The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

July 8, 2013

Health meetings planned: Benefits available for 9/11 responders

Sean Sauro
ssauro@tribdem.com

— Area responders to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks – including the United Airlines Flight 93 crash in Shanksville – soon may  receive medical benefits as part of The World Trade Center Health Program.

The program was set up as part of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010, an act put in place to extend and improve protections and services to individuals directly impacted by the terrorist attacks, program services manager Laurie Breyer said.

“The act included health care (monitoring and treatment) for World Trade Center, Pentagon and Shanksville responders,” she said.

“The act passed in January of 2011, but it didn’t go into effect until July 1, (2011),” she said, adding that enrollment for the program was not available until May of this year – nearly two years later.

The program is to provide responders with preventative monitoring and treatment for health issues that may have arisen as a result of their efforts in responding to the incidents, Breyer said.

“It will also cover survivors in the New York area as well,” she said.

Not just focusing on emergency response personnel, the program is to cover all types of responders, Breyer said.

“A lot of people think that only means firefighters and police,” she said, adding that rescue-recovery workers, debris cleanup crews and support volunteers also may receive benefits.

Locals who helped aid in Sept. 11 relief can apply for the program, Breyer said, and two town hall meetings are to be held July 18 for Shanksville responders at the Shanksville-Stonycreek School District, 1325 Cornerstone Road in Friedens.

“We are trying to go out and find some people who may have responded,” she said, explaining that the meetings are to be held at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Attendance may be minimal, and the meetings should be relaxed, Breyer said.

“I’m guessing they may be small, but we’re trying to get the word out,” she said. “I’d like to keep it pretty informal.”

The meetings are to include a brief, informative PowerPoint presentation about the program followed by a question-and-answer session, Breyer said.

Those who believe they qualify for the benefits may then apply to be covered, she said, explaining that it is a limited care program – only covering specific health issues.

“There is an application process,” Breyer said. “It will basically ask what you did, where and for how many hours.”

Applicants are asked to provide any documentation they might have confirming their involvement, Breyer said.

However, she said program administrators do understand it has been some time since the attacks, and they are treating applicants with some leniency.

“We understand that, 12 years later, documentation may be hard to find, so they may submit a third-party account,” Breyer said. “It doesn’t have to be notarized or anything.”

After information is provided, it will be determined if applicants qualify for the program, and they will then be tested to see if they have any qualifying illnesses, she said.

“We look at the information they provide,” she said, “and, initially, if they aren’t determined to have any conditions qualifying under the program, they will still receive the free monitoring.”

If applicants are determined to have suffered illness as a result of exposure during their contributions, Breyer said they are to be covered and treated at one of the nationwide provider network sites near their home.

“We try to get it within 30 minutes of their home,” she said.

More than 60,000 people have joined the program, and many have received preventative care and treatment, according to a news release.