As America commemorated the 21st anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks this weekend, many people looked back at the day of tragedy with sorrow and a renewed dedication to take care of the heroic first responders who risked their lives and their health during the rescue and clean up mission at the fallen World Trade Center towers.
This attention has brought renewed interest in the story of how the Trump administration diverted close to $4 million from a fund meant to treat firefighters and first responders suffering illnesses related to the 9/11 terrorist attack.
While much of the news of the Trump administration’s malevolent misbehavior was initially reported back in 2020, it’s worth reminding the public — as Trump seeks to gain sympathy for his current legal travails surrounding the search of his Mar-a-Lago property and the purloined classified documents — of the true callousness that this man exhibited towards those whose public service and dedication Trump could never hope to match.
Early in the Trump administration, the Treasury Dept. began holding back six-figure sums from a fund authorized and distributed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health – an arm of the Department of Health and Human Services. It was money that was “meant to cover medical services for firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and paramedics treated by the FDNY World Trade Center Health Program,” the New York Daily News reported.
“This was just disappearing,” said Dr. David Preznant, FDNY Chief Medical Officer and director of NIOSH.
“Here we have sick World Trade Center-exposed firefighters and EMS workers, at a time when the city is having difficult financial circumstances due to COVID-19, and we’re not getting the money we need to be able to treat these heroes.”
According to the Daily News, “Prezant said he was docked about half a million dollars each year in 2016 and 2017. Then it crept up to about $630,000 in 2018 and 2019.” In the first eight months of 2020 alone, nearly $1.5 million had been siphoned.
“The withholding of these funds without a legitimate explanation is inexcusable.”
The six-times-bankrupt businessman-turned-reality-show-host has stiffed contractors, legal advisers, employees, and investors and defrauded students of his now-defunct Trump University. If you think that siphoning money belonging to sick and dying 9/11 heroes is a bridge too far – you don’t know Donald Trump.
In 2019, then-President Trump was ordered to pay $2 million in damages to multiple charities he and his children raided – using the money for personal and political gain. New York Attorney General Letitia James released a statement after the settlement was reached saying:
“The Trump Foundation has shut down, funds that were illegally misused are being restored, the president will be subject to ongoing supervision by my office, and the Trump children had to undergo compulsory training to ensure this type of illegal activity never takes place again.”
Eight charities – including the United Negro College Fund, Army Emergency Relief, the Children’s Aid Society, Citymeals-on-Wheels, Give an Hour, Martha’s Table, the United Way of National Capital Area, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum – received $250,000 each for the fraud.
The FDNY covers the cost of treatment, with the understanding that they’ll be reimbursed by the federal government. Originally passed in 2010, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act was extended until 2090 in 2015, after repeated testimony from those battling illnesses in the aftermath of their service on Sept. 11, 2021.
“I’m not sure what quite what to make of this other than it’s despicable,” said Jake Lemonda, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association. “We’ve fought very hard for many years for these funds to provide proper medical treatment for our sick and injured.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed outrage. Rep. Pete King (R-NY) said it is “disgraceful,” and “inexcusable,” that 9/11 first responders should have to “beg” for the money that is rightfully theirs.
“I don’t even care what the details of this thing is. That fund has to be fully compensated, fully reimbursed. I mean, this is absurd,” he said. “If anyone were true American heroes, it was the cops and firemen on 9/11, especially the firemen, and for even $1 to be being held back is absolutely indefensible.”
Treasury spokesperson Rebecca Miller blamed “outstanding Medicare debt,” owed by the city. While admitting she didn’t agree with the way things were handled, Miller added that “our hands are tied by our statutory obligations” – meaning the department. King wasn’t buying the excuses.
“The initial blame has to go to Treasury. Whoever decided to target the FDNY 9/11 firefighters health fund — it’s just absolutely disgraceful, totally indefensible, when you start with that,” the NY congressman said.
The Long Island representative was joined by Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in condemning the stripping of funds, “The Trump Treasury Department siphoning congressionally appropriated funds meant to pay for 9/11 workers’ healthcare is an outrageous finger in the eye to the firefighters, cops and other first responders who risked their lives for us,” Schumer said. This needs to stop forthwith and payments to the workers’ health program must be made whole — and now.”
“This just isn’t fair. It’s not fair to our patients.”
“The money that we don’t get means that physicians, nurses, and support staff are not hired. We have not had to lay off anyone, yet, but we are at that brink,” Preznant said.
The Treasury Department sent Rep. King a letter in August 2020, admitting to siphoning $1.9 million between 2019-2020. Preznant’s records show that number closer to $3.7 million, Firehouse reported.
Attending the Ground Zero ceremony commemorating the 19th anniversary of 9/11, King summed up his disgust with the stripping of funds to help sick and dying first responders, “The 9/11 firefighters are still untarnished heroes, and to take them on, the heroes, the victims, and to just be quietly, silently, not even advising them that they’re losing their money, just taking it like thieves in the night.”
If Trump can act so callously towards such deserving public servants as the 9-11 first responders, it’s fairly simple to imagine how his selfishness and narcissism could lead him to commit the multiple criminal actions of which he is now being accused. He’s a man without morals or shame, and he needs to be healed accountable for his misdeeds.
Original reporting by Michael McAuliff at the New York Daily News.
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This is an opinion column that solely reflects the opinions of the author.
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