anne_mikolay_120As I sit here at my desk, looking out my bay window at the beautiful autumn leaves, it is easy to believe that all is right with the world. But recent events reported in the news say otherwise.

Case in point: the recent passing of 9/11 responder, Toms River resident, Joe Picurro. Labeling Mr. Picurro a “9/11 responder” hardly seems appropriate or respectful. Joe Picurro was far more than a “responder.”  An ironworker, Picurro freely rushed to Ground Zero in 2001 to assist in recovery efforts and worked at the site for 28 days. Subsequently, Picurro became ill, and in 2004, doctors identified the cause of his sarcoidosis, reactive airways dysfunction syndrome, as toxic dust inhaled at the site. Unable to work and unable to collect workers' compensation (he was a volunteer), Picurro incurred massive medical bills and fell into debt. Sadly, he passed away on October 15th at the age of 43.

There's a whole lot wrong with this tragic occurrence.

Here was a man who embodied the American spirit, who unselfishly raced to help his country, to assist people he did not know. Here was a man who readily put himself in harm's way for the benefit of others, but in his own time of need, was deserted by his government. Here was a man whose death was reported as “local news.” Since when is the passing of an American hero merely “local news?” Headlines are created regularly by the inane antics of contemporary cartoon characters like Lady Gaga, but the passing of a true American did not make headlines. What's wrong with this picture?

I'll tell you what's wrong: America's priorities are skewed. People forget what matters, as evidenced by the reduced number of flags flying each year on Patriot Day. 9/11 is being reduced to a page in a history book. Rest assured, as the tenth anniversary of the tragedy approaches, patriotism will be trendy once more; there will be plenty of flag wavers, souvenir vendors, and spotlight seekers clamoring for front page coverage of their commemorative events. Granted, 9/11 didn't have as forceful an impact for U.S. residents outside the east coast, nor did it have the same meaning for families not directly affected. Therefore, not everyone might consider the death of a 9/11 responder like Mr. Picurro as front page news. And, of course, the healing power of the passage of time cannot be overlooked. 9/11 is being reduced to a page in a history book because it is history, and the emotional self-preservation that keeps it anchored as such is not entirely a bad thing.

But righteousness and American spirit cannot be debated.

The financial, emotional, and physical battle fought by Joe Picurro angers me. The government should have helped him. He did so much for this country. There was so much more that should have been done for him. The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act passed in the House last month. The Senate must now step up and do what's right. Senators, don't wave the flag and pose for photographs. Don't flap your gums in fancy rhetoric. Just honor the American heroes of 9/11, like Mr. Joe Picurro, and pass the bill. Do what's right.