9/11 Responders to Bush: Don't Let Aid Dry Up

Hours before President George W. Bush's Jan. 23 State of the Union address, sick 9/11 responders and family members – led by Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and other members of the New York Congressional delegation – called for more federal funding to treat workers and responders affected by the toxic air at Ground Zero.

"Our message to the president is clear: Include funding in this year's budget to monitor and treat those who survived the attacks of 9/11, who breathed the toxic air, who mounted the greatest rescue in the history of the world but did not walk away unharmed," Clinton said during a Jan. 23 press briefing in Washington D.C., days after announcing her presidential candidacy.

Clinton and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Reps. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.; Vito Fossella, R-N.Y.; Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.; and Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y.; invited rescue workers and their family members to attend the president's annual speech in a bid to pressure the White House to add to this year's budget $1.9 billion to fund medical monitoring and treatment for sick responders.

Among the responders at the pre-speech press briefing was John Sferazo, an ironworker who spent 30 days at Ground Zero. Sferazo – who is the president and co-founder of the organization Unsung Heroes Helping Heroes – attributes his health problems to breathing in 9/11 pollutants and said he hopes his presence at the president's address will serve as a reminder of the needs of emergency responders and others.

"We want you to hear us, Mr. President, and we want you to acknowledge our needs," Sferazo said. "We don't want to hear you say there must be a transition period, that we must go elsewhere for our medical needs, pharmaceutical needs and psychological needs because there is no other place to go."

9/11 Funding "Running Dry"

The trip comes at a time when lawmakers and responders are expressing concerns not only that funds are running dry but also that the administration has yet to develop a comprehensive plan to address the crisis.

In October, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) distributed $75 million in 9/11 health funds – $40 million of which was for health treatment. It was the first federal money spent for treatment for 9/11 health effects.

In December, HHS notified members of the New York Congressional delegation that 9/11 treatment programs that currently receive federal funding might have to shut their doors next summer unless they receive another round of federal support.

More than 32,000 people are registered in the two major treatment programs, operated by Mt. Sinai Hospital and the New York City Fire Department.

"We've seen over 19,000 responders nationally and estimate that half of them will need further testing," said Dr. Robin Herbert, director of the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program. " … My hope as a doctor is that we will not have to tell our patients that we no longer have the medicine that they need because of federal funding right now."

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