President Trump Signs September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Trump Signs Bill Replenishing 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund

July 29, 2019 - 2:35 pm

WASHINGTON (WCBS 880) — Surrounded by 9/11 first responders, survivors and family members of victims, President Donald Trump put his signature on a bill replenishing the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund.

"First responders from across the country rushed to New York and worked endless days and sleepless nights," Trump said during the signing ceremony Monday morning in the Rose Garden. "They fought to rescue every person trapped in the rubble and then searched for months to find the remains of the fallen. The love and loyalty of our 9/11 responders knew no bounds."

More than 60 first responders attended the ceremony. Trump called them "exceptional heroes" who "answered terror with the emotional strength of true American warriors." 

The legislation was named for three responders who died from 9/11-related illnesses: James Zadroga. Ray Pfeifer and Lou Alvarez.

Alvarez’s wife, Lainie, and his children were invited to the Rose Garden to witness the bill signing, which comes exactly one month after the retired NYPD detective's death.

“It’s a very proud moment, for myself and for my children,” she told WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell.

"I'm sure Lou is smiling down on us and more importantly we're happy that finally all first responders, all victims of that horrible day will be covered, will have a relief for themselves and their family," Alvarez's brother, Phil, said.

Also in attendance was Pfeifer’s son, FDNY firefighter Terence Pfeifer.

“It was almost like an out-of-body experience when the president signed the bill. It's amazing how far these guys have come,” he said of the 9/11 responders.

Rob Serra is a retired firefighter struggling with 9/11-related illnesses. He's been a regular presence in Washington fighting for the renewal of the victim compensation fund and attended Monday's bill signing ceremony in Ray Pfeifer's wheelchair.

"I'm just glad that he finally signed it, that it's finally done cause I feel done," said Serra, whose first day on the job was Sept. 11, 2001. "I'm done talking to politicians, well for now, I'm just happy that at lease the 9/11 community now focus on taking care of ourselves. Unfortunately we're still going to get sick, we're still going to have a lot of work to do with the Ray Pfeifer Foundation, we still have a lot of guys to take care of -- a lot of men and women."

With the president’s signature, the fund will be extended through 2092, essentially making it permanent.

Dennis Murphy, who spent 23 years with the NYPD, is relieved to see the fight for the legislation come to an end.

He worked at Ground Zero and the morgue after 9/11 and is now among those who are fighting for their health 18 years after the Twin Towers fell.

Between his visit to Washington for the bill signing and another last week for the Senate vote, Murphy — who has incurable cancer in his liver, lymph nodes and bones — squeezed in his 57th round of chemotherapy.

While the fund will help his family he insists others need the money more.

"You have construction workers and you have military people that worked ground zero and volunteers for the Red Cross and Salvation Army. There are a multitude of other people that don't have a pension luxury like I have," Murphy said.

The Senate gave final passage to the bill last week, ensuring the fund will never run out of money.

For months, first responders and advocates urged Congress to vote to extend the fund, especially after New York City officials announced that 200 FDNY firefighters have died from 9/11-related illnesses. They have often been joined by comedian Jon Stewart.

Members of Congress have also been fighting for years to allocate funding for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, including New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez – one of the original authors of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which established the compensation fund.

“I made a commitment to our 9/11 heroes that, one, I'd never forget their service and their sacrifice and, two, I would have their backs as they had ours on that fateful day,” Menendez told WCBS 880 after the bill passed the Senate. 

The fund provides financial support for 9/11 victims. With its renewal even those who have yet to be diagnosed will now have access to it.