9/11-related illnesses taking a staggering toll on NYPD, FDNY, FBI

NEW YORK CITY -- The September 11 attacks are taking a "staggering" toll on first responders nearly two decades after al-Qaeda-hijacked planes struck the World Trade Center.

Nearly eight times as many New York City police officers have died of 9/11-related illnesses in the 17 years since the attacks than were killed on that day.

Twenty-three NYPD officers were killed at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. But in the 17 years since, 156 have died of illnesses contracted from their time on what was then known as "the pile," the mountain of toxic debris from the fallen towers.

"To this day, we're still losing officers each and every year from the effects of 9/11," NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan told ABC News in an interview.

So is the Fire Department of the City of New York.

"The loss of life for our department on September 11th was staggering," FDNY Commissioner Dan Nigro said. "So too is seeing this list of heroes grow each year with no end in sight."

Three hundred and forty three firefighters died on 9/11, while 182 have died of 9/11-related illnesses in the years since, including 18 in the past 12 months whose names were added to a memorial wall at FDNY headquarters during a ceremony Thursday.

"Our World Trade Center Memorial Wall is a symbol of our sacrifice, our dedication and above all else our bravery that is the hallmark of the FDNY," Chief of Department James Leonard told the assembled family members. "Those we're honoring toiled at that site of such terrible destruction. They worked long, difficult, painful hours sifting through the rubble search for those killed."

Federal agents have also seen a recent increase in the number killed by 9/11-related illnesses, including 15 FBI agents.

"These were people who served their country in its hour of greatest need, much like the thousands of first responders who poured into this city," FBI Director Christopher Wray said. "We're only now beginning to witness and understand the long term effects of that work."

Relatively few federal law enforcement officers have sought help, a Justice Department official told ABC News, despite working in what one retired agent called a "cesspool of cancer."

On Friday, Wray and the special master of the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund, Rupa Bhattacharyya, held a forum at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum to encourage federal agents to register.

"All of you who have done so much in service of this country have the opportunity to get the information about the benefits that are available to you as a result of your service on 9/11," Battacharyya said.

As of August 31, the Victims Compensation Fund has found 20,874 claimants eligible for compensation. The VCF has made initial award determinations on 19,204 of those claims, and has issued revised awards on 5,011 claims due to an amendment or appeal. The total amount awarded to date is more than $4.3 billion.

The VCF has compensated claims from more than 15,360 responders to the attacks in New York City, at the Pentagon, and at the Shanksville site, as well as almost 3,845 others who lived, worked, or traveled through areas of lower Manhattan and were exposed to debris and toxins generated by the attacks and their aftermath.

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