Demonstrators in Washington call for federal help for 9/11 first-responders...

Demonstrators in Washington call for federal help for 9/11 first-responders and others who were made ill by dust from the World Trade Center and other attack sites (Sept. 15, 2010) Credit: Jay Paul

The nation has moved one important step closer to properly caring for Ground Zero responders with cancer.

The director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommended adding 50 types of cancer to the list of diseases covered by the $4.3-billion fund established to compensate people made ill by exposure to toxins at the World Trade Center or at the other sites attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. After a 30-day public comment period, the rule proposed Friday should become official policy.

It took Congress just 11 days after 9/11 to create the original $7-billion fund to compensate the families of those killed in that day's terrorist attacks. But that fund was closed in 2003.

It took Congress until 2011 to reactivate the fund with an infusion of $1.5 billion for medical care and $2.8 billion to compensate people sickened since 2003 or in the future for their other economic losses.

If the nation had a rational single-payer health care system, that long political battle wouldn't have been necessary and life would have been much simpler for the sick and dying and their families.

Fortunately, the 2011 law that reactivated the fund authorized officials to periodically review medical studies and add diseases to those covered when warranted. In March a scientific advisory committee recommended including 14 categories of cancer encompassing 50 specific types.

If the rule reflecting last week's recommendation by Dr. John Howard, director of the national institute, becomes final, people who lived or worked near Ground Zero as well as first-responders subsequently stricken with cancer will be eligible to apply for compensation. Claimants will have to document significant exposure to the dust. And the fund will cover only medical expenses and economic losses not covered by private insurance or other third-party sources.

A decade is a long time for first-responders to wait, but the nation is now firmly on track to provide the financial help those stricken with cancer deserve for their selfless service to the nation.


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