Oct. 12 Deadline Looms for Injured and Ailing 9/11 Survivors Seeking Health Care Aid

NEW YORK (PAI)–Injured and ailing survivors of the Sept. 11, 2001 al-Qaeda terrorist attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center in New York — including first responders and other unionists from around the country who came to assist in searching for the dead or cleaning up the rubble — have only until Oct. 12  to seek federal aid for paying their health care costs and lost wages, unions and the special master handling the aid warn.


“Potential claimants include first responders as well as individuals who lived, worked, or volunteered in the areas near the World Trade Center site, the Pentagon site, and the Shanks-ville, Pa., crash site,” said Sheila Birnbaum, administrator of the Victims Compensation Fund.


Victims may sign up by going to www.vcf.gov or calling 1-855-885-1555.  The hearing impaired may call 1-855-885-1558.  Both are toll-free.


Those eligible for aid include workers diagnosed with cancer as a result of exposure to the toxic chemicals loosed when two al-Qaeda-commandeered jetliners crashed into the Twin Towers, destroying them.  Lower-Manhattan residents and students can also seek the aid.


Also eligible for aid are workers who toiled at the other two 9/11 airliner crash sites. One hijacked jet smashed into the Pentagon, while passengers on the fourth fought the terrorists as that plane, also headed for Washington, crashed in the Pennsylvania farm field.


Workers from a wide range of unions headed for New York, D.C. and Pennsylvania and

were exposed to the toxic fumes, chemicals and ash during the subsequent searches and cleanup.  The al-Qaeda attack killed approximately 2,900 people, including 343 New York Fire Fighters, who went into the Twin Towers to try to rescue others, their priest, and almost 300 other unionists.

“You deserve quality care, treatment, and information regarding your health,” added AFSCME District Council 37, whose New York City municipal workers were among the dead and injured.  DC37 said workers, other area residents and other responders nationwide hit with illnesses from the attacks – such as asthma, acid reflux, anxiety, chronic laryngitis, sleep apnea, airways dysfunction, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression — may seek aid.

DC37 also has a number for workers and retirees to call: 1-888-982-4748 (toll-free).


If accepted, claimants receive comprehensive medical exams to determine their treatment.  The Victims Compensation Fund pays for the exams and the treatment.  As of Sept. 8, the 3-plus-year-old fund has received 16,449 requests for aid.  It approved 7,886 and another 1,275 await approval.  The fund said 24 claimants didn’t qualify.  It has disbursed $493 million to cover health care costs and lost wages.


Just over half of the remaining 7,314 applicants “do not appear to have an eligible medical condition and have not responded to requests for additional medical documentation,” a fund data sheet says.  The others lack some documents, or signed verifications that applicants were involved in the searches and cleanup after the 9/11 attacks.

Meanwhile, the surviving Fire Fighters who rescued people at the Twin Towers or who searched the rubble for remains and survivors for the succeeding six months are dying from attack-caused illnesses, the presidents of New York’s two IAFF locals said on Sept. 25.  Three died, all of cancer caused by the toxic exposures, on Sept. 22, 2014, bringing the post-9/11 toll to 92.  Another three are in hospice care.  The leaders said New York’s congressional delegation introduced legislation to extend the victims fund again, until 2041.


“When we responded, we were told, ‘The air is safe. Don’t worry.’  But we knew differently,” Uniformed Fire Officers Association President James Lemonda told local media.  He reminded listeners the first responders lacked adequate protective masks when they first got to the Trade Center site, due to that air-is-safe statement.


“Now we’re asking our elected officials in Washington to set aside their partisan politics,” he continued, calling Sept. 11 recovery work “a patriotic act.  I’m asking them to be as brave as the people who responded on that day.  Let’s pass this legislation, let’s extend this legislation.”


Uniformed Firefighters Association President Steve Cassidy called it “almost unimagin-able” that Daniel “Sam” Heglund, Robert Leaver and Howard Bischoff — all in their 50s and retired on disability – died on Sept. 22.  “All were active and healthy before 9/11,” he said.


“Since shortly after the attacks, New York City Fire Fighters have been getting sick and dying in record numbers as a result of cancers and other diseases caused by breathing the toxic air at the World Trade Center site,” Cassidy’s memorial on the union website says.


“We can’t undo the tragedy of Sept. 11,” he told local media.  “But we certainly can make a full-court press to Congress to make sure they realize that they have an obligation – a moral obligation – to continue to…take care of these sick firefighters while they’re alive and to take care of their families when they pass.”