GAO: Federal 9/11 Health Program 'Accomplished Little'

A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) study on the effectiveness of medical monitoring programs for 9/11 health effects found that "the program HHS [U.S. Department of Health and Human Services] established to screen the federal employees whose agencies sent them to the WTC after the attack has accomplished little, completing screenings of less than 400 of the thousands of federal responders."

One reason the federal program was put on hold is uncertainty over what would be done with 9/11 responders each time illnesses were identified, said GAO. "Officials told us they were concerned about continuing to provide screening examinations without the ability to provide participants with additional needed services," noted GAO.

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who with Congressman Christopher Shays (R-Ct.) requested the study, is complaining that the program that was set up to medically screen 10,000 federal workers who were exposed to the toxic soup of Ground Zero was shut down after only 400 exams "because it was actually finding sick workers."

"That is inexcusable, says Maloney. "It seems to me that the federal response has been don't ask, don't treat, don't care."

She added, "If this administration can't even get a list of federal workers who worked at Ground Zero, let alone manage a program that treats their injuries, what have they been doing for the past four years?"

Maloney questioned the reliability of the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina's health effects or any future disasters. The other monitoring programs are finding that about half of the people exposed to the toxins of Ground Zero are sick.

Lessons derived from officials involved in WTC health monitoring programs include "the need to quickly identify and contact people affected by a disaster, the value of a centrally coordinated approach for assessing individuals' health, the importance of monitoring both physical and mental health, and the need to plan for providing referrals for treatment when screening examinations identify health problems," says the report.

Another finding listed by the report is that officials from FDNY and the WTC Health Registry programs are concerned that current federal funding arrangements for programs designed to track participants' health over time may be too short to allow for identification of all the health effects that may eventually develop.

The full GAO report is available at www.house.gov/maloney/issues/Sept11/090905FederalRespondersGAO.pdf.

Shays, chairman of the Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, International Relations and Emerging Threats, plans to hold a Congressional hearing in the weeks ahead to assess the status of the 9/11 response, including the response to health needs from the disaster as well as U.S. efforts to improve homeland security and intelligence gathering capabilities.

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