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New York City firefighters exit the walkway leading down into ground zero after finishing a shift on the cleanup and recovery effort at the disaster site of the World Trade Center March 7, 2002 in New York City.
First responders to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, continue to struggle with the repercussions of the sacrifices they made on that fateful day. And many rely on counseling to cope with the memories that haunt them.
But this past week, the city sent out hundreds of letters to inform people the 9/11 Benefit Program for Mental Health will shut down in seven months due to a $3.5 million cut in federal funding, according to those close to the program.
Authorities told NBCNewYork roughly 4,500 first responders signed up for the program and about 1,500 actively use it.
"Mental health to me is the No. 1 killer of 9/11 responders. And it won’t show it on the autopsy, but post traumatic [stress] breaks down your immune system physically and mentally," said first responder John Feal.
In a statement, the city’s health department explained the program was expected to end and the letter was sent out as a reminder to participants about its impending closure. Also, the letter noted that many enrollees "will be eligible to receive free mental health services through one of the 9/11 Health Centers of Excellence."
However, a doctor with the World Trade Center medical program told NBC New York there may not be enough funding in other programs to accommodate those individuals, so they may be left without care.
In the meantime, first responders have each other to lean on.
"There was just nothing you could do. It was a lot of feelings of helplessness," Jared Ring, a first responder, said of Sept. 11.
Asked whether that experience bonds them together, another first responder, Peggy McKenna, had a simple answer.