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Daily News

Our debt to Ground Zero heroes
The city will do more for sick rescue workers, says mayor

Be Our Guest

By MICHAEL BLOOMBERG

September 5, 2006—When our nation was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, thousands of New Yorkers and people from around the country came to our aid by assisting with the difficult and dangerous rescue and recovery work at Ground Zero. Our nation owes them more than an enormous debt of gratitude; we owe them support for their health and well-being.

The destruction of the World Trade Center resulted in an unprecedented disaster, and only time will tell what the long-term health effects will be. After 9/11, the only thing we knew for certain was that we had to do everything possible to identify those effects, understand them, and use that knowledge to help people get the best possible treatment, at the earliest possible date.

To do that, we immediately began creating a process to systematically monitor the health of those affected by 9/11 and assist them in getting information on the resources and care they would need. The result includes the World Trade Center Health Registry, which monitors health information and provides resources for 71,000 people from New York and around the country - the largest and most ambitious postdisaster health project in the nation.

We also immediately initiated a very aggressive screening and treatment program for our firefighters and EMS workers, who receive first-rate health benefits. Quality care is also available to other rescue, recovery and cleanup workers and volunteers - regardless of their insurance status - through screening and treatment programs by a consortium of hospitals around the city and region. In fact, about 30,000 people have already taken advantage of these programs.

Our work has been supported by the federal government - but now we need that support to continue. Our administration will continue working to convince the state and federal governments to make a long-term commitment to monitoring and treatment programs for those affected by 9/11. We have also been supporting legislation to reopen the federal Victim Compensation Fund, which was established to provide for individuals who were physically injured in the attacks and the relatives of those who died. The filing deadline was in 2003 - too soon for people who may have become symptomatic later on.

For instance, by analyzing the data we have collected, it has become clear that some people exposed to the dust cloud have developed higher rates of both respiratory problems and psychological distress. Now, as we continue to learn more about these and other health implications, we also have a responsibility to do more to ensure that all people have access to the care they need and deserve.

Today, we will announce a series of new initiatives that build on our track record of supporting those who supported us in the months after 9/11. These initiatives are in response to trends and concerns that we have identified through the WTC Health Registry and other sources, and they build upon the knowledge that medical experts have gained since 9/11. In short, they will reflect our commitment to a health policy that is both responsive and responsible.

The effects of 9/11 are still largely unknown, but we now know much more than we did even one year ago. As trends continue to develop, the City will continue to do everything possible to learn about the problems people face and develop effective strategies to deal with them. We owe that to the thousands of selfless people who came to our aid when we needed them most, and to all those who suffer health problems as a result of the terrorist attacks.

Bloomberg is mayor of the City of New York.

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