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71 heroes to remember this Memorial Day

When compared to our military comrades, law enforcement hasn’t had much experience supporting its wounded officers in such large numbers from one significant event like 9/11

Last week was National Police Week, and this coming Monday is Memorial Day. We spend a significant portion of May grieving and remembering our fallen warriors — law enforcement as well as military.

As you bow your head, I encourage you to remember 71 specific heroes who are altogether too frequently overlooked — I want you to remember the officers who died from ground zero related illnesses.

That number now far exceeds 60 officers killed in the 9/11 attack itself, because among the 20 new names added this year to the New York State Police Officers’ Memorial were 13 individuals who died in recent years from 9/11-related illnesses.

More Than a Decade of Fighting
These officers all risked their lives to search for survivors and victims’ without regard for their own health and safety as did the responding officers to the initial attacks on that horrific day. The toxic smoke that filled the lungs of first responders has taken a significant toll on our brothers so much so that more rescuers have died from related illnesses than those officers that ran toward the danger that fateful morning intending on saving innocent civilians.

One sad element to this story is that it would take more than a decade of tough battles and perseverance from many of the sick officers and advocacy groups to fight the United States Department of Health and Human Services to expand their survivor benefits to include four types of cancers that weren’t previously covered.

Earlier this year — almost twelve years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks — the agency expanded coverage to include brain cancers, pancreatic cancer, testicular cancer and invasive cervical cancer which weren’t previously covered in the Zadroga Act passed by Congress in 2010.

The experts anticipate the number of victim officers may be even greater as time passes. I think we all can agree that it could have been any one of us sifting through the wreckage, breathing harmful fumes for days, weeks or even months. The truth is however, there are still many officers whom responded gallantly that still need our support.

Time has a way of shifting attention and focus which can lead to a diminishing of what was once in our forethoughts. There are many great organization out there that still support our 9/11 responders in various capacities.

Learn from Our Military
When compared to our military comrades — the present VA scandal notwithstanding — law enforcement hasn’t had much experience supporting its wounded officers in such large numbers from one significant event like 9/11.

Typically a wounded or fallen officer is a localized event and the department and the community usually pour out support for the surviving officer or the surviving family. The 9/11 terrorist attacks have effected hundreds of cops either responding directly to the attacks, injured during rescue and recovery operations, or that have died from related resulting illness.

We need to take note of the military veterans and the support they provide for every possible need of their returning war fighters. The dedication from the many veteran groups such as the Wounded Warrior Project and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (to mention just a couple) significantly impact the military veteran’s lives. The support from the New York area is awesome, as you can imagine. Let’s make the long term commitment to supporting the 9/11 responders in the same fashion as the veteran groups.

These men and women have earned national support so I challenge each of you to show our brothers that we all care. Please make a contribution to a legitimate organization that supports these heroes, no matter how significant. You can learn more and seek out reputable charitable organizations that support our 9/11 responders by visiting a trusted organization such as the Feal Good Foundation.

Glenn French, a retired Sergeant with the Sterling Heights (Mich.) Police Department, has 24 years police experience and served as the Team Commander for the Special Response Team, and supervisor of the Sterling Heights Police Department Training Bureau. He has 16 years SWAT experience and also served as a Sniper Team Leader, REACT Team Leader, and Explosive Breacher.

Contact Glenn French.