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World Trade Center Health Program ‘Links’ Physical & Mental Woes From 9/11 - Many Participants ‘Suffer From Both’ Conditions

Published Friday, September 10, 2021
by Bob Hennelly/The Chief Leader
World Trade Center Health Program ‘Links’ Physical & Mental Woes From 9/11 - Many Participants ‘Suffer From Both’ Conditions

(NEW YORK CITY) - The 20th anniversary of 9/11 provides an opportunity to examine the success of the Fire Department World Trade Center Health Program that's based on a "holistic approach that integrates physical and mental health," according to Dr. David Prezant, the department's Chief Medical Officer.

Of the 15,200 FDNY Active Duty and Retired Firefighters, Emergency Medical Service personnel and Department Civilians enrolled in the program, 11,318 - nearly 75% have one or more health challenges that can include cancer, lung disease and gastroesophageal issues, while simultaneously dealing with a mental-health condition.

The program is a unique one and is a collaboration between the FDNY, the medical community and the unions that represent the department's Uniform and Civilian Employees.

"From day one, the WTC Health Program has realized the inter-relationship - the interdependence - of physical health and mental health," Dr. Prezant said. "If you have a mental health problem, you are much less likely to take your medications for your physical health problem.  If you have a physical health problem, it exacerbates your mental-health problem."

"So many people have told us with (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) that every time they go up several flights of stairs and they have to use their inhaler because they are short of breath, it only exacerbates their anxiety, PTSD or their depression," he added.

Over 4,300 participants in the program have at least one certified mental-health condition which besides PTSD (2,145) includes depression (1,672), adjustment disorder (1,209) and anxiety disorder (640).

The program's research has found that FDNY Personnel who were at the Trade Center the morning of the Twin Towers collapse or who lost loved ones faced "a substantial overlap in health conditions.”

For example, most with PTSD also developed anxiety, depression and physical health issues.

Since 9/11, there have been 190,124 visits by 7,888 program Members for mental-health counseling or treatment

The program's study showed, as of March 11th, 2021, 21% were certified for both a physical and mental-health condition and seven-percent are certified for all three care suites: physical health, mental health and cancer.

According to the report, cancer-mortality rates for participants were 34% lower than demographically similar New York State residents with cancer - indicating that enrollment in the program, which includes regular screening, early treatment, case management, and simultaneous mental health counseling, "improves cancer survival."

"The reduction in cancer-specific mortality was even greater for enrollees diagnosed with prostate cancer and with colon cancer, of which enrollees had nearly half the cancer-related death rate compared with the New York State population," the program found. "Likely causes include early detection, access to a full battery of no-cost treatment options at some of the finest medical centers in the Nation, comprehensive case management and social support from family and fellow Responders."

After 343 FDNY members died on 9/11, and 256 have died since, primarily from WTC-linked cancers or serious lung diseases.

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