September 11th was an unprecedented attack on a civilian population. It was a once in a lifetime disaster that changed the world. Many of us still remember where we were that fateful day. In the end, nearly 3,000 people lost their lives. Sadly, we are still losing people because of 9/11.
We are still losing people because the physical and mental health impacts of 9/11 was long lasting. Numerous studies demonstrate that 9/11 has contributed to an increased risk of early death. Heart disease was one of the biggest risks, along with suicide being one of the other most common causes. The risk of suicide was more pronounced among civilians than first-responders, and also impacted people of different ages differently, demonstrating that no two mental health conditions are the same. Even if the diagnosis is the same, in this case PTSD, many factors impact how the disease presents itself.
Also contributing to the long-term health complications is the fact that 9/11 caused an increased risk of individuals developing autoimmune disease. Part of this is because the dust cloud that came out of 9/11 had high amounts of crystalline silica, which is a known risk factor for auto-immune diseases. However, the increased rates of PTSD post-9/11 also contributes to the increased risk to rheumatoid arthritis due to the underlying PTSD.
And every year we say never forget. Yet remembering the event itself is not enough if we forget the heroes that were there that day and the battles they still fight. And when it comes to mental health care, we are forgetting them.
I say this because the 9/11 Victims Fund, which was extended by Congress and signed into law by President Trump in 2019, does not include coverage for the mental health impacts of 9/11, such as PTSD. When he signed the bill, President Trump said, “They answered terror with the emotional strength of true American warriors,” Trump said, before asking the first responders to stand and continuing his comments. “You inspire all of humanity.”
President Trump is correct that their strength was inspirational in the face of such horror. So many ran towards the buildings, even as they were collapsing, because they were trying to do their duty. Yet even the strongest heroes among us need support, and it is a tragic failure that we don’t include mental health coverage in our support bill, a bill that had to be pushed by celebrities like Jon Stewart before it finally passed.
We can’t change fate for those that have already been lost. Yet we can honor their memory. And we can make sure that we take care of those who are still standing, which must include covering their mental health care as well as their physical health care.
Sources: 9/11 Survivors at Increased Risk for Autoimmune Disease, 9/11 Study Shows PTSD Tied to Earlier Death, Trump signs 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund bill for first responders, Does the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund cover psychological conditions?