The September 11 terrorist attack on the United States will always evoke a special emotion in me as an American, a New Yorker and a Social Security employee. On this day, we honor the victims of the attacks on the World Trade Center, in Pennsylvania and in the Pentagon. We also salute the courageous men and women dedicated to the rescue efforts. This incomprehensible event changed us all.
Fourteen years have passed since we collectively experienced the turmoil and grief of September 11. That day was difficult and emotional and we each experienced it in a very personal way. For those Social Security employees working in Manhattan at 26 Federal Plaza who heard the first jet, felt its shock wave, saw both towers ablaze and then evacuated under extreme conditions, the memory is indelible. So, too, for the New York Disability Determination Service (DDS) employees who worked in the shadow of the World Trade Center and escaped from the blaze and the rubble of collapsing buildings.
While we were all attempting to regain our equilibrium from that day, Social Security employees around the country made special efforts to help. We showed our strength and compassion and the value of both public service and Social Security. Through our efforts, over 5,000 individuals applied for survivors and disability benefits. The Agency’s response at such a critical moment in our nation’s history was truly uplifting. Many of the survivors of those who perished had their first Social Security payment on October 3, 2001. Our Social Security programs were essential to their well-being, reminding us that Social Security is more than a retirement program.
As I reflect on the events of September 11, I am justly proud of how Social Security employees responded to those events. Regional office, field office, program service center and teleservice center staff all worked tirelessly to reach out to the families of the victims and overcome the challenges that this tragedy presented to the agency and to us individually. I’m sure that all of us — whether we worked in Lower Manhattan or at the centers on Pier 94, Liberty State Park and DC, whether we took claims from family members by telephone or in person, or worked to ensure that 15,000 individuals whose disability files remained at 22 Cortlandt Street (the location of the DDS) were not disadvantaged or whether we assisted law enforcement efforts — will always remember those experiences. We persevered and showed our indomitable spirit, and experienced an amazing outpouring of hope and healing as we moved forward.
Looking back at my own experiences with the families of the victims of September 11, I realize that time will never diminish the force of the stories they told. The stories were in their eyes and faces and in the pictures of the victims all around us. I will never forget these families: a young man in his mid-20s who lost his wife of two years, had a 6-month old child at home and could never stop crying; the father of a policeman and fireman who lost both sons in their efforts to rescue people at the World Trade Center; two little boys (aged 3 and 5) playing with their father’s identification card while their grandfather applied for Social Security benefits; the pregnant mother with three children and no idea of how the family would financially survive. I cannot forget them.
Despite the highly charged environment of the days that followed, all of us at Social Security pulled together to provide support to those who lost family members and loved ones. It will always remind me that we are one family with amazing resiliency and that we will always come together to help those in their time of need.
Today, New York City is a strong, dynamic city. It has lifted itself and is moving forward. We see this by visiting the September 11 Memorial Museum and Freedom Tower. The streets of downtown Manhattan are filled with people. There is a hum in the air and an incredible energy.
As we pause for a moment of silence to remember those we lost on September 11, fourteen years ago, we should not forget those families Social Security helped, nor all the children who are now teenagers and young adults.