OP-ED: Downtowners should sign up for the health care they deserve

Chief Richard Alles served in the FDNY for 37 years, and is now an advocate for Downtown residents and workers impacted by 9/11.
Chief Richard Alles served in the FDNY for 37 years, and is now an advocate for Downtown residents and workers impacted by 9/11.


In the decade and a half since the September 11th attacks, lower Manhattan has not only been restored, it has become even more dynamic than before. This is due in no small part to those who showed the dedication and commitment to remain living and working in the community in the very difficult days and months following 9/11.

Sadly, though, many people were rewarded for that brave decision with serious – and costly – health problems. Claims by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator that residents, workers and volunteers were in no danger of breathing in toxins from Ground Zero have now been proven false.

Medical experts and the federal government have determined that anyone who lived or worked south of Houston Street, including parts of Brooklyn, during the nine months following 9/11 are 20-25% more at risk for a number of illnesses, including 70 types of cancer.

I spent 37 years with the FDNY and the last 9 of those years traveling back and forth between New York and Washington, D.C. advocating for those whose lives have or will be impacted by health complications as a result of 9/11. We should all tip our hats to Downtown’s three members of Congress, Reps. Jerrold Nadler, Carolyn Maloney and Nydia Velazquez, as well as to Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, who fought on our behalf.

As a response to the crisis, Congress passed and fully funded the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act to alleviate health costs and provide free medical treatment for those sickened by the attacks. For those who live or work south of Houston Street and are experiencing symptoms of one of the 70 possible 9/11-related illnesses, you may be eligible for critical medical treatment and potential financial compensation.

As a crucial part of the Zadroga Act, Congress created the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program and the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF), which set aside $7.3 billion for those who are sick. For the VCF, the compensation line is south of Canal Street while for the WTC Health Program, the line extends up to Houston Street. For those with cancer, compensation levels range from $100,000–$250,000.

Here’s why this is important. Among people who lived and/or worked south of Houston Street from September 11, 2001–May 31, 2002, there have already been over 37,000 diagnoses, with many thousands more expected, from a list of 70 known cancers, pulmonary diseases and other illnesses as a result of exposure to toxins from the World Trade Center.

Again, eligibility extends to anyone who is sick and lived or worked south of Houston Street during that time, regardless of whether you actually went to Ground Zero. The air wasn’t just toxic at the site itself.

Knowing your eligibility is a critical first step. Even family members of a victim who becomes ill and or may have since died are eligible to apply for compensation.

Those of us who were exposed knew the air wasn’t healthy but 9/11 was a national emergency. Our unity showed the terrorists that they could not take our city down.  Our members of Congress took action to make sure citizens of downtown get the care they deserve. Acting now is in the best interests of your family. If you require help with the VCF process, please reach out for assistance without delay.

Chief Richard Alles served in the FDNY for 37 years. He is now an advocate for Downtown residents and workers impacted by 9/11. He can be reached at FDChiefAlles911@gmail.com

EDITOR’S NOTE: This op-ed was updated on 2/7/2017 with more accurate information.