A health care fund for responders to New York’s World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, is being expanded to include rescuers at corresponding attack and crash sites at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
The U.S. Health and Human Services Department provided the first eligibility requirements for people who worked at those two sites to be added to the $1.5 billion World Trade Center Health Program, according to a regulatory filing today. About 540 to 1,467 new people are expected to enroll, starting May 1, at a cost of as much as $3.2 million a year, the agency said.
The World Trade Center program, created for people who survived or helped with rescue, recovery and cleanup after the attack by two hijacked airplanes in New York, was last expanded in June to cover cancer. Today’s announcement extends the program to police, firefighters and volunteers who responded to the Pentagon building in Virginia and in Shanksville, where passengers of a fourth hijacked plane forced its crash.
The government said it waived normal rulemaking procedures, instead issuing a final regulation with a brief comment period, because “postponement in the implementation of eligibility criteria for Pentagon and Shanksville responders could result in real harm to those individuals who are currently coping with one or more health conditions.”
Almost 3,000 people were killed after terrorists hijacked the four commercial airliners in September 2001. Debris and particulate matter from the crash sites have been blamed for ailments such as asthma, stroke and cancers that developed in responders and nearby residents.
The current $1.5 billion medical fund was created on Jan. 2, 2011, when President Barack Obama signed legislation that reactivated a program that operated from 2001 to 2003 to help those suffering from the World Trade Center attack and its aftermath.
The 2011 law allowed for Shanksville and Pentagon responders to be covered as well, but the government hadn’t provided eligibility rules until today. In its rule, the health department said it had to determine geographic boundaries of the incident sites and figure out how long rescuers worked at those locations.
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