Police Officer Robert Ehmer spent Sept. 11, 2001 running into burning skyscrapers to save people he had never met.
He spent the final three years of his life, from 2007 to 2010, fighting cancer believed to have been caused by his four months working at Ground Zero.
His sister, Annette, thinks first responders such as her brother, should not be left to pay for life-saving medical procedures out of pocket if the two key programs that make up the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act are allowed to expire over the course of the next two years.
“It helps so many of these men and women that are sick,” Ehmer said. “Without this, some of them couldn’t pay for treatments. Some of them can’t afford milk because they’re paying out of their pocket for treatments.”
The section of the law that provides health services to first responders is set to expire in October 2015 and the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund is scheduled to run out in October 2016.
The late officer didn’t receive any financial compensation during his lifetime, with the government paying his estate after his death.
According to his sister, the money distributed by the government as part of the legislation’s financial compensation arm would have benefited both his health and his wallet.
“He was planning on using that money to pay for his treatments because he had lost his insurance and was thrown on Medicare ... after two years of being sick,” she said. “Medicare wasn’t paying for everything so he was really hoping to get that money.”
In September, a number of tri-state area senators, including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) introduced the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act in Congress’ upper body, which would extend both the health care and compensation programs for an additional 25 years.
A companion bill was introduced by Reps. Peter King (R-Nassau) and Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn) in the House of Representatives, with Reps. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) and Joe Crowley (D-Bronx, Queens) serving as co-sponsors.
Crowley, speaking at Community Board 5’s Oct. 14 meeting, said he is hopeful Congress will extend the Zadroga Act by 2015.
“We’re hoping to go back and get something passed before the end of the year,” Crowley said. “I would support any additional [funding.]”
Ehmer said it’s the least the federal government can do for those who put their lives at risk, such as her brother, to save others.
“The Zadroga Bill, could it be better? Sure,” she said. “At least it’s something to help the men and women that are suffering. They’re sick and dying and they need help.”