NEW YORK (FOX5NY) - The pictures hanging on his wall show the story of a hero. But 16 years after the day that shook our nation to its core, September 11 first responder Marvin Bethea is still fighting to ensure he is treated as one.
Bethea has been in an 11-year battle with the Justice Department to be awarded the Public Safety Officers' Benefit. The act provides a disability benefit to those who have been permanently disabled as the direct result of injury sustained in the line of duty that prevents the officer from performing any gainful work.
Bethea said that he can't swallow and has a feeding tube in his stomach. He said his condition is from 9/11.
The catch is that Bethea worked for a private hospital. At the time, they made up 40 percent of the EMS system in New York City. Bethea said he has been denied the benefit because he was not a direct city employee even though they were contracted by the city.
While compensation doesn't change his reality, Bethea said he deserves the benefit. Pre-9/11, he was athletic and in good health. Post-9/11 he has not been able to say the same. Bethea suffered a mini stroke five weeks after the tragic day and that was only the beginning of his health issues. His breathing worsened and he had to retire in 2004.
The now-57-year-old was diagnosed with PTSD, asthma, pulmonary fibrosis, and high blood pressure. In 2011, he suffered a major stroke that altered his life forever. He was in a coma for a while, spent months in a hospital, and then two years in a nursing home.
And in spite of it all, he has no regrets. Bethea said he was proud to serve his country but that "they called us heroes but treated us like zeroes."
Bethea has no interest in backing down in his fight. His application for the award was again denied but he is currently in the appeals process.
Fox 5 reached out to the Bureau of Justice Assistance, which responded that the claim is currently pending in federal court.
So the long road continues.