By Shane M. Liebler, Senior Editor
During some of the nation’s darkest hours on September 11, 2001, and in the days and weeks that followed, thousands responded to help. In the years that followed, many thousands have also become sick.
There are numerous conditions linked to exposure, including 24 categories of cancer recognized by the World Trade Center Health Program. The monitoring and treatment program was founded by the federal Zadroga Act in 2011 and has since grown to serve more than 59,000 general responders, not including FDNY.
The National Volunteer Fire Council estimates that some 2,600 of those who assisted with operations at Ground Zero were volunteers, who are eligible for the WTC Health Program that covers medical costs associated with 9/11 conditions. These include chronic cough, asthma, sinus congestion, certain cancers, stress-related disorders and depression among the many other symptoms and conditions.
“Any responder who performed rescue, recovery, debris cleanup and support services in any of those locations may be eligible and that includes volunteers,” World Trade Center Health Program Chief of Communications Emily Hurwitz said. “If you volunteered in any official capacity, you may be eligible for the program.”
The program provides complimentary health care related to 9/11 illnesses diagnosed by its network of doctors. There is proof of presence during specific hours, locations (including terror attack sites in Washington, D.C. and Shanksville, Pennsylvania) and time periods required for eligibility.
“We do require supporting documentation – a time sheet, letter from department, awards, workers comp board, for example,” Hurwitz said. “The program is sensitive to the fact that it has been a number of years since the event and many times it can be difficult to find the original documentation.
“There is a process for people who did take part as a responder to get third-party adaptations that they did the work,” she said.
Once that’s established, the individual must get an initial health evaluation from doctors at a designated Clinical Center of Excellence. There are seven locations in New York City, including two on Long Island. They must certify a condition was caused by 9/11 exposure, not a personal doctor.
“Any responder who performed rescue, recovery, debris cleanup and support services in any of those locations may be eligible.”
“The benefit of that is these are doctors with years of experience working with these populations and understanding these health conditions, not only how to recognize them, but also understanding how to treat them,” Hurtwitz said.
They look at medical records and diagnose any new conditions before sending a request to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for final certification.
“Once a person is certified, they are eligible to receive nocost health care for anything related to that condition,” Hurwitz said. “It doesn’t replace anyone’s insurance, it is a limited health care program.”
Medically necessary treatment includes pharmaceuticals or chemotherapy, for example. It’s important to note the WTC Health Program is not linked to nor does it operate like the September 11th Victims Compensation Program. The WTC Health Program just provides the monitoring and treatment at no cost, not via reimbursement or financial compensation.
“They don’t have to be sick to enroll,” Hurwitz noted. “They could feel perfectly healthy right now and receive annual monitoring in case there is something that happens.”
Volunteer first responders can get the application process started online or by calling (888) 982-4748.