Hey Congress, did you know September 11th, 2001 was 14 years ago? 

That's right. The first responders who spent months working tirelessly at Ground Zero following the September 11th attacks spent 14 years waiting for medical benefits.

In 2001, the Environmental Protection Agency said the air around Ground Zero was safe to breathe, yet many first responders developed cancers and other debilitating illnesses related to their Ground Zero work.

Many first responders, including James Zadroga after whom the new act is named, died because of their exposure to Ground Zero toxins.

Finally, nearly a decade and a half later, Congress has finally approved the first responders to receive lifetime medical care for illnesses attributable to their time at Ground Zero.

According to NBC, the act is titled the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act. It's included in a $1.1 trillion spending package, and essentially makes a permanent extension to the health care program for first responders in the US-- not just the ones who worked at Ground Zero.

The White House and Congressional leaders came to this agreement late on Tuesday, and the House and Senate will vote on the deal on Thursday.

We're definitely peeved that it's taken so long for this legislation to come through, but at least certain members of Congress are remorseful about the length of the waiting period.


"Never again will survivors and responders be forced to walk the halls of Congress, begging for their health care. Never again will they lose sleep over fear that this life-saving program will run out," said Representative Carolyn Maloney in a statement on Tuesday.

Ray Pfeifer is a retired New York firefighter, and he's fighting stage four renal cancer that's been linked to his time at Ground Zero. His reaction?

"What took 'em so long?"

Pfeier spoke more extensively about his frustration regarding the years and years and years it took for this legislation to break through Congress's red tape.

hmann1993 Retired FDNY firefighter and 9/11 first responder Kenny Specht on the Daily Show in 2010. "5 1/2 years ago 4 men sat here, now it's just you and I." For those who don't know the Zadroga Act provides coverage for first responders with 9/11 related illnesses and is up for renewal..but Mitch McConnell and other political leaders don't want to extend the Act. 9/11 related illnesses are real and they're killing those who put everything on the line for us. | #zadrogaact #FDNY #firefighter #911 #politics #jameszadroga

"To put first responders through the loop and use us as a political football was just wrong. The heartache everyone had to endure, it was horrible," Pfeifer said. "I am so happy that thousands of first responders will rest easy and know that they are finally taken care of."

Senator Chuck Schumer also chimed in on the new program.

"Now those who rushed to the towers will know that if they get sick because of their bravery, the federal government will be there for them the way they were there for us," Schumer said. "It took too long, but Congress finally rose to its responsibility to help our heroes."

All we've really got to say about this whole situation, after 14 years of lobbying, can be summed up in four simple words: it's about damn time.

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[via NBC] [Feature Image Courtesy Instagram]