September 11, 2001. The attacks on the United States changed the world as we know it. It rocked the nation to its core. I am one of the youngest people who was both alive and able to remember 9/11. I didn't understand or know what had happened, but I remember how dark that day was in my house. My father was a pilot—the phone didn't stop ringing with calls from terrified friends and family, wondering if he was home, safe.
Last Monday marked 16 years since those attacks. My social media was filled with people posting "never forget," flag pictures, or what they remember from 9/11. And that's understandable. It was a national tragedy and we feel compelled to take part in "never forgetting." But all that those Facebook posts do is support our collective sadness. And on a day like 9/11, that's okay. But instead of just reflecting on our sadness, let's move to action; let's take 9/11 and the pain it brings and do something with it.
Support first responders
On Monday, Sep. 11, New York Governor Cuomo signed legislation giving 9/11 first responders who developed illness as a result to have unlimited paid sick leave. If you live in New Jersey, call on your legislators to pass similar measures supporting New Jerseyan first responders. Residents of New York, New Jersey, even Pennsylvania, ask your legislators to ensure at least some paid sick leave for 9/11 victims or first responders who no longer work in that field.
Improve veterans' services
A few years after the scandals rocking the Department of Veteran Affairs, conditions at many VA hospitals have yet to improve. In 2014, $16 billion was allocated to make healthcare more efficient and timely, but that hasn't happened in most places. Earlier this year, the Office of the Inspector General found that the VA hospital was dirty, disorganized, and understaffed.
The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans estimates that more than one in 10 homeless adults are veterans. Many veterans end up homeless because of a lack of job opportunities/training, lack of affordable housing, health problems, and mental health issues, such as PTSD.
Take your 9/11 emotions and channel them into helping the men and women who served in our subsequent wars. Donate to your local homeless veteran service providers or get involved in other local homelessness coalitions. Contact your state and national officials and ask that, before giving more money to veterans services, they look at seriously reforming the programs to make them more effective.
Demand changes in our relationship with Saudi Arabia
Fifteen of the 19 hijackers in the 9/11 attacks were Saudi nationals. Bin Laden himself was Saudi. And yet, while our subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ravaged those countries, our relationship with Saudi Arabia stayed strong. Earlier this year, during Donald Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia, the United States signed a $350 billion weapons deal with the nation, despite their military involvement in Yemen, which the Human Rights Watch says is killing civilian children. Demand of our leaders and representatives that we finally treat Saudi Arabia seriously, and have priorities other than money or oil.
Call on the FAA to modernize their health requirements
Being a pilot was a difficult job before the 9/11 attacks, but it has become especially difficult in the years since (though not all of that is due to 9/11). One big change the FAA should make is allowing pilots to fly who take low-level psychiatric medications. Per current FAA guidelines, pilots may not fly if they are taking psychiatric drugs (even if for non-psychiatric conditions), among many other medications. Even Zoloft or Trazodone for mild anxiety or depression are banned. Since it can be used for anxiety and depression, Trazodone is banned, even though for many people it is a helpful sleep aid.
The gist is that the FAA doesn't want anyone flying who might be taking any kind of brain-altering drug, which on the surface makes sense. But people with conditions like mild depression don't just decide "oh, I guess I'll quit being a pilot now." It's their livelihoods. They just don't share anything about their condition and go on untreated; their mental state would likely be better on a doctor-approved medical plan than having access to no medication at all. The 2001 attacks altered some aspects of piloting forever; having the FAA alter its pharmaceutical guidelines could help improve the quality of life for many pilots.
This isn't an end-all list, nor does everyone have to agree with the ideas presented here or the rational behind them. They're just ideas about how to do something with 9/11 emotions beyond social media posts. Do more than just remember the lives lost—make positive changes in their honor.