9/11 first-responders' cancer treatment could be delayed

In this file photo, firefighters make their way

In this file photo, firefighters make their way over the ruins of the World Trade Center through clouds of smoke at ground zero in New York. (Oct. 11, 2001) (Credit: AP)

Days after the euphoria, experts are now counseling patience.

It will probably be months before 9/11 first responders and others with cancer will be either approved for government-sponsored treatment or able to apply for compensation.

The director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Dr. John Howard, issued a proposed rule a week ago that expands the list of illnesses associated with Ground Zero exposure to include about 50 cancers.

The public comment period on the proposal started Wednesday and ends July 13. How long it will take after that for a final rule to be adopted isn't clear, said NIOSH spokeswoman Christina Spring.

"We don't have a time frame," she said. "It could be months."

Based on the feedback federal health officials receive, there may be revisions, Spring said.

Until the rule is finalized, there's little reason for first responders and others seeking compensation to submit cancer claims, lawyers said.

"My personal expectation is that there will be some adjustment to the rule," said attorney Noah Kushlevsky, of Kreindler & Kreindler in Manhattan, who with attorney Michael Barasch represents thousands of first responders, roughly 10 percent of whom have cancer.

In the meantime, he and other experts urge cancer sufferers to visit the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund website (vcf.gov) and begin gathering their claim information.

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, signed into law in January 2011, set aside $2.8 billion to cover the care of people made ill by exposure to 9/11 sites. Zadroga also allocated $1.5 billion over five years to fund the World Trade Center Health Program, which treats and monitors about 40,000 first responders and others.

The heads of the World Trade Center program's clinics said they, too, are awaiting guidance about cancer claims.

Under the proposed rule, doctors associated with the clinics will have to determine whether a person's 9/11 exposure is "substantially likely to be a significant factor in aggravating, contributing to or causing" the cancer.

"I don't think they have fully worked out the ramifications of it all, and how we're going to administer this," said Dr. Benjamin Luft, director of the World Trade Center Health Program in Suffolk, Nassau and Brooklyn.

Dr. Jacqueline Moline, who directs the Queens program, which treats and monitors about 2,500 first responders and others, said she anticipates the clinics will be able to offer more screening tests, such as colonoscopies or lung CT scans, which could help catch cancers earlier.

"That would be one the true benefits," she said.

Cancer survivor Robert Thompson, 54, of Melville, said he already has good health insurance but he is looking for compensation. The former NYPD officer said he worked on the Ground Zero pile for three months and spent another five years working blocks away.

In March 2008, he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. He said he's in remission after spending 90 days in the hospital and undergoing a bone-marrow transplant, but he feels he's owed something for the time he lost to cancer.

And he's willing to wait.

"If it takes two years, it takes two years," he said. "I'm hoping some good comes out of this. There are a lot more guys out there with cancer."

What happens next

 

PEOPLE HAVE UNTIL JULY 13 to comment on the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health's proposed rule that includes about 50 cancers as 9/11-associated diseases.

NIOSH DIRECTOR DR. JOHN HOWARD WILL CONSIDER COMMENTS and issue his final rule at some point.

HOWARD'S DECISION WILL GO INTO EFFECT 30 days after he issues it.

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