Sept. 11 Responder Bill A Good Start

Sept. 11 first responder Glen Klein was with the emergency services unit of the New York Police Department when the World Trade Center was attacked. He tells NPR's Liane Hansen about the various problems he has suffered in the years since the attack, including a diagnosis of scarring on his lungs. Klein says the Senate's vote last week on the Sept. 11 Responders Bill while not all the money hoped for, is at least a five-year guarantee of funding for treatment of first responders.

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LIANE HANSEN, Host:

When Jon Stewart was leading the charge to raise public awareness of the public health bill, a brigade of first responders descended on Capitol Hill to put more pressure on the Senate.

Among them was Glen Klein, a former New York police officer with the emergency services unit. He spent more than 800 hours at Ground Zero. And he's on the phone from his home on Long Island. Thanks for making time on this holiday weekend.

Mr. GLEN KLEIN (Retired police officer): Thanks for having me on. I appreciate it.

HANSEN: So, I imagine the Senate bill is a welcome Christmas present for you and your fellow first responders.

Mr. KLEIN: Absolutely. I look at it as more a victory for my fellow responders. And I say that because as a police officer, I have my pension and I get benefits, although I do go over the maximum limit in the course of a year and I do have to pay out of my own pocket for some. But there are some people who have worked for construction companies and cleanup companies and things of that nature and even residents who live down around Ground Zero who didn't once they stopped working.

And they're in the hole for thousands and thousands of dollars. Some of them have lost their homes, some of them lost their cars, and even some of them have lost their families to the distress that they've been under for the past several years.

HANSEN: The $4.2 billion package, while big, is only half the amount that the Democrats wanted. Are you satisfied with that?

Mr. KLEIN: I'm not 100 percent satisfied. But, you know, it's better to come home from Washington, D.C. and let the responders know that they're going to get something than nothing at all. I mean, they played hardball with us. The bill was cut down quite a bit. But we know in five years, when the bill expires, we'll go back and we'll do it again. I mean, they said we couldn't fight city hall, and we fought the government and we won.

HANSEN: And you're prepared to mount another fight?

Mr. KLEIN: Five years from now, they don't fund this bill, yes, we will. We didn't do this just for fun. We did it because there are people who are sick and dying. And we take that very, very seriously and will continue to take that seriously five years from now.

HANSEN: If you don't mind, with your permission, I'd like to ask you about your own personal experience. When did you first arrive at Ground Zero on 9/11?

Mr. KLEIN: I was down by City Hall when the second tower collapsed. And the guys I was with, we ran into a building to escape the dust cloud. But we had to come out and tend to some injured police officers that we were advised by some passerby that there was a police officer injured.

And we spent the whole entire day there doing different assignments that we were given, mostly, you know, looking for survivors and victims, which unfortunately weren't very many of. And I was released from there at about 1:00 in the morning and told to go home, relax, take a shower and be back again in the morning, which is what most of us did.

HANSEN: And your total number of hours were something like 800. How was your health affected by that amount of time you spent there?

Mr. KLEIN: My medical records show that I never had a medical problem in my 20 years in the police department. In 2003 is when I started to feel sick. I started out with gastrointestinal problems. I had a bacteria called H pylori in my intestines and I was put on heavy-duty antibiotics to get rid of that.

And I would start getting these bouts of excruciating abdominal pain. I was hospitalized six times for that. That led me to going for additional tests which found that I had scarring on my lungs and nodules on my lungs. I went to the doctor and I was diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma. I've been diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder, which right now is under control from medication and therapy.

HANSEN: You talked about being a police officer. You have medical coverage, you have a pension. But now that the Senate has voted on this bill, what kind of medical treatment will you be able to receive that you couldn't get before?

Mr. KLEIN: Well, it's not a matter of not being able to get it before. We have it right now. But the fact is that we had to go back every year and ask for more money to keep the centers of excellence - those are the clinics and hospitals with specially trained doctors to deal with the issues that 9/11 responders have - and there was no guarantee that we were going to get it.

Well, this will guarantee that for the next five years, we will have the funding that we need and we will continue to get the specialized treatment that we're getting. And we'll fight to get what we need to keep 9/11 responders -and even residents who were down and around Ground Zero area, they're included in this bill - we'll do what we have to do to help these people.

HANSEN: Have you heard from members of your unit or other first responders in the past few days? And what have they been saying after this bill was passed?

Mr. KLEIN: I have gotten close to 200 between emails, text messages and Facebook, thank yous from everybody. Not just members of my unit, members of the police department, the fire department, the public, thanking us for what we did. And intend to print every one of those letters out and make a scrapbook that my kids can have when I'm gone.

HANSEN: Glen Klein was a member of the New York police department's emergency services unit and one of the 9/11 first responders. He joined us on the phone from his home on Long Island. Thank you.

Mr. KLEIN: Quite welcome.

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