9/11 health care program plagued by ineffectiveness and looming red ink

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BRADENTON, Fla. (WFLA) The program set up to manage medical care for 9/11 survivors is strapped for cash and many people who depend on coverage are running out of patience.

Garrett Lindgren was leaving a Queens fire station after working overtime when the attack we saw on TV began to unfold in front of him.

“I’m heading for Triborough Bridge. I hear on the radio that there is a fire at the World Trade Center, ”recalls Lindgren. “I saw a huge hole in the side of the north tower.

The pictures are still fresh for Lindgren, one of some 450,000 survivors eligible for coverage from the 2010 World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP). The WTCHP has hired Wisconsin-based Logistics Health to manage the program.

“I have health issues that continually remind me of 9/11 between asthma and chronic sinusitis and reflux,” Lindgren said. “I had no idea I was going to need two inhalers for the rest of my life.”

Within minutes of seeing the North Tower on fire, all New York firefighters were called for help.

“My last words to [my wife] did you know i love you, ”recalls Lindgren,“ and tell the kids i love them. Many of us were going to die there.

Lindgren was so determined to get to the ground to help that he didn’t focus on a grim reality. Everyone near the attack that morning would inhale poisonous dust and smoke for hours.

“It was like being inside a burning building where we normally have no visibility. Only we are in the streets, ”said Lindgren. “We ran into ambulances and overturned police cars. There were fire engines that were on fire and a dead silence. ”

In that toxic, silent darkness, on what had been a sunny New York morning, Lindgren and his team searched for survivors.

“My very first day there I actually got hold of two stretchers from people who I know for a fact survived,” Lindgren said. “And for a woman, I just had to put my hand on that stretcher and offer her a few words of encouragement.”

Almost 3,000 were killed, including 343 firefighters and from the start Lindgren was listed as one of the missing.

“So, now I called my wife,” Lindgren said. “When she realized it was me, she said she had just fallen to her knees in our kitchen. It just overwhelmed her.

Two decades later, Lindgren is among those survivors frustrated by what is not covered by WTCHP, including toxic neuropathy.

“My arms and hands and legs and feet are heavy all the time. Sometimes they almost feel like they’re made of concrete, ”Lindgren said. “And I’m just going to feel pain, like I’ve been struck by lightning out of the blue.”

But not currently covered by the WTCHP

“The level of dioxin we were exposed to was 100 times higher than any reported exposure,” Lindgren said.

He also hears friends talking about the program’s ineffectiveness.

“That’s a million phone calls. He gets a prescription that costs hundreds and hundreds of dollars, ”Lindgren said. “And they go to the drugstore to get it back and they still haven’t approved it.”

Lindgren said he wouldn’t change if he risked his life that day, but he is adamant that the survivors deserve better.

“It’s bigger than all of us,” Lindgren said. “This is something that individuals cannot deal with on their own and it is troubling that this is happening.”

One projection indicates that the WTCHP will be in the red within about five years with a budget deficit of nearly $ 3 billion. A bill was introduced last month by Representatives Jerry Nadler, D-NY and Andrew Garbarino, R-NY to provide more funding.

The WTCHP covers dozens of topics, including several forms of cancer. The most common conditions include COPD, GERD, asthma, and anxiety disorders.

The program allows patients to request additional coverage and there is also an appeal process for denied claims.

There are also complaints about awareness by the WTCHP which some attribute to the relatively low number of registered survivors.

Lindgren hopes the program will improve in the years to come.

“I know there are a lot of good people involved in these programs who want to help us,” Lindgren said. “But they’re not the ones who can flip the switch or make it happen.”

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