National Guard 9/11 Responders
Though most people typically think of police officers and firefighters when recalling the different first responders who rushed to the scene at Ground Zero on 9/11, another group also deserves the utmost respect for the critical role they played during and after that tragedy — the National Guard.
Officially among the very first of the first responders to answer the call to protect and defend our nation following the attack, some 1,500 New York City-based National Guard troops immediately reported for active duty on the morning of 9/11 and another 1,500 from points throughout upstate New York arrived in lower Manhattan by that evening.
Among the many key roles they played, members of the New York National Guard provided 24-hour security and traffic control support around Ground Zero and other strategic points in lower Manhattan, supported warehousing, management, and ground transportation for federal and state emergency equipment and supplies, and delivered portable electricity, fuel, tents, equipment, medicine, and other supplies to civilian emergency workers. The National Guard additionally supported NYPD personnel in securing train stations, bridges, and tunnels around Ground Zero from further attack and provided communications capabilities that were critical to numerous federal, state, and local agencies whose local communications infrastructure had been destroyed. National Guard members remained at Ground Zero for an extended period of time beyond 9/11 and Air National Guard members flew continuous combat air patrols over Washington, D.C. and New York City until spring 2002.
“In the days after the attacks, it was the Army National Guard that responded to New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C.,” confirmed Army National Guard Chief of Staff General Mark Milley on the National Guard’s presence on and after the attack during a recent 9/11 commemoration. “It was Guardsmen who were searching airports, securing our people at the bridges and seaports, and patrolling our Northern and Southern borders.”
Exposure to Health Risks
For National Guard troops stationed at and around Ground Zero, however, their heroism may have come at a steep price. Exposure to the 9/11 “toxic dust” that blanketed lower Manhattan — a noxious combination of concrete, glass, metal, and other building materials mixed with highly carcinogenic contaminants such as asbestos, lead, mercury, dioxins, and more — has since been linked to a variety of serious health issues and has continued to make the events of 9/11 a cruel daily reality for so many.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, an estimated 500,000 people were exposed to environmental toxins on and after the terrorist attacks and, since 2013, nearly 10,000 known cases of 9/11-related cancer have been diagnosed, a 3800 percent increase over five years ago. Victims have also dealt with a broad range of asthma and respiratory conditions, gastrointestinal illnesses, and more.
In 2010, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act was passed, creating the World Trade Health Center Program (to provide medical testing and treatment for responders and survivors who suffered or will experience health complications) and reactivating the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. Since then, roughly 29,000 claims have been submitted and more than 14,000 victims and families of victims have received compensation from the VCF, with the average dollar value of all awards amounting to over $223,000. The largest award to-date totaled over $4.1 million and Pitta & Baione LLP successfully obtained a 9/11 VCF award totaling over $3 million for a cancer victim they represented who was exposed to 9/11 toxins while working in an office building in Lower Manhattan during the months following the tragedy.
However, while this overall level of registration and claim activity may appear to be high, it actually only represents a small fraction of the total population of affected individuals – e.g., the roughly 89,000 registrants to the World Trade Center Health Program and 29,000 claims submitted to the VCF to-date represent just 18 percent and six percent of the 500,000 people exposed, respectively. For the vast majority of exposed individuals who haven’t registered with the WTC Health Program or are unaware of the opportunities available to them to receive free medical monitoring and possible financial compensation for health issues they’ve endured or may suffer in the future, time is running out, as the current deadline to submit claims to the VCF is Dec. 18, 2020.
Individuals located in the exposure zone between Sept. 11, 2001 and May 30, 2002 are encouraged to register with the World Trade Center Health Program, get access to free medical monitoring and treatment for a condition linked to 9/11 exposure, and investigate their eligibility for financial benefits; families of those who suffered from a 9/11-related condition during their lifetime and have since passed may also be eligible for compensation.
Ironically, the National Guard lacked records confirming where its active members were stationed and has often been unable to verify that individual members were deployed to Ground Zero, making it difficult for those members to prove their eligibility for follow-up treatment and potential compensation from the VCF for illnesses suffered as a result of their exposure to environmental toxins at Ground Zero. Pitta & Baione LLP served as counsel to National Guard 9/11 responders- preparing necessary ‘proof of presence’ on behalf of National Guard clients and also serves as counsel to the National Guard and many other 9/11 first responders.
“America’s Army National Guard was everywhere – not just in one place for one memory,” Army National Guard Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said.
All the more reason why America needs to stand behind its brave National Guard members now.
Time is of the essence, so take the important steps to preserve your health and investigate any VCF benefits that may be owed to you before the December 18th, 2020 deadline.