A terminally ill former New York Police Department detective who was a first responder to the 9/11 terrorist attacks is spending his last days fighting to ensure fellow first responders receive health care.
Luis Alvarez, 53, spent three months after the 9/11 attacks at Ground Zero searching for victims, media outlets reported. He said he believes his work as a 9/11 first responder -- inhaling pulverized dust that contained cement, asbestos, lead and other chemicals -- ultimately led to his illness. In 2016, Alvarez was diagnosed with colorectal cancer that spread to his liver.
Alvarez received compensation, thanks to the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund, and now wants to ensure fellow responders receive the same care. On June 11, he joined comedian Jon Stewart to testify before a House subcommittee about replenishing the fund, which is set to expire next year unless Congress acts.
"My message to Congress is: We have to get together and get this bill passed as quickly as possible," Alvarez told CBS News. "I would love to be around when it happens. The government has to act like first responders, you know, put politics aside and let's get this bill done, because we did our job and the government has to do theirs."
More than 50,000 people have applied for compensation through the fund, CBS News reported. Nearly 29,000 people have received some payment totaling more than $5 billion and more than 16,000 cases are still pending.
Alvarez noted that his cancer didn’t appear until 16 years after his work at Ground Zero, so it’s possible other first responders may still develop illnesses -- and they will need care.
"There's gonna be more and more first responders getting sick, and the government has to take care of them," he said.
Alvarez announced on his Facebook page Tuesday that "there is nothing else doctors can do to fight the cancer," so he had stopped treatment and entered hospice care. He told Fox News that he’s “comfortable” and “not in a lot of pain.”
Alvarez said he will continue to advocate for his fellow first responders in the time he has left.
"I have no regrets,'' he said. "No regrets whatsoever."
House and Senate leaders said they will hold a vote on a bill to extend the fund, but haven’t set a date, CBS News reported.