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Published: September, 2020; Vol 17, Num 4


Health Effects of 9/11 Attacks Linger for First Responders

This month marks the 19th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Center. Years later, its effects still linger for the families affected and the responders who answered the call during the recovery effort. For many of those responders, exposures during the cleanup efforts have led to debilitating, deadly health conditions, including many types of cancers, pulmonary disease and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

LIUNA General
and LHSFNA Labor
Armand E. Sabitoni

“Police, firefighters and construction workers, including thousands of LIUNA members, were exposed to both toxic substances and emotional trauma in the days and weeks following the attacks,” says LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni. “We must never forget that these men and women sacrificed their health to help our country in a time of need. Now it’s our turn to support them as they get the medical care they need and deserve.”

Fortunately, in 2019 Congress took action and extended the September 11th Victims’ Compensation Fund (VCF) through 2090. The VCF provides compensation for those present at the World Trade Center, surrounding New York City exposure zone, Pentagon crash site and Shanksville, Pennsylvania crash site who have been diagnosed with a 9/11-related illness. First responders, people who worked or volunteered in the construction, cleanup and debris removal at these sites are all eligible, as well as people who lived, worked or went to school in the exposure zone.

Understanding VCF Registration and Claims Deadlines

Along with extending funding for the VCF through 2090, the VCF Permanent Authorization Act signed in 2019 also extended the deadline to file claims until 2090. However, there is another important deadline that responders and others eligible for VCF compensation should be aware of – the registration deadline.

Registering for the VCF is not the same as filing a claim, and it’s important to know the difference between the two. Registration lets the VCF know that you may be a potential claimant in the future, but it doesn’t obligate you to file a claim. While the deadline to file a claim is the same for everyone, the deadline to register is not. For most people, the important registration deadline to remember is July 29, 2021. For more detailed information about registration deadlines based on your particular situation (e.g., you are filing on behalf of a family member who you believe died of a 9/11-related illness), visit

If you or a loved one fall into any of the eligibility groups mentioned above, the LHSFNA encourages you to register with the VCF. Even if you don’t currently have a 9/11-related health condition, some diseases can take years to develop and may occur later in life. Registering now maintains your right to get the care you deserve in the future should you need it. To contact the VCF for help with registering or with additional questions, contact 1-855-885-1555.

Additional Health Conditions Tied to Post-Attack Exposure

Diseases related to toxic substances may take months or years to develop. The amount of time can vary based on the disease itself, the level of exposure, the individual person and many other factors. Over time, the list of cancers and other diseases tied to 9/11 continues to grow. A recent study of World Trade Center Health Registry enrollees found a significantly increased risk for autoimmune disease as well. Responders with intense dust cloud exposure were twice as likely to develop autoimmune diseases, and community members with PTSD were three times more likely to develop autoimmune diseases.

A separate study examined the prevalence of mental health disorders among World Trade Center Health Registry enrollees. Even almost twenty years later, the prevalence of mental health disorders and need for mental health treatment remains elevated among this group. Almost half of non-traditional responders, such as construction workers, reported a need for mental health care.

Many of the first responders and volunteers who assisted in the response and cleanup efforts following the September 11th attacks did so at great cost to their long-term health. We should do everything we can to make sure these men and women get the care they need, even if it means the list of health conditions they can receive care for needs to grow over time.

[Nick Fox]