LI heroes take 9/11 health care fight to Washington, D.C.

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NEW YORK -

Long Island's Ground Zero heroes took their health care fight to Washington, D.C. today as the number of 9/11 first responders dying from toxic dust exposure grows.

The responders are getting ready to lobby with lawmakers Wednesday to approve the Never Forget Heroes Act, which would permanently fund the cash-strapped 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund. The bill is being spearheaded by several lawmakers, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Peter King.

It was announced the fund was running out of money in February because of a rising number of people getting sick and dying from 9/11-related illnesses. Many newer recipients of the fund are expected to receive less money than before.

Nearly $5 billion of the fund's $7.4 billion have been spent to cover medical costs of victims getting sick and dying from 9/11 dust exposure.

Retired FDNY Lt. Michael O'Connell, who is suffering from a 9/11-related ailment, says that's not fair.

O'Connell is a part of the Feal Good Foundation, a 9/11 responders advocacy group. He says the group traveled to Washington multiple times in the past to lobby Congress to fund the compensation program for just a few years.

If approved, the new bill would extend the compensation fund for the lifetime of those directly affected by 9/11-related illnesses. The group says so far, they know of 290 congressmen and 36 senators who are supporting the permanent funding bill.

O'Connell says that's not enough for it to pass, so this lobbying trip will be key.

The first responders plan to return to Washington next month when the bill will be discussed again in committee.

Comedian and 9/11 victim advocate Jon Stewart is expected to testify in front on Congress to ask to permanently fund the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. The house could vote on the bill in July.

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