This Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 that forever changed our lives, our nation and the world. We all remember exactly where we were, what we were doing, and the emotions of devastation, anger, resolve, uncertainty and unity that we felt. However, as time passes, pain eases, and more and more Americans are either too young to remember or were not yet born, we cannot allow the memories to fade or fail to honor the ordinary Americans who became extraordinary heroes on that September morning and in the years that followed.
In the two decades since the 9/11 terror attacks, thousands of Americans have given their lives to ensure that the pure evil of that day is never repeated. It’s now incumbent on all of us to preserve the ideals of the nation they fought and died for, honor their memories, and take care of the families they left behind too soon.
From the first moments after the North Tower was struck all the way to today, so many Americans have gone above and beyond the call of duty, in one way or another, to help our nation heal in the aftermath of the attacks and keep us safe from another attack in the 20 years since.
All of the 9/11 first responders and members of the United States military who then served abroad have made tremendous sacrifices on behalf of our country and their fellow Americans. Many made the ultimate sacrifice. We owe it to these heroes and their families to continue honoring their service, but also making sure they have the resources needed to cope with and address both the physical and mental effects of their time at Ground Zero or overseas.
Some of the most important and fulfilling work I’ve done in public office has been focused on helping our 9/11 first responders, Afghanistan and Iraq veterans, and their families obtain the resources they need and deserve.
While serving as a New York State Senator in 2012, I created the PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Veteran Peer Support Program – named after PFC Joseph Dwyer, an Iraq War veteran from Mount Sinai, who tragically lost his battle with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – to help local veterans suffering from the psychological effects of their service.
The Dwyer program is modeled as a peer-to-peer support program for veterans suffering from PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Suffolk County served as one of four test counties in New York, and since then, the program has successfully expanded to over 25 counties across New York, saving lives and assisting tens of thousands of New York veterans battling PTSD and TBI. I have also introduced legislation to expand the Dwyer Program nationally to ensure every veteran in America has access to a peer-to-peer support model to save their lives, their families, their jobs and so much more.
One of my proudest accomplishments throughout my time in Congress has been helping lead the charge to pass the Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act, which fully funded the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund and reauthorized it through 2090.
The toxic air and debris at Ground Zero, originally thought to be safe to breathe by the Environmental Protection Agency, is now known to have caused more than 50 different types of cancer. Thanks to this legislation, named in honor of just three of our so many 9/11 heroes, first responders and their families can receive the support they have earned and will need for years to come.
September 11, 2001 was undoubtedly one of our nation’s darkest and most trying days, and the consequences still linger today for our country. We owe it to the victims, their families, and all those who acted heroically in the days, weeks, months and years following the attacks to Never Forget the tragedy of that day, including the acts of selflessness and sacrifice that followed that embody the very best of the American spirit.
Congressman Lee Zeldin represents New York’s First Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives and is a United States Army veteran.