Angela Green wanted to sleep late on Sept. 11, 2001, her first day off after nearly two weeks in her new job as an officer with the New York City Police Department. But the phone in her Valley Stream apartment rang insistently, forcing her to answer it.
The voice at the other end told her to turn on the television.
“I saw the second plane hit, and looking at it, I knew that wasn’t an accident,” she recalled. “You don’t expect war at home, and to me that’s what it was like,” Green, who is also an Army veteran, added.
Today the battle continues for Green, who has been diagnosed with cancer related to her work at ground zero in the days after the attacks, when the air was full of carcinogens.
After the planes hit, Green drove toward the city, showing her Police Department ID card to patrol officers to get onto the highway. Twenty minutes later, she was at the 76th Precinct in Brooklyn, where she saw firefighters with shards of glass in their eyes. Later that day, she and several other officers at the precinct made their way to what was then known as “the pile,” where they spent the night trying to rescue survivors.
“The experience was horrific,” Green, now 51, said.
Around her, documents and family photos floated in the Hudson River, and a fire truck on the scene, covered in dust, was “no longer red,” she said.
The air, she noted, smelled of burning flesh, and the city was silent. “No matter how many people were there, it was quiet,” Green said. “It wasn’t overwhelming like the city normally is.”
By the time she returned to the precinct the next morning, Green was unwilling to take off her helmet because she was embarrassed by the amount of debris in her hair. Her colleagues, she said, called her “helmet head,” to which she responded, “If it’s in my hair like this, what am I breathing in?”
Years later, Green was still coughing from the debris in her lungs. She went to the doctor in October 2010, and was diagnosed with breast cancer in both breasts in February 2011. She decided that her best option was to remove them, and she underwent chemotherapy, which led to further health problems.
The steroids she was prescribed, she said, made her blood-sugar level spike, and she became diabetic. The cancer-prevention medicine gave her blood clots in both lungs and her heart. Only a few weeks ago, a doctor told her that he found a growth in her back that may be causing her knee problems. He wants to do a biopsy to ensure that it’s not cancerous.
“Every time I went, there was something else wrong with me,” Green said.
To help cover her medical expenses, she worked with the attorneys at Manhattan-based Barasch and McGarry, who helped her enroll in the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, a federal program that provides compensation to those who suffered physical harm as a result of the attacks or the debris cleanup afterward.
The fund also helped her buy a new house in Wantagh, because she associated her apartment in Valley Stream with being sick. “It got to the point where I wasn’t comfortable at all,” Green said. But now, she said, when she drives “to where I live now, I’m like, ‘Thank you, God.’”
But the $7.4 billion fund may exceed its available funding before the program expires in 2020, according to a news release on the VCF website. Since it was reauthorized in 2015, the release states, the fund has expended more than $2.5 billion, and it has more than $3 billion to distribute for an estimated 6,600 future claims.
To prevent it from running out of money, local elected leaders wrote a letter to Congress, asking members if they could permanently fund it.
“When we were attacked on 9/11, thousands of firefighters, police officers, federal and local law enforcement officers, medical workers, construction workers and other heroes selflessly rushed to ground zero to help,” read the letter, signed by Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and Representatives Carolyn Maloney, Jerrold Nadler and Peter King.
“They spent months digging through the pile, bravely searching for remains and inhaling dangerous, toxic air the entire time they were there,” it read. “Now, right when scientists predicted it would happen, cancer rates in the 9/11 first-responder community are rising to new heights, and the scourge of cancer continues to ruin the lives of first responders and survivors, some of whom have been fighting these diseases for years and others who are newly diagnosed each year.”
An estimated 325,000 people worked in Lower Manhattan in the eight months after the attack. They are 18 to 32 percent more likely to develop breast, esophageal and lung cancer, according to Michael Barasch, a partner at Barasch and McGarry. He said that more than 3,000 of the firefighters the firm represents have been diagnosed with cancer, and more than 700 have died.
Barasch also said he would like to have more victims enrolled in the program, which will continue to take new claims until Dec. 18, 2020.
For more information about the Victim Compensation Fund, visit www.vcf.gov or call (855) 885-1555.