A health care program treating thousands of 9/11 first responders will end if Congress doesn't renew it. Doctors say it would be a nightmare if the program goes away. Michael Scotto filed this report.
"People are going to die," said retired NYPD Officers David Howley.
That was the blunt prediction about what would happen if a 9/11 health care program expires this October.
Howley has battled cancer and other ailments, after responding to the September 11th attacks.
He testified at a House hearing Thursday about legislation that would permanently reauthorize the Zadroga Act, which treats and monitors the thousands of fire fighters and police officers—many of them volunteers from across the country—who fell ill after working atop the toxic World Trade Center pile.
"This is not something that should have any political fighting. This should be absolute bipartisan 435-0 type bill," Howley said.
Two dozen first responders sat in on the hearing after taking an early morning bus from New York to the nation's capital.
Currently, the program has more than 70,000 enrollees from nearly every congressional district in the country.
The head of the program says it would be a disaster if it came to an end.
"It would be a nightmare for me, personally, and it would be a nightmare for our members. It would be a nightmare for our CCE physicians. You cannot abandon a patient ever as a care provider," said administrator Dr. John Howard.
Many in the program are being treated for asthma and post traumatic stress disorder, ailments that have persisted nearly 14 years after the attack. Others are being treated for cancers that have started to affect 9/11 first responders.
When the program was first created in 2010, Republicans balked at the multibillion-dollar cost, but at the hearing, they were supportive.
"The bill needs to be passed," said Rep. Fred Upton.
That's promising news for the thousands of first responders who don't want the government to forget the sacrifice they made on September 11th.