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Help is Available to Health Victims of September 11 Attacks

by Clyde Weiss  |  September 09, 2013

Help is Available to Health Victims of September 11 Attacks

New York City public service workers Nancy Mercado and Jim Tucciarelli are among the thousands who were exposed to the noxious ash and dust that rose from Ground Zero on Sept. 11, 2001, and settled on much of Manhattan long after the terrorist attacks.

On the 12th anniversary of the attacks, Mercado and Tucciarelli are urging fellow AFSCME members or anyone whose health was affected by the attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Penn., to seek help through the federal World Trade Center Health Program. The program provides medical tests and care for victims in any of the three affected states.

“Dust was all over everything,” Tucciarelli said, recalling those early days after the attack. In the following year, Tucciarelli, president of Sewage Treatment Workers Local 1320, experienced symptoms of exposure from his work in the disaster area. “I started coughing up blood. I thought maybe I strained myself. Then it became more frequent.”

Tucciarelli enrolled in a health-monitoring program a local hospital. Later, when it became available, he signed up for the World Trade Center Health Program. Free medical tests and continuing check-ups have given him piece of mind.

Deadline Approaching for Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund

The deadline to apply for benefits under the  Sept. 11th Victim Compensation Fund – a separate program from the World Trade Center Health Program – is Oct. 3. Those interested must register now and can later file a claim.

The compensation fund provides financial awards to those who suffered economic and non-economic (pain and suffering) loss due to the attacks. The Oct. 3 deadline to register applies to responders and survivors who were injured or sickened in the aftermath of 9/11 and knew of their illness before 2011.

Persons who discovered their illness since 2011 must register within two years of the time they became aware of their sickness, and those suffering from any of 50 types of cancer that were covered by the program since Oct. 12, 2012, must register by Oct. 12, 2014.

“I speak for a lot of officers, and I say you may not be sick now, but you may be sick in the future,” said Nancy Mercado, an associate urban park ranger for New York City and a member of Local 983 (DC 37), who is in the process of applying for the fund.

Learn more about the Compensation Fund here or call this toll-free number: (855) 885-1555.

“It was so comprehensive, and there were doctors to explain to me what was going on with my body, and what to look out for in the future.” He’s even been able to meet with psychologists to discuss his emotional reaction to the attacks. “That really helped me with a lot of ghosts I was carrying inside me,” he said.

Like Mercado and Tucciarelli, many city workers who responded to the attacks were members of DC 37. A few paid the ultimate price for their bravery.

In the years after the attack, DC 37 – together with AFSCME’s Federal Government Affairs Department in Washington, DC, and other unions – helped craft and lobby for the federal program as part of its efforts to get Congress to approve the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010.

The law is named after a New York police detective who died in 2006 after developing breathing complications resulting from his rescue efforts at Ground Zero.

DC 37 continues to work with other unions to maintain funding for the health program through an independent commission called the 911 Health Watch. The union also received a federally funded grant to register responders and survivors for the World Trade Center Health Program. Earlier this year the council launched a website and new Facebook page to explain its benefits, and also about the Sept. 11th Victims Compensation Fund (see sidebar).

Mercado, an associate urban park ranger for New York City and a member of Local 983 (DC 37), was conducting a training class for new recruits at Battery Park City when the first plane struck the tower. She and other park rangers quickly fanned out to provide first aid, crowd control and other assistance. She also helped evacuate thousands from lower Manhattan after the second plane hit the towers, “because we knew the buildings were coming down.”

When they collapsed, she returned to the scene to help survivors, breathing in choking clouds of dust and debris.

“It was harsh going down my throat, but we continued working,” she said. “I was just thinking of getting everyone out and making sure everyone was safe. I worked 17 hours that day.”

Only later did she and other responders get face masks – first paper, then better ones with breathing nozzles. In the coming days and weeks, Mercado escorted residents in the disaster area to and from their apartments to retrieve medications, pets and important documents.

 She started getting ill about six months later. “Just a dry, hacking cough and nothing comes out,” she said. Her colleagues also were experiencing the same cough. Then it got worse, prompting her to seek free help through the World Trade Center Health Program. She was diagnosed with a number of conditions, including sleep apnea, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and a serious sinus infection.

Mercado, who now holds the rank of sergeant, is glad she was able to help others survive the attacks, despite the illnesses she’s suffered.

“I did my job. I’m fortunate – I was able to help people. I think that the Parks Enforcement Patrol Unit and all the other DC 37 locals involved did an excellent job, and did it without thinking.”

Anyone who is suffering breathing or other ailments that might be linked to the attacks of 9/11 should consider applying to the WTC Health Program. Learn more about eligibility here, or call (888) 982-4748. Applicants can apply here. AFSCME members needing help with the application process can contact Darrah Sipe, an outreach specialist at the DC 37 Safety and Health Department, at dsipe@dc37.net, or (917) 525-9256.

Also, check out these videos featuring U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer and U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney discussing the WTC Health Program.

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