Monday, January 28, 2008

Medical Aid for First Responders

The Washington Post offers a story today about the fate of out-of-state volunteers who assisted with the cleanup of the wreckage in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001. Unfortunately, as this story reports, it appears that the plans the government had to assist these volunteers have been at least temporarily, and hopefully not permanently, suspended.

The volunteers who came from outside of New York are seeking to have the government establish local medical care facilities, or at least establish training in existing clinics, specifically for the purposes of dealing with the injuries and illnesses attributed to the cleanup. Some of these illnesses have rendered these volunteers unable to return to their previous employment, thus preventing many from reaping the benefits of employment supported insurance. As it stands currently, many of these first responders have to travel to New York, impossible for many, in order to receive such specialized treatment.

The government had explored the implementation of a program to assist these first responders with their illnesses; however, in December the government ceased its search for a contractor that would process the required medical reimbursements, effectively ending any such program. A business center would have been created had a proper contractor been located that would have allowed for a central processing facility that would have eased the reimbursement of doctors and pharmacies. Although Congress had allocated $50 million for treating and monitoring first responders, and had approved an additional $108 just after the program’s cancellation, a spokesperson for the Center for Disease Control claims that funding for the program was uncertain and no contractor was interested in taking on the task.

In the wake of September 11 attacks, people from throughout the nation banded together and were gripped by the news coverage. Those who could help sacrificed to do what they could to get to New York and search the wreckage. Now, just over 6 years later, these volunteers are suffering for their courage and selflessness and little to nothing concrete has been provided in response. Representative Carolyn B. Maloney from New York has made the implementation of a proper program for these volunteers her priority. Reportedly Congress had approved over $150 for the program. With this apparent support then, why is such a program not yet in place for those first responders throughout the country?

As of today, the Center for Disease Control states that “the contractor request was canceled because its language was unclear and confusing.” According to Bernadette Burden from the CDC, “We wanted to review the requirements to make certain this solicitation was accurate and fair and to make a determination as to whether a new solicitation should be issued in the future." Hopefully these statements by the CDC, and the overall program, are not just lip service attempting to appease those affected while not actually having to provide the needed services. It is hoped that this program is not swept under the carpet and that Congress and all responsible government agencies continue to push for aid for those who gave so much in a time of national crisis.

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