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FBI director urges agents to register with 9/11 victim fund

FBI Director Christopher Wray.

ANDREW HARNIK/AP

By KAREN MATTHEWS | Associated Press | Published: September 7, 2018

NEW YORK — FBI Director Christopher Wray visited the World Trade Center Friday to urge current and former federal agents to file claims if they think their health was affected by the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

FBI agents were among the thousands of rescue and recovery personnel who rushed to the Trade Center, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after the 2001 attacks.

Many first-responders who were caught in the dust cloud when the World Trade Center collapsed are now complaining of health problems. Thousands of those workers are eligible for free health care or compensation payments from the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund.

"We're only now beginning to understand — and witness — the long-term effects of that work and the full extent of the sacrifices all of our first responders made," Wray said in an event at the National September 11 Museum.

Compensation Fund special master Rupa Bhattacharyya said that when she was appointed in 2016 she realized word was not getting out to "the federal employee population," given that fewer than 1,000 of the more than 30,000 compensation forms submitted had come from federal employees.

Retired FBI agent Lu Lieber said she and other agents did not think to protect themselves from potentially harmful smoke in the rubble of the Trade Center because they were consumed with investigating the attack.

"We didn't wear respirators. We didn't wear masks. We didn't wear any eye protective gear. It just never occurred to us," Lieber said.

Lieber was diagnosed with two cancers in 2012 but did not think her illness might be linked to the Sept. 11 attacks until five years later when she attended a presentation about World Trade Center health effects. She has since applied to the compensation fund and registered with the World Trade Center Health Program.

"Our colleagues are sick. They are dying and some are already deceased," she said.

Medical researchers have documented elevated rates of some respiratory conditions and other illnesses among people involved in the rescue effort.

Doctors have also been concerned about cancer. One study published this year found that while overall mortality rates were not elevated among 70,000 people potentially exposed to World Trade Center toxins, there were a high number of suicides among first responders and several more deaths than expected from brain cancers and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
 

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