Defense policy bill expands coverage for 9/11 survivors’ health program

WASHINGTON — More than two decades after the September 11th terror attacks, health coverage is expanding for people who were sickened by the toxins, including civilians.

Exposure to the toxins left thousands of people with serious health problems like respiratory issues and cancer.

David Sanders was a Washington, D.C. firefighter in 2001 and a first responder at the Pentagon.

He spoke with our Washington News Bureau about the health problems he has had because of 9/11.

“I had a tumor on the base of my tongue and extended up into the back of my nose,” said Sanders.

He said it then metastasized to his lungs.

“Doctors said it was stage four lung cancer,” said Sanders. “Chemotherapy caused a lot of problems with my hearing. Got tinnitus. That’s horrendous.”

Congress established the World Trade Center Health Program in 2011, which provides medical monitoring and treatment for 9/11 responders and other survivors.

But there had been a gap in services for civilians impacted at the Pentagon and Shanksville.

Those civilians can include construction workers, nearby residents, office workers and more.

Changes in the newly passed 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) include more overall funding for the WTC Health Program and it extends coverage for those civilians.

“It will address the 800 to 900 civilian workers at the Pentagon who were exposed to the same jet fuel, the same concrete dust, the same carcinogens and not surprisingly they’re coming down with the same illnesses,” said attorney Michael Barasch.

Barasch is with the law firm Barasch & McGarry, which represents more than 35,000 people in the 9/11 community.

He says the goal now is to get the word out about the expansion of coverage.

“That’s our biggest challenge -- letting the civilians know that they are entitled to the exact same benefits as the New York city firefighters, as the responders at the Pentagon and at Shanksville,” said Barasch.

Barasch said if you were a civilian at the Pentagon or Shanksville and need this health coverage, the first thing you’ll want to do is gather proof to show you were there such as proof of employment.

You’ll then need to gather your medical records to prove your diagnosis so you can apply for the program.

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