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by Richard Alles, Ret. FDNY Deputy Chief

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly challenged our daily lives. We at Barasch & McGarry hope that anyone affected has recovered or is on the road to recovery, and we offer our sincere condolences to any family that has experienced a loss as a result. For our part, we have witnessed the tragic loss of nearly 100 clients to this devastatingly effective virus.

As a result of the pandemic the FDNY, in an abundance of caution, was forced to close its WTC Heath Program (WTCHP) clinics. We are happy to report that the FDNY WTCHP offices are now open for in-person annual medical monitoring appointments. This is so crucial for all 9/11 responders, who must remain focused on their personal health and well-being. The program is essential for the continued medical care of those with 9/11 conditions, and for securing prescriptions at no cost to the member.

As a fellow FDNY first responder, I can attest to the fact that although we may be outstanding in our care of the citizens we are sworn to protect, many of us seem to lack that skill when it comes to caring for our own needs. Some of our colleagues unfortunately take a “head in the sand” approach to their own health, and would rather not know if they have an illness such as cancer. But when it comes to your health, ignorance is not bliss. These members intentionally avoid their annual medicals and, as a result, fall victim to an illness that should have been diagnosed much sooner. The FDNY medical staff are superb, but they are not miracle workers. Early detection usually makes all the difference in saving lives. The importance of cancer screening by the WTCHP cannot be overstated. Some cancers exhibit no symptoms at the early stage but can be readily detected with routine blood screening. The most common cancers in the 9/11 Community are prostate cancer, breast cancer in both women and men, colon cancer, and thyroid cancer. Not surprisingly, the most prevalent cancer is skin cancer, specifically, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma (the PH level of the toxic dust was the same as Drano!). In 2010, I went for my annual skin exam. My dermatologist observed a small raised bump on my neck. I hadn’t noticed it. It turned out to be malignant. Fortunately the doctor fully removed it before it grew any bigger and spread. I now go back for skin exams every 6 months just to be safe.

Annual Skin Exams

Fortunately, these non-melanoma conditions are not life threatening if detected early. Unfortunately, the WTCHP does not screen for them. So you’ll have to go for screenings with your own dermatologist. You should know that the Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) does award compensation for these conditions. Typical awards for basal and squamous cell cancers are $90,000, while typical melanoma awards are $250,000.

Because these conditions are so common, at every 9/11-related event that we speak at we recommend a full body skin exam with a dermatologist. The FDNY WTCHP has a list of recommended doctors throughout the five boroughs and surrounding counties.

Please, don’t become a statistic! Everything starts with knowing your body and being focused on maintaining good health. You owe it to your family to take advantage of the WTCHP and visit the wonderful doctors and nurses at the FDNY WTC.

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