On the annual day to recognize those who responded to the September 11th terrorist attacks, there is word that a program to help those responders is threatened.
Saturday was World Trade Center Responder Day, an unofficial day of appreciation for the men and women who turned out to serve after the attacks.
The event, which has taken place for the place several years, is typically held at the South Street Seaport, but this year was held at St. Paul’s Chapel – across from the WTC site. It was hosted by the Mount Sinai World Trade Center Medical Monitoring Treatment Program and drew iron workers, police officers, elected officials and firefighters.
Looming over the event was a report that a 9/11 mental health program could be cut.
“That help is gonna be needed for many years to come,” said paramedic Jared Ring. “Many of our coworkers are sick with respiratory problems, psychological problems; they have sleep problems.”
According to the city Department of Health, the benefits program was always scheduled to expire in 2011 and all participants were notified of the end date upon enrollment.
Still, some 4,500 recovery workers like iron workers, sanitation workers, police officers and firefighters use the $3.5 million program – and say cutting it off is a mistake, because the psychological effects of 9/11 will be seen for years to come.
“[It should be around for] 30 to 40 years because of the ages of the people involved and the amount of time and exposure,” said sanitation worker Jerry Manza. “I had nine-months exposure and a lot of people had a week, two weeks. Again, it depends what you do after you leave, whether or not you address it right away.”
The DOH also says that many participants, and all first responders, will be eligible for free mental health services through one of the 9/11 Health Centers of Excellence.
The city rejected federal funding to keep the program going because it required the city pay part of the costs if it runs beyond the end of this year.
Representatives Jerrold Nadler and Carolyn Maloney have been working on a more permanent fix to healthcare support. Their bill aims to provide long-term, stable health care for World Trade Center responders.
“This program would stop the finger pointing and have everyone work together,” said Maloney. “Which is what they were doing on 9/11. People were rushing to the site. They weren’t saying ‘this is where I’m working, you work over there.’ They were working together to save lives quickly and that’s what we need to do as a government on the city, state and federal level; work together to help these people. That’s what our bill does.”
The legislation awaits a final vote in the House of Representatives. It has yet to have a hearing in the Senate.
In the meantime, Maloney and Nadler say they will do anything they can in the immediate future to save the mental health program.