Responders to the 9/11 crisis who reside outside of the New York City area may finally get help for their health care concerns. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently announced a plan to provide coverage to out-of-state workers, including periodic examinations, treatments and pharmacy benefits from providers nationwide.

Bipartisan supporters hail the effort but note that it is long overdue.

LHSFNA Research Division Director Jim Melius states, “I have strongly urged the federal government to give WTC workers and residents access to long term medical monitoring and treatment for their WTC-related medical conditions and compensation for their losses. This is a step in the right direction.”

Laborers were among the thousands of rescue and recovery workers who came to lower Manhattan after the devastating attacks on the World Trade Center towers. Due to the toxic environment at Ground Zero, many came away with respiratory illness. Others suffer with mental health problems. Funding for first responders was initially funneled through the Mt. Sinai Center for Occupational and Environmental Health which serves as the registration point for New York-area victims. However, the Center’s treatment services are not available to out-of-area responders. The American Red Cross has funded 9/11 assistance programs nationwide, yet that funding will run out in June. This new effort by the CDC and NIOSH seeks to bridge the gap.

Health care for 9/11 workers has been a hot topic, and much of the debate comes down to funding. Lawmakers continue to push legislation to help the thousands of people in need of treatment and monitoring. Representative Carolyn Maloney (D – NY) is sponsoring a bill that would ensure permanent, stable funding. The bill, H.R. 3545, is named after James Zadroga, the NYPD detective who died of respiratory illness after working 450 hours at Ground Zero.

Maloney also applauds the CDC/NIOSH plan. “It’s good news that the Administration is finally taking action to help thousands of ailing 9/11 responders who live outside the tri-state area,” she said.  “The national 9/11 health program should never have been interrupted in the first place, but it can never be too late to help the heroes of 9/11.  In the months ahead, we will be working to make sure that the national program and the clinics here in the New York area get the funding they need to provide care for everyone whose health was compromised by the 9/11 attacks.”

[Jennifer E. Jones]