadroga Health and Compensation Act, was enabled for just five years!)
Thirteen years have dimmed the memory of the courage shown by residents and responders in the aftermath of the attack. Here in New York we know that each month another responder succumbs to a 9/11 related illness.
We need to remind the nation at large that remembering 9/11 was never just a slogan.
It’s something that families are still dealing with every day.
Last year the World Trade Center Health Program, created under the Zadroga Act, treated over 17,000 responders and survivors living in the New York area and from nearly every state in the nation. They are still suffering with respiratory injuries, cancers, PTSD and other illnesses caused by 9/11, and will do so for the rest of their lives—in many cases lives tragically shortened by their illnesses.
That is why I have formed a committee to create a monument to 9/11 Survivors and Responders. I have been joined by members of the downtown community, along with U.S. Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, Reps. Nadler and Maloney, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., members of the New York and New Jersey AFL-CIO, and local police and fire unions.
Our monument is meant to supplement the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. We do not want to spend a vast sum. The monument could be a representational sculpture, an elegant plaque, or something more innovative or abstract. The committee will work to find a location, mount a design competition and identify a funding source.
But by providing a place for those who are too often forgotten, yet still living, we can honor their contributions—those who ran toward the fire, toward the crisis—and in some small way help to inform the nation that the impact of 9/11 is still being felt by thousands of responders and survivors.
Our goal is that before the fifteen-year anniversary of 9/11 in 2016—and the expiration of the Zadroga Act—we will have a monument that helps us remember every facet of that national tragedy, and honor the particular sacrifice and legacy of those who continue to serve.
Gale Brewer is the borough president of Manhattan.
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