Following the World Trade Center (WTC) attack, the Congress appropriated more than $8 billion to the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Federal Emergency Management Agency for response and recovery activities. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) received some of this funding to establish health screening and monitoring programs for responders to the disaster and later received additional appropriations to fund treatment. In total, about $369.2 million has been appropriated or awarded for the WTC health programs. GAO previously reported on problems that these programs have had in ensuring the availability of services for all responders. GAO was asked to examine lessons from the WTC health programs that could guide future programs. GAO examined (1) lessons from the programs' experience and (2) HHS actions or plans that incorporate the lessons. GAO interviewed WTC health program officials and other experts and reviewed DHS and HHS documents.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of Health and Human Services||To ensure that effective programs are developed to deal with the health effects that responders may experience in the event of a future disaster, Secretary of HHS should develop a department-level responder screening and monitoring plan that defines the roles and responsibilities of HHS components and incorporates the five lessons identified from the experience of the WTC health programs. Specifically, this plan should facilitate the registration of all responders and ensure that screening and monitoring services are designed to foster epidemiologic research; provide timely mental health screening and monitoring that is integrated with physical health screening and monitoring; include a treatment referral process; and make comparable services available to all responders, regardless of their employer or geographic location.|