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9/11 responders' health treatment threatened by budget plan

Lawmakers say the impact would be dreadful for the more than 83,000 responders and survivors who rely on the WTC Health Program

By Ginger Adams Otis
New York Daily News

WASHINGTON — Hidden in the fine print of President Trump’s latest budget proposal is a detail that could directly impact 9/11 first responders: The reorganization of the federal agency that oversees their health treatment and monitoring.

Currently, the World Trade Center Health Program is housed within the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. That agency, in turn, is under the umbrella of the Centers for Disease Control.

Under the 2019 fiscal year budget for NIOSH put forth by the White House, that agency will be carved out of the CDC and placed within the National Institute of Health.

The WTC Health Program will remain behind — within the CDC.

Although it would appear on paper to be a simple rearrangement, lawmakers and 9/11 advocates say the impact would be dreadful for the more than 83,000 responders and survivors who rely on the WTC Health Program to receive treatments, medications and monitoring for injuries and illnesses caused by toxins at Ground Zero and other 9/11 sites.

For one thing, NIOSH and the WTC Health Program share many employees — and those workers would move with NIOSH when it gets sliced out of the CDC.

The director of NIOSH, Dr. John Howard, would also move with the agency — meaning he could no longer fulfill his current dual role as administrator of the WTC Health Program.

The potential shifting of resources and manpower will come just as several key contracts within the WTC Health Program — such as those for prescription programs — are up for five-year renewal, prompting concerns that services will be interrupted to some of those suffering from 9/11 illnesses.

That worry has prompted several New York congressmembers — the original sponsors of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act — to write to the head of the Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney to demand the proposal be abandoned.

“We were shocked and disturbed,” the letter says, signed by U.S. Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Jerrold Nadler, (D-N.Y.) and Peter King (R-L.I.)

“This proposal directly contradicts the legislation Congress passed just three years ago to renew WTCHP for 75 years within NIOSH. This will unnecessarily put at risk the health of those who have been made ill by 9/11, many of whom are still suffering, and in too many cases still dying, from their injuries 17 years later,” the congressmembers said.

The letter also noted that NIOSH was originally selected as the agency to house the WTC Health program because it was dedicated to occupational health — the exact expertise needed to set up a wide-ranging and national medical response team to a series of devastating illnesses that were just starting to emerge among first responders and survivors.

Dr. Howard, appointed to NIOSH by then-President George Bush in 2002, has worked to put the agency at the forefront of responding to the injuries caused by the toxins at Ground Zero, the letter said.

“If you had spoken to us, or anyone with experience in the 9/11 health community, you would have understood that the World Trade Center Health Program is fully integrated within NIOSH and there are many shared staff whose expertise would be lost if the WTCHP is pulled,” the representatives said.

“We also would have explained the amount of progress NIOSH has made in service delivery, all of which would be lost if WTCHP were removed from the institute,” it continued.

Maloney, Nadler and King want OMB director Mulvaney to abandon the plan — and they are backed by first responder advocate John Feal.

In New York alone, there are some 17,000 firefighters and EMS members who are monitored by the FDNY for the WTC Health Program, another 15,000 cared for through a Survivor Program, and a general responder program at Mt. Sinai.

A national program covers another 15,000 registrants, which includes people who were at the 9/11 sites but don’t live in the affected states or those who have since moved away from the affected stats.

“This administration seems to only be able to tear things down, but here they are putting injured 9/11 responders’ health at risk, too many who have cancer and have suffered enough. They need to withdraw this stupid idea and leave NIOSH alone. This is not making America great, only making 9/11 responders sicker,” said Feal, who urged WTC program members to call Mulvaney to ask him to change his mind.

Copyright 2018 New York Daily News

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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