WASHINGTON – Emergency responders and others stricken with a range of cancers after being exposed to toxic dust and debris from the 9/11 terrorist attacks will be eligible for health coverage under a federal program.
The decision released Friday by the federal agency overseeing the $4.3 billion health fund comes after intense lobbying from first responders and their families, many of whom will now have their medical bills covered, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The official overseeing the fund, John Howard, found that while there are not epidemiological studies showing a link between the attacks and the occurrence of cancer, there is enough other evidence that exposure to dust and other substances at the World Trade Center site, the Pentagon and the crash site in Shanksville, Pa., caused some cancers.
The news came as welcome relief to affected families.
"We're excited, we're happy, we're relieved, grateful," said Margaret Stroehlein, the wife of a now-retired New York City firefighter who worked at the World Trade Center site after the attacks and is in treatment for a rare form of brain cancer.
"It means that there won't be any worrying about co-pays and more medical bills if the cancer comes back at full speed."
The news comes a week after FOX News revealed that workers who suffered health problems long after the rescue and cleanup at Ground Zero were frustrated by a "complex" claims process that was hindering their access to the fund.
So far, none of the money has been disbursed, as claimants struggle to prove their presence at the toxic site in the days and weeks following the attacks.
About 5,000 people have registered for the fund, but just 400 have followed through by filing claims. Thousands have become so disheartened by the process that they have turned to lawyers to help them.