9/11 first responder, Luis Alvarez, dies weeks after testifying to US Congress over victims fund
Luis Alvarez, a 9/11 first responder who recently testified before Congress about his 9/11-related medical issues, has died, his family confirmed on Saturday morning, 29 June 2019. He was 53. "It is with peace and comfort, that the Alvarez family announce that Luis (Lou) Alvarez, our warrior, has gone home to our Good Lord in heaven today," family member Matt McCauley wrote in a Facebook post Saturday around 6h30. Alvarez was one of the first responders who testified in a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, 11 June 2019, asking legislators to reauthorise the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund. The fund provides money to those who responded to the 2001 World Trade Centre terrorist attacks and are now suffering medical problems.
Alvarez was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2016. He blamed his illness on the three months he spent in the rubble of the World Trade Centre’s twin towers after the 2001 terrorist attacks. NYPD Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea confirmed the news on Twitter Saturday morning, writing "Lou Alvarez has lost his battle with 9/11-related cancer. An inspiration, a warrior, a friend, we will carry his sword."
Senator Bernie Sanders said on Twitter on Saturday, "We mourn the loss of Luis Alvarexz, a champion for the health of 9/11 first responders and one of the selfless men and women who searched for survivors at Ground Zero."
Senator Chuck Schumer tweeted his condolences Saturday as well. "NYPD Detective Lou Alvarez died at peace knowing his life made a difference to others and will save lives in the future," the Senate Minority Leader said. "He was a great man."
On Tuesday, 25 June 2019, in a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, fellow first responder John Feal gave McConnell Alvarez's police badge, a powerful move to get McConnell to "understand the importance" of the Victim Compensation Fund.
"That wasn't my intention (to give McConnell the badge). That was Luis' intention. Luis wanted Mitch McConnell to have his badge. And let me tell you something, for a New York City police officer to give up his badge, that's like somebody donating an organ and Luis wanted the Senate majority leader to understand the importance of this and to be reminded that people are sick and dying," 9/11 first responder John Feal said.
Many lawmakers on the panel did not show up for the initial hearing earlier in June, sparking a fiery speech from comedian and fund proponent Jon Stewart. Alvarez, appearing frail and speaking slowly, told lawmakers in the room that he planned to get his 69th round of chemotherapy the following day. "You made me come down here the day before my 69th round of chemo and I'm going to make sure that you never forget to take care of the 9/11 responders," he said.
"We were there with one mission and we left after completing that mission," he said. "I have been to many places in this world and done many things but I can tell you that I did not want to be anywhere else but Ground Zero when I was there." He added, "Now that the 9/11 illnesses have taken many of us, we are all worried about our children and spouses and our families if we are not here."
On Wednesday, 19 June 2019, Alvarez posted on Facebook that he was entering end-of-life hospice care after tests revealed that his liver had completely shut down because of his tumours. "So now I'm resting and I'm at peace. I will continue to fight until the Good Lord decides it's time," he wrote. "I will try to do a few more interviews to keep a light on our fight for the VCF benefits we all justly deserve. Please take care of yourselves and each other."
What is the Victim Compensation Fund?
The fund was created in the months following the 2001 attacks and was initially active for two years, paying more than $7 billion relating to injuries and deaths caused by the 9/11 attacks. But first responders who spent weeks at the site breathing in noxious air clouded with debris from the collapsed buildings, after New York and federal officials told them it was safe, have since been diagnosed with a variety of debilitating illnesses and cancers.
Congress and President Barack Obama agreed in 2010 to pay their medical costs, reopened the fund and set aside $2,7 billion to pay victims just learning about chronic health problems resulting from their work in 2001. In 2012, the government determined that cancers can be compensated as part of the fund.
It wasn't nearly enough money, however and in 2015 Congress added $4,6 billion in funding, along with new controls and limits on some payments. The special master who administers the fund anticipates that total payouts for claims filed before the measure expires in 2020 could be far higher: $11,6 billion, if a current uptick in claims, largely caused by an increase in serious illnesses and deaths, continues.
The current proposal to permanently extend the fund would authorise it through 2089. It has plenty of support in the House, where it passed the Judiciary Committee last week, and Senator Mitch McConnell indicated that Congress would address the fund.
As of May, more than 12 500 cases of cancer had also been diagnosed, according to The World Trade Centre Health Program, a separate health care program related to the victim fund run by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
The most-diagnosed ailments are upper and lower respiratory issues like asthma, gastrointestinal problems like reflux, musculoskeletal disorders and mental health conditions.
Hundreds of police officers lined the street in Astoria, Queens, for his funeral on Wednesday, 3 July 2019, the familiar trappings of a ceremonial farewell, the bagpipes with “Amazing Grace,” the coffin draped in the colours of the Police Department, giving way, inside the church, to stories of a one-of-a-kind man who lived his life fully in his prime years and later, during the illness that cut him short. “Before he became an American hero, he was mine,” said Alvarez’s oldest son, David. “He was my hero, my inspiration. The one above all I wanted to make proud.”
Alvarez was born in 1965 in Havana but his family moved to Queens seeking to provide their children with greater opportunity, said Alvarez’s sister, Aida Lugo. “Little did my parents know that this single act of sacrifice would lay the groundwork for the man that their son would become,” Lugo said.
After turning 18, Alvarez served in the Marines. But it was in 1990, just shy of his 25th birthday, that he found his true calling, Lugo said, and joined the ranks of New York’s finest.
Alvarez was first assigned to the 108th Precinct in Long Island City, Queens. In 1993, he was transferred to the narcotics division and promoted to detective two years later. He spent time working undercover but by 2004, he wanted a less stressful assignment, the city’s police commissioner, James P O’Neill, said on Wednesday. “Without a hint of irony — and I still can’t believe this — he joined the NYPD’s elite bomb squad,” O’Neill said. “Talk about an exceptional human being.”
Over the course of a 20-year career with the Police Department, Alvarez was recognised several times for excellent police work. He retired in 2010. “If his story had ended there, it would have been enough for several lifetimes,” O’Neill said.
But, Lugo said, after her brother learned in 2016 that he had cancer, he began a new chapter. Alvarez believed his cancer was linked to his time at ground zero and was determined to share his story, posting updates about his health as a way of urging others to register with the compensation fund in case they became ill. It was his dying wish to see Congress pass the bill that would secure aid for ailing September 11 responders, Lugo said.
“Despite being in pretty bad shape, he travelled to Capitol Hill to have his voice heard,” she said. “He wanted to urge our government to do the right thing.” His appearance last month before Congress was a final act of service after a career as a public servant. Before uttering a single word, Alvarez offered a vivid image of the stark reality that many September 11 emergency workers have faced. His pinched, jaundiced face and frail body reminded countless Americans and presumably, some members of the House Judiciary subcommittee to whom he was speaking, that unforeseen, relentless and lethal damage was done to many in the weeks following the attacks.
Before Alvarez’s death, the bill that he had so passionately supported was approved by the committee and sent to the House floor, where it is expected to pass. The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, has said that he would allow a vote on the bill by next month.
Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York, who wore a fire fighter’s jacket on Wednesday in support of emergency responders, said that immediately after the funeral she called the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi and the House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, to urge them to get the bill to McConnell as quickly as possible. “The least we could do is pass the bill in his honour and in the honour of the many others who have served,” she said in phone interview.
Alvarez’s former fellow officers milled outside the church as the crowd thinned. “He spoke for those who passed already, those who are sick, those who might get sick,” said Detective Miguel Mendez, who also spent months at the pile. “Lou was our warrior.”
Nearby, a retired officer leaned on a cane, visibly uncomfortable. He spent 81 days at ground zero and has endured an onslaught of woes since then: nine strokes and throat and sinus damage. “I was ready to die,” the retired officer, Thomas Kelly, said. “But then Lou called.” The two became friends. “‘Don’t lay in bed,’” Alvarez told him, Kelly recalled. “‘Get up, get out and enjoy the world. You’ve got to go out and live your life. We’ve got to keep fighting for ourselves and for each other.’”
Source: Pix11 and New York Times