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Doctors, 9/11 Responders Call For Covering Neuropathy Under Zadroga Act

MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Citing a new study, doctors at a Long Island hospital are pushing for more health care coverage for 9/11 first responders.

As WCBS 880 Long Island Bureau Chief Mike Xirinachs reported, 9/11 first responders suffer from neuropathy, commonly known as nerve damage, at a rate 15 times higher than normal.

And it's a condition that is not -- but should be -- covered under the Zadroga 9/11 Health & Compensation Act, according to doctors who conducted the study at Long Island's Winthrop University Hospital.

"We were able to get a hold of some of the World Trade Center dust and do an experiment; a direct application of the dust to animal nerves," Dr. Marc Wilkenfeld told 1010 WINS. "And we found that it effected nerve transmission, which went along with the patients' symptoms that we were seeing."

Iron worker Don Miller has the nerve disease.

"The pain I'm sitting with right now in my legs is almost unbearable," he told Xirinachs. "I can't stand still cause the fire, the pain."

As CBS2's Hazel Sanchez reported, Miller was among the first responders who risked their lives to clean up the toxic debris following the collapse of the towers.

Last month, they celebrated after comedian Jon Stewart and others successfully lobbied Congress to extend the Zadroga Act. The federal act will now pay to treat first responders' illnesses for the next 75 years.

Retired NYPD Detective Kenny Anderson worked on the 9/11 pile. He now has neuropathic nerve damage to his feet that's so severe it's left him in a wheelchair.

"I get shooting pains that will make me jump and exclaim some things that my mother wouldn't be proud of," Anderson said.

The Winthrop study found a nearly 15 times higher than normal neuropathy rate for first responders directly exposed to Ground Zero, or a rate that's 1,500 percent higher.

"The federal government does not consider that neuropathy is a World Trade Center related condition," Wilkenfeld said.

First responders and their doctors are calling for neuropathy to be included in coverage under the Zadroga Act.

Wilkenfeld, who is chief of the Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, said the Zadroga Act provides for illnesses to be added under coverage.

"So cancer wasn't initially covered, then that was covered. And then prostate cancer wasn't covered, and then that was added," Wilkenfeld said. "So right now, neuropathy is not covered, and we feel that the scientific evidence is showing that it is related to World Trade Center dust exposure and it should be covered by the program."

John Feal, president and founder of the FealGood Foundation, told 1010 WINS he hopes the condition gets added.

"Now that we got this bill passed, we have 75 years to get it right. We have 75 years to make sure that illnesses like neuropathy get added, so men and women get treated," he said.

The push also comes with an added note from attorney Michael Barish, who represents first responders who worked at Ground Zero: "This is just really the tip of the iceberg."

Late last year, Congress passed legislation that extended federal health monitoring and treatment to Sept. 11 first responders through 2090.

A spokesman for the federal agency administering the Zadroga Act said the new medical evidence will first need to be peer reviewed before deciding whether nerve damage can be covered.

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