A State of the Union Reminder: Health Effects of 9/11 Are Still a Problem - And Still Lacking Government Assistance

Feb 2, 2005
Press Release
 WASHINGTON, DC - More than three years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a number of Ground Zero rescue workers and area residents are suffering from long-term health effects, but the federal government still has not adequately supplied them with health monitoring and compensation. To alert lawmakers to their continuing needs, a group of sick 9/11 responders and area residents are in Washington and will sit in the balcony for the State of the Union speech. In addition, New York Reps. Carolyn Maloney (NY-14), Jerrold Nadler (NY-8), Major Owens (NY-11), Tim Bishop (NY-1) and New Jersey Senator Job Corzine, who are helping host the responders and residents, sent a letter today to new Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, urging him to provide adequate funds for 9/11 health effects early in his tenure (PDF of letter).  

The sick responders and residents in attendance are asking the president and lawmakers for the following: 1) to publicly acknowledge the long-term scope and diversity of 9/11 health impacts, 2) to extend the World Trade Center Worker & Volunteer Medical Monitoring Program, 3) to provide safety-net health treatment for those sick and injured from 9/11 but without adequate health insurance, and 4) to make the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund available to those whose illness or injury from 9/11 is emerging or growing worse over time, and for those who were never properly informed that they were eligible for compensation.

“There are many suffering 9/11 responders and area residents who have daily physical reminders of that tragic day,” said Maloney. “The federal government owes them, at the very least, acknowledgment of their illnesses and adequate support.

“I hope Secretary Leavitt will take up the cause of those still sick from 9/11 as one of his first acts in office. I know he is well aware of the environmental health hazards caused by 9/11 from his time at the EPA. We must live up to the 9/11 rallying cry to “never forget” by not allowing our government to forget or ignore this ongoing tragedy.”

“Proper care for responders and residents affected by environmental contaminants is long overdue,” said Nadler. “Secretary Leavitt needs to understand that there’s no time to waste. We cannot wait until even more illness is documented - the federal government must take decisive remedial and preventative action right away.”

“We believe that it is a moral imperative that we generously support those men and women who selflessly devoted their time and efforts to recover the victims of September 11th,” said Peter Gudaitis, Executive Director, New York Disaster Interfaith Services. “These same workers now need our care and support as they struggle to heal from, or learn to survive with, the physical and emotional wounds they now bear. NYDIS wants to insure that each and every recovery worker has equal and unfettered access to medical and mental health services and treatment regardless of immigration or economic status - we also want to insure that their families have appropriate resources to feed and clothe themselves during their loved ones' treatment period.”

Maloney and Nadler (NY-8) and Reps. Maurice Hinchey (NY-22) and Julia Carson (IN-7) have donated their State of the Union tickets to the sick responders and area residents. Participants in today’s event included: Kevin Mount, a member of the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 15 who became sick and injured from his work in the 9/11 recovery, and his wife Heidi Mount; Kelly Colangelo, a lower-Manhattan resident injured from post-9/11 toxic air; Robert Gulack, NY Office, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, injured from post-9/11 toxic air; Edward Marcowitz, of the Law Firm Barash McGarry Salzman & Penson; and Suzanne Mattei of the Sierra Club.

Maloney's office has compiled a summary of recent medical findings about ongoing 9/11 health effects, which can be accessed here: https://maloney.house.gov/sites/maloney.house.gov/files/documents/olddocs/Sept11/020105researchsummary.pdf.

To address the medical and compensation needs of all individuals sick or injured from 9/11, two pieces of legislation will be introduced immediately in the 109th Congress, the “Remember 9/11 Health Act” (https://maloney.house.gov/sites/maloney.house.gov/files/documents/olddocs/Sept11/109_Remember911HealthAct.pdf) and the “Victims Compensation Fund Extension Act” (https://maloney.house.gov/sites/maloney.house.gov/files/documents/olddocs/Sept11/109_VCFExtension.pdf)

The “Remember 9/11 Health Act” contains four main points:

I. Providing Treatment - Modeled after a program that provides health insurance for injured volunteer forest firefighters, this bill provides federal health insurance to individuals suffering injuries and/or health problem as a result of the September 11th Terrorist Attacks. Recipients do not pay for any health care expenses, including prescription drugs and co-payments. This program also includes mental health coverage.

II. Expanding Health Monitoring - Maintains current program, including the separate program for the Fire Department, while expanding it to a level recommended by the public health community.

III. Research - Directs the National Institute of Health to conduct or support diagnostic and treatment research for health conditions that are associated with the exposure to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

IV. Coordination - Establishes the 9/11 Health Emergency Coordinating Council under the direction of the Department of Health and Human Services for the purpose of discussing, examining, and formulating recommendations for the adequacy and coordination of the Federal Government, State government, local governments response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

The “Victims Compensation Fund Extension Act” would:

! Amend eligibility rules so that responders to the 9/11 attacks who arrived later than the first 96 hours could be eligible if they experienced illness or injury from their work at the site.

! Amend eligibility rules so that those who did not seek immediate medical verification for their illness or injury from the disaster, but who have since obtained medical evidence, would be eligible.

! Extend the deadline for applications to allow those with either late-onset illness from the disaster or those who were never informed of their eligibility for the Victim Compensation Fund to consider applying.

Together, these pieces of legislation would close the largest gaps in the federal response to individuals who have become sick or injured from 9/11. Beyond the push for this legislation, today’s group of New York leaders spoke on the need for a fully coordinated and accountable federal involvement in 9/11 environmental clean-up efforts, 9/11 health services and research programs, and 9/11 compensation programs. Collectively, the group pledged to carry that message to Congress and the President, through the trip many embarked on today to Washington, D.C. and through additional efforts throughout the months ahead, until more adequate federal involvement is achieved.