We lost another brother on Friday.
Police Officer William Leahy, a Port Authority police officer, lost his long bout with a 9/11 related cancer.
Leahy, known for his dedication and true grit, was said to have reminded colleagues of stoic western star John Wayne.
He died at his parents’ home on Thursday, just one month after what many hoped would be a life saving surgery, friends said.
He was only 49-years-old.
“(He was) tough as nails and always got the job done,” PAPD Lt. Daniel Rhein said. “At the same time, he would call his mother every day.”
Rhein worked with Leahy, and the two were longtime friends. He referred to Leahy a “straight shooter” who had a “John Wayne type personality.”
Leahy joined the Port Authority in 1992. That was a year before the World Trade Center bombing. He later responded to the World Trade Center on 9/11 and spent weeks working at Ground Zero during rescue and recovery efforts.
Despite battling a long and fatal illness, the 27-year veteran never left his post at Kennedy Airport.
“Officer Leahy served the Port Authority Police Department with pride and distinction,” Port Authority Superintendent Ed Cetnar said. “His commitment to serving the public never wavered and his determination held steady as he battled his illness.”
During his career, Leahy spent time in PAPD’s Marine Unit, Cargo Unit and heavy weapons unit.
On top of that, he racked up more than 500 arrests while in plainclothes at JFK Airport.
He later received the World Trade Center medal and an Excellent Police Duty Unit Citation, PA.
Funeral services for Leahy will be held Saturday and Sunday at the Charles J. O’Shea Funeral home in East Meadow, followed by a funeral mass will be held at St. Louis de Montfort Roman Catholic Church in Miller Place at noon on Monday.
9/11 deaths continue to grow.
Some 90,000 first responders showed up at work on the pile in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and an additional 400,000 survivors lived and worked in the area at the time.
There’s currently a $7.3 billion federal Victims Compensation Fund, which provides money to those suffering from 9/11 illnesses to help offset living and medical expenses.
World Trade Center health care advocates are trying to extend the fund, which is slated to expire in 2020. One of the problems is that so many people have requested help that it’s expected to run out of money before the deadline.
In February, officials announced that the 9/11 fund will slash payments by at least 50%.
People who discovered their illness or got sick later in the game, applying after February 1 of this year, will see much deeper cuts – 70%.
Among many of those who will be affected are police officers, firefighters and EMS who combed through the rubble for days on end.
Back in 2015, Congress relaunched the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund with $7.375 billion to cover claims running through December 2020.
But here’s the thing. The money is being blown through at an unexpected rate, with more than $5 billion already having been given to the more than 20,000 people suffering and dying from cancer, breathing problems and trauma.
That leaves just $2 billion for those already enrolled, and thousands more are expected to apply before it expires in 2020.
As a matter of fact, there are some 11,000 additional claims and 7,000 amended claims expected to be filed before the deadline.
The fund’s special master Rupa Bhattacharyya commented on the cuts.
“I am painfully aware of the inequity of the situation. I also deeply regret that I could not honor my intention to spare any claim submitted prior to this announcement from any reductions made due to a determination of funding insufficiency,” she said. “But the stark reality of the data leaves me no choice. If there had been a different option available to me, I assure you I would have taken it.”
Why the shortfall? There are several factors.
First, there’s been a huge jump in the number of emergency responders and victims who are dying. This January, for example, saw a 235% surge in death claims compared to the end of 2015.
Cancer is also exploding among those impacted. There were 8,000 cancer claims ruled eligible for compensation by the end of 2018 – which is now a third of all claims, compared to a little more than a fifth of claims in the previous compensation fund that expired after 2015.
As more people die, more survivors are applying. In the last fund, 14% of claims were from survivors compared to 35% now.
The executive director for Citizens for the Extension of the James Zadroga Act weighed in on the growing tragedy.
“The number of people coming forward with illnesses and cancers related to their exposure to toxins at Ground Zero grows every single day,” said Benjamin Chevat. “Every other day another 9/11 responder or survivor reportedly dies from a 9/11 related cancer.”
The Victims’ Compensation Fund is run by the Trump administration’s Department of Justice, and there’s hope that Congress will reverse course from past mistakes.
There’s been an unwillingness by many members of Congress in the past to back a permanent compensation fund. Advocates are pushing for new legislation in hopes of providing a longer solution that doesn’t need to be renewed every five years.
How has it happened in the past? By cops, firefighters and other emergency responders making the trip to Washington with wheelchairs, crutches and oxygen tanks to shame Congress into doing the right thing. So far they’ve only succeeded in securing temporary compensation funds.
The sad irony of all of this, of course, is that New York City announced this year a plan to pay for the health care insurance costs for 600,000 city residents who don’t have healthcare, including those people who are not in the country on the books, making it the largest city in the nation to guarantee coverage.
It’s expected to cost at least $100 million a year and expand on the city’s public option plan. State lawmakers are pushing the entire state to take up the same approach.
According to Governor Andrew Cuomo, the cost could double the state’s roughly $170 billion budget.