FirefightersResponders often face debilitating physical, mental conditions

The events of 9/11 took a heavy toll on many first responders. As any Illinois Social Security lawyer knows, many of these heroes now suffer from severe physical or mental afflictions. Often, these conditions are incurable and disabling.

Research shows that 9/11 responders are more likely to develop serious diseases, including cancer or respiratory illness. This is likely due to exposure to hazardous materials at Ground Zero. Many responders also suffer from mental illnesses, such as posttraumatic stress disorder, because of the events they experienced. Sadly, new research suggests that 9/11 responders are also at a greater risk of developing autoimmune diseases.

Autoimmune disease risk

The study, which was published in Arthritis and Rheumatology, tracked the health of 16,000 of these responders. The researchers found several prevalent rheumatic and arthritic diseases among the responders, including the following conditions:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Lupus
  • Spondyloarthritis
  • Systemic sclerosis
  • Sjogren’s syndrome
  • Sarcoidosis

Rheumatoid arthritis was the most common disorder, affecting over one-third of 9/11 responders. Compared to the general population, responders were twice as likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis. For every month spent at Ground Zero, a first responder’s risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis rose 13 percent.

These responders may be prone to develop disabling autoimmune diseases for multiple reasons. Environmental factors may contribute to autoimmune diseases, especially in people with genetic predispositions. Chronic stress also may promote autoimmune disease development. Given these factors, it is not surprising that many cases are now coming to light among 9/11 responders.

Claiming disabling conditions

Sadly, many 9/11 responders have developed debilitating conditions that prevent them from working or caring for themselves. These individuals may qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. As a Social Security lawyer understands, people seeking SSD benefits must not be able to work gainfully. SSD applicants also must meet financial requirements and prove they suffer from legitimate, impairing conditions.

The Social Security Administration recognizes various conditions as disabling. As a Social Security lawyer could explain, these conditions are listed in the “Blue Book.” For each condition, the book specifies symptoms or functional issues that applicants must demonstrate. For example, people seeking SSD for rheumatoid arthritis affecting major joints must document prolonged joint pain, swelling and stiffness. They disease must also prevent victims from effectively walking or performing fine motor tasks.

People whose impairments don’t meet the necessary criteria may receive medical-vocational allowances. The SSA grants allowances to people who can’t reasonably work, given their impairments, vocational skills, education and age. When awarding allowances, the SSA considers the sum total of a person’s impairments. For people with varied physical or mental conditions, including 9/11 responders, this may greatly improve the likelihood of claim approval.