The Common Good

How the Grinches Stole 9/11 Health Care

I penned Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church: Eyewitness Accounts of How American Churches are Hijacking Jesus, Bagging the Beatitudes, and Worshipping the Almighty Dollar out of frustration regarding how the Republican Party had utilized 9/11 as a political tool during the 2004 Republican National Convention. (Disclaimer: I also chided progressives regarding the formation of the Religious Left -- I abhor draping the cross with the American flag regardless of which party does the decorating.)

After the Twin Towers went down, I joined thousands of other volunteers in lending a hand during the post-9/11 recovery effort. As I recall, politicos and pastors flocked to the site eager to express their concern for the recovery workers along with international media crews eager to capture their every move. Seems the words of Matthew 6:2-4 that one should do one's giving in secret instead of announcing it with trumpets got lost by those who became enamored with the glare of the media spotlight.

Once the recovery effort closed shop in June 2002, the 9/11 story became yesterday's news. Those who scored book deals, political appointments, funding to start nonprofits, and other perks disappeared from the scene. Having said that, they are readily available to dispense with a prepackaged message around September 11 of each year and other times when the media needs a 9/11 themed soundbite.

Meanwhile, as I noted on a recent God's Politics Blog posting, those who used 9/11 as their calling card for career advancement have turned a blind eye to the myriad of problems present in the wake of this disaster, such as the absence of a proper on-site memorial, the ongoing discovery of human remains at the site, and the lack of adequate health care for 9/11 first responders.

In a recent column for the Washington Post's "On Faith" column, I explored the dichotomy between those who wage annual Christmas wars while giving breaks to the wealthy and denying health care to 9/11 first responders.

What's Christlike about abandoning those very first responders who pulled a John 15:13 by laying down their lives so that others may live? I would like to echo Jon Stewart's plea that, effective immediately, Republicans are banned from using 9/11 as a political tool. Let's declare a moratorium on draping the cross with the American flag as though this faux-patriotism bears any resemblance to the actual teachings of Christ. Heck, not even Ebeneezer Scrooge would praise 9/11 heroes to the heavens only to then kick them to the poorhouse by refusing to cover their medical costs for illnesses they occurred in the line of duty. Where are the Three Wise Men when we need their counsel now more than ever?

Stewart aptly notes that the major broadcast networks who swarmed the former World Trade Center site in search of stories have now turned a blind eye when the Senate voted down the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. (This bill was named after a deceased New York Police Department detective who died from a respiratory disease he contracted while working during the post 9/11 rescue and recovery operation.) In addition, Stewart points out that the only major network to cover this story in-depth was Al Jazeera (a.k.a. the network that broadcasts Osama Bin Laden's mixtapes).

Then, Stewart interviewed four first responders who show what it means to be a patriot versus a politico. Lest anyone feel these individuals represent isolated incidents, as early as September 2002, over 90 percent of the 12,100 firefighters and medical personnel that were exposed to toxins at the site had developed a severe cough. To date, more than 900 first responders have died after having worked at Ground Zero not to mention the thousands of rescue workers who have debilitating illnesses with symptoms concurrent with inhaling toxins that were present at the site.

The Revaler points out that the Republicans maintain that passing the 9/11 health care bill would mean they would have to work during the holidays, a move that would cause them to disrespecting Christmas, one of the holiest days of the Christian year. I can't think of a more appropriate way for the Republicans to honor the coming of the Christ they claim to follow than to give a bit of their time to help those who gave their all.

As we move forward into the New Year, I pray that those who have turned a blind eye to the 9/11 heroes (and this includes those returning from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq) will develop eyes to see and hearts to hear.

Becky Garrison's latest book is Jesus Died for This?: A Satirist's Search for the Risen Christ (Zondervan, 2010).

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