Director of Faithful Response advocates for health-care services for first-responders

From left, John Sferazo, president and co-founder of Unsung Heroes Helping Heroes; Michael Arcari, director of Faithful Response; Dr. John Howard, 9/11 Health Czar; Attorney Victor Fusco and Suzanne Mattei, NYC executive director of the Sierra Club

Michael Arcari, Director of Faithful Response, met recently with newly appointed 9/11 Health Czar Dr. John Howard in New York to discuss the continued needs of rescue and recovery workers.

Arcari spoke about the need for continued support for confidential mental-health care for first-responders. Faithful Response, a partner of Lutheran Disaster Response of New York, provides mental-health counseling.

"The public expects our first-responders to be super-human," said Arcari. "They expect that no situations should affect them and that they should be in control at all times." Because of this unrealistic expectation, said Arcari, first-responders are afraid to seek help when they experience emotional difficulties from tragedies like 9/11.

"To them, admitting that they don't have the answers or have lost some control is perceived as a weakness and have failed not only the public but also their family, friends and co-workers," said Arcari. "If they do ask for help, there is always the worry that co-workers will not want to work with them because of a fear that they cannot be counted on in an emergency situation."?

In some cases, an employer whose primary responsibility is to protect the public may decide to remove the responder from his/her full-duty status, which will further complicate the issue, according to Arcari. "If they don't ask their employer for help but access their health insurance for mental health, there is a fear, whether real or perceived, that their employer will find out and take action which again may lead to less than full- duty status," said Arcari.

"They may not be able to work over-time and/or a second job that they need to provide for their family. This creates a situation where the responder would rather suffer in silence than admit to having difficulties. If this continues unchecked, the danger of it leading to Post Traumatic Stress disorder (PTSD) is very real, creating a further break-down of the individuals coping mechanism, the family and his/her work performance. It has been documented that these individuals raise the risk of becoming disciplinary problems and on occasion possible termination of their employment."

PTSD studies show that people who don't seek help have problems coping later on, anywhere from four to six years after the initial event, according to Arcari.

"We're at that critical crossroad right now. Concerned citizens and the government need to give these brave men and women another choice. By providing a safe and confidential environment where they can get the needed help without fear of retribution is essential. To do anything but continue this needed funding would be a disservice to those who serve us selflessly."

Dr. Howard asked Arcari to continue this conversation when he returns to New York soon.


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