Eight years after the Twin Towers crumbled over downtown Manhattan, rescue worker Charlie Giles still wakes up regularly with nightmares of the North Tower collapsing on top of him, enveloping his body his flames and in suffocating debris. One night recently, he even woke up to find himself throwing things.
“I said to my wife, ‘He’s in our room, he’s in our room,’” Giles remembers. “She said, ‘Who’s in our room?’ I said, ‘bin Laden.’”
Giles, now 42, was the director of Citiwide Mobile Emergency Medical Services during the time of the Sept. 11 attacks, and on that day alone he personally treated 14 victims of the attacks. Since that fateful day, Giles has accumulated 15 medical diagnoses, 30 medications and 17 hospitalizations — as well as an intense phobia of airplanes that prevents him from flying anywhere.
Debilitated by both the permanent physical damages and pervasive mental health problems from 9/11, both victims and first responders rely on a dwindling but crucial set of private foundations and government-funded programs that help cover their daily expenses. But in both the Jewish community and in all of America, 9/11-focused charities and support groups have become few and far between, with the exception of tiny scholarship funds named for individual victims.
“There are very few organizations still providing funds/financial assistance to persons impacted by 9/11,” said Scottie Hill, director of the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Center at Mount Sinai Medical Center. “Most of the organizations in the NYC area, including the primary source of financial assistance in recent years (New York Disaster Interfaith Services), have shut down their programs due to termination of funding.”
Initially, 9/11 charities had huge amounts of funding at their disposal because Americans were eager to focus attention on the day’s immediately tragic after-effects, agreed Frank Fetchet, director of business development at Voices of September 11th, a nonprofit established by his wife Mary, which provides social work services to the families of victims.
“A lot of foundations started and as that money dried up it became much tougher to find funding,” he said.
Though large 9/11 support organizations have largely lost funding, the Fetchets observed that many smaller foundations bearing the names of individual relatives are alive and well. Their group, Voices of September 11th, recently launched an online database that aims to contain the names of all victims and their hundreds and hundreds of associated funds. It is located at 911LivingMemorial.org.
The Fetchets initially set up their own fund — the Bradley J. Fetchet Memorial Foundation — for their son Brad who died in the attacks, and contributions go to his alma mater, Bucknell University. Other examples of small local funds in the directory include Kevin S. Cohen Memorial Scholarship at J.P. Stevens High School in Edison, N.J., and Alisha C. Levin Endowment Scholarship at Hofstra University.
“Americans are so optimistic and want to look ahead, Fetchet said. “If there’s a more recent tragedy I think people dive into that. ... The population is sitting there with need and we have a society that tends to move on.”
Among the still-functioning 9/11 organizations, Fetchet noted, are Tuesday’s Children, which has ongoing programs for the children of victims, President Bill Clinton’s Scholarship America foundation and various programs sponsored by the NYPD and the FDNY.
Funds may be dwindling for post-9/11 mental and physical care, but survivors, rescue workers and victims argue that the ongoing detrimental health effects of the attacks are far beyond anything they can take care of independently.
“When you take all of these components — 250,000 different toxins — when you take them and you add 3,000-degrees, and you inhale that, it’s a recipe for disaster. And this is a disaster that we all inhaled,” said Giles, who is now the director of public relations and community outreach for the FealGood Foundation, a non-profit organization that focuses on spreading awareness of the catastrophic health effects of 9/11. Ironworker John Feal, who lost most of one foot doing 9/11 demolition work, started the group.
“There are responders such as myself that have yet to receive any compensation, Social Security benefits. It’s now eight years and it has to stop,” he added. Giles himself suffers from pulmonary difficulties, gastrointestinal issues, cardio trouble and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other health problems. Compensatory resources were once available through the Red Cross’s Liberty Fund, but Giles says that the fund closed with $300 million worth of donations still in the bank.
In addition to fundraising for private foundations like his own, Giles and his colleagues are pushing for the passage of the James Zadroga Health and Compensation Act of 2009 (House of Representatives bill 847, Senate bill 1334), which would provide government health benefits to eligible emergency responders, recovery and cleanup workers from Sept. 11. Locally, the bill has public support from Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan), Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan) and Frank Pollone (D-N.J.), as well as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her senate term.
“These bills are very vital to 9/11 first responders,” Giles said. “Another component of that is that it will also help ordinary residents of lower Manhattan like Stuyvesant kids who are suffering effects of toxic stews we all inhaled.”
Right now, rescue workers like Giles must turn to the only free treatment option for survivors of the attacks, The World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program, based in Hill’s center at Mount Sinai, and funded by grants through NIOSH. Other exam sites include Bellevue Hospital Center at New York University School of Medicine, Center for the Biology of Natural Systems at Queens College, Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences Institute at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey and two Long Island treatment centers in Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Jewish-based 9/11 foundations have experienced the same decline plaguing secular charities — for example, both the United Jewish Communities and UJA-Federation of New York had 9/11 funds for the first few years following the attacks.
“Our funding for 9/11 programs has run out,” said Samantha Kessler, UJA-Federation spokesperson. “However, many of our beneficiary agencies do still have programming.”
One of these agencies, the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, initiated a 9/11 Bereavement Support Group through its New York Healing Center, a group that meets once monthly under the direction of Rabbi Simkha Weintraub. For the past year, however, the group has had to raise its own funds independently from the Jewish Board’s general finances, and group members themselves have become contributors and fundraisers for their own program, according to Rabbi Weintraub.
Five years ago, the group took a healing trip to Israel, where members spent a week with both Israeli and Palestinian families who had also lost family to terror, through funding from UJA-Federation, Project Liberty and the American Red Cross.
“I think we have a big societal pressure to ‘move on,’” Rabbi Weintraub said. “Besides the money issues which are real there’s kind of a mindset that grief should have a limit and a schedule.”
Yet eight years after such a beautifully sunny morning was decimated by tragedy, the rabbi and his group feel no need to “move on,” and they continue to remember the horrors of that day and memorialize all of the innocently lost lives.
“In the Jewish tradition, at least four times a year you come to yizkor and you name your loss, and that doesn’t stop for the rest of your life,” Rabbi Weintraub said. “You’re encouraged to say a memorial prayer for those near to you”
“We’re in it for the long haul,” he added.