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A Colorado 9/11 responder is grateful that Congress passed a bill to keep Victim's Compensation Fund

Posted at 7:40 PM, Jul 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-24 21:40:03-04

DENVER -- The U.S. Senate voted Tuesday to approve a bill that would extend the 9/11 Victim’s Compensation Fund through 2092.

The fund is used for 9/11 first responders and others who are still dealing with the health effects from working at Ground Zero.

Questions about the fund’s future started to arise earlier this year when its administrators announced they did not have the money to pay for all of the claims through 2020. So, the fund started cutting benefits for recipients by up to 70%.

After several contentious hearings at the U.S. Capitol, including an impassioned plea by comedian and activist Jon Stewart for the fund to be reauthorized, the House of Representatives passed the bill on July 11 in a 402-12 vote.

Then Tuesday after a 97-2 vote, the Senate sent the bill to the President’s desk for his approval.

The bill is expected to cost around $10.2 billion over the next decade and billions more after that. As of the beginning of this year, there are 163 Coloradans who are registered for the 9/11 Victim’s Compensation Fund, according to our media partners at the Denver Post. About 80 of them have filed claims and 35 had been paid.

Steve Aseltine was one of 64 Coloradans who responded to the call to help in the recovery efforts as part of Colorado Task Force One. Fifteen of those responders were from West Metro Fire.

The team spent about a week digging through the rubble and recovering the victims. It’s a memory Aseltine would prefer to forget but remembers vividly.

“Moving south in lower Manhattan toward the World Trade Center site was honestly... I can’t really describe it,” Aseltine said. “It was somewhat overwhelming; dust and debris and how far that had traveled away from the sight was incredible and then once you got there just... the overwhelming size of the debris pile and the job that was ahead of everybody was hard to take in.”

The team wore masks and respirators the entire time they were working to keep as much of the dust out of their lungs as possible.

“We knew there was stuff in the air, but you can’t categorize everything that was in the air,” he said.

However, nearly 18 years later, even they are starting to display symptoms related to 9/11. Last year, one of Aseltine’s friends and fellow Colorado Task Force One responders, Aaron Lybarger, died from a 9/11-related cancer.

“Aaron was an absolutely stellar human being, one of the funniest people you ever met,” he said.

Aseltine knows of at least two others who are currently going through the review process for the health registry. He hasn’t had to file for anything himself from the fund, but he knows there’s always a possibility, even nearly two decades later.

“I don’t know if afraid is the right word, but is there a concern in the back of my mind that I might have to use it? Yes,” he said.

So for now, he’s thankful that Congress passed a bill to continue putting money into the fund, knowing that if there ever comes a time when his family will need to file a claim, it will be there.

“The responders did not know at that time that certain aspects of this might take their lives or cause cancer for them in the future,” Aseltine said. “I think it means that there’s a little bit of security and hopefully gives the people that were affected by that the ability to fight and fight through their illnesses and hopefully buys them some time.”