Applying for Benefits Under the 9/11 Victims’ Compensation Fund
Our 9/11 Zadroga Act Attorneys Help Victims of the September 11 Terrorist Attacks Recover Compensation Under the Zadroga Act
Each year on September 11, many people reflect on the significance of the day. Those who are old enough to have observed the events of the day recall them with profound sadness. We remember where we were on September 11, 2001, when we learned that one plane, and then a second, struck the north and south Towers of the World Trade Center. Soon, we received information about a crash at the Pentagon and another in a field outside of Shanksville, PA. The spine still tingles just thinking about it.
At Parker Waichman LLP, we remember the loss of our family members, loved ones, and friends who perished on September 11, 2001. We of the people in our lives survived, only to have fate cruelly turn the tables years later by striking them ill with a chronic or deadly disease related to exposure to the toxins released when north and south World Trade Center Towers collapsed. We proudly represent victims of terror attacks from September 11, 2001, applying for benefits from the September 11 Victims’ Compensation Fund as well as the World Trade Center Health Program. We know that these benefits available to you through the September 11 Victims’ Compensation Fund (VCF) can ease the financial burden with which you have been unfairly saddled.
Although we represent plaintiffs across our great country in many different personal injury matters, our home is in New York, where the specter of 9/11 continues to this day. We will never forget the sacrifices, so many made that day, and in the days that followed.
As a nation, we mourned with our neighbors and friends in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania in 2001. We kept mournful watch as day after day rescue workers removed bodies from the hallowed grave we called Ground Zero. We wondered how life would go on and expressed disbelief at how these majestic buildings could be reduced to rubble within seconds and blanket lower Manhattan with soot, ash, pulverized construction materials, combined with cancer-causing agents. We marveled at the unselfish bravery of all of the first responders who flooded the enormous crime scenes in New York, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, PA to rescue the trapped and recover the lost. With the assistance of many construction workers, electricians, masons, and laborers, the site was cleared.
Time, they say, heals all wounds. We remember that about 3,000 souls were lost on September 11, 2001, but our lives go on. But for many first responders, professionals from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of New York, construction workers, general laborers, and volunteers and their families, the pain caused by that day lives on.
Thousands of people have fallen ill or died from diseases caused by inhalation or ingestion of the toxins and contaminants that comprised the cloud of dust that spawned over lower Manhattan and into Brooklyn when the Twin Towers fell. No one, not even those murderous thugs who hijacked our planes, could contemplate the significant health crisis the fallout from the collapsing Towers or the subsequent cleanup would create.
Scores of people complained of a persistent cough, which would become known as “World Trade Cough.” More and more doctors began to realize that their patients who had persistent coughs and other respiratory complications were at or near Ground Zero on September 11, 2001, or within the following days and months until the cleanup was officially over. Among those who toiled at or near Ground Zero, numerous began developing various forms of cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma.
In 2001, the U.S. Congress created the first September 11 victims’ compensation fund. This version of the fund elapsed within a couple of years. Fortunately, lawmakers from New York recognized that a significant health problem was brewing. The state of New York enacted a bill to create a program to assist people who were getting sick from diseases researchers linked to exposure to the contaminants released into the air when the Towers collapsed. In 2010, the U.S. Congress passed the James Zadroga Health and Compensation Act of 2010. This law, which is known as the “Zadroga Act,” gave hope to individuals who were struggling with health issues. Not only did the Zadroga Act provide healthcare coverage, but it also allowed victims apply for financial compensation.
The U.S. Congress extended a helping hand to people who badly needed assistance. Congress appropriated federal funding to provide compensation for the 9/11 victims who fell ill. The money was – and still is – badly needed. The healthcare provided to victims under the Zadroga Act by the World Trade Center Health Program relieves some of the financial burdens of becoming sick due to 9/11 fallout. It does not cure all. The financial burden those sickened by 9/11 exposure felt was not limited to healthcare costs. People had to stop working because they were too sick to continue. Families struggled as people lost out on paychecks on which they could once count.
The World Trade Center Victims’ Compensation Fund provided some relief from the financial burden unjustly foisted on people who responded to help, worked in the area, or lived in the area. The funds helped sick people and their families stave off desperation. However, their well-being was threatened due to the expiration of the initial Zadroga Act at the end of 2015.
In December of 2015, then president Barack H. Obama signed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act. The Zadroga Reauthorization Act was a vital component of a more extensive fiscal spending package. The Zadroga Reauthorization Act extended the time for affected people to apply for benefits. Furthermore, the bill funded the Fund up to $7.372billion from $2.775 billion.
This legislative action did a lot of good for a lot of people. By the time the first Zadroga Act was about to expire, doctors, scientists, and researchers learned that some of the diseases sickening so many people had a long latency or incubation period. For example, asbestosis and mesothelioma have a latency period that could last a decade, or it could last up to 40 or 50 years. Therefore, closing the VCF after five years made no sense because of the potential that hundreds or even thousands more victims could come forward long after the construction workers removed the last piece of steel from Ground Zero in 2002.
Eligibility Requirements for the 9/11 Victims’ Compensation Fund
Congress established the VCF to provide a financial remedy for injuries people suffered on September 11, 2001, and in the subsequent cleanup and remediation efforts. In the typical personal injury case, the injured party would file a claim seeking financial damages against the person or entity they claim injured them. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, were anything but the usual personal injury case. Many lawsuits emerged from those events, but not every person injured in the events of 9/11 was able to join those suits. That is why the U.S. Government stepped in a created the fund. The government set aside funds so that claimants could receive compensation for their injuries. Without it, numerous people would have been without a remedy, and they would face uncertain and insurmountable circumstances, perhaps even financial ruin, alone.
Eligibility is based on satisfying several requirements. They are:
- Filing a claim before the deadline passes;
- Obtaining certification from the World Trade Center Health Program that your injury or illness qualifies as one that is “as a result of” the terror attacks or removal of debris; and
- You must have been present at one of the 9/11 crash sites or present on one of the lanes of debris removal at any point between September 11, 2001, and May 31, 2002.
- There are other qualifications that you as the applicant must satisfy if they apply. Those additional requirements are:
- Dismissing, withdrawing from, or having settled a lawsuit relating to the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 prior to January 2, 2011;
- Provide evidence of a new medical condition or loss that you did not have or could not have reasonably anticipated if you received compensation from the first Victims’ Compensation Fund; or
- Provide evidence that a person or entity who is claiming to represent you has the actual authority to do so.
The 9/11 Victims’ Compensation Fund attorneys with Parker Waichman LLP have successfully represented many clients who applied for benefits through the VCF. We understand the application requirements and will work diligently to have your health condition recognized as resulting from the terrorist attacks by the World Trade Center Health Program, so you become eligible to receive compensation from the VCF. It is critical to note that enrollment in either the VCF or the World Trade Center Health Program does not automatically mean that you are enrolled in the other program. The eligibility requirements for each program differ. Our 9/11 Zadroga Act lawyers will aggressively represent you during the enrollment process for both programs.
Filing Deadline for the VCF
The second version of the VCF created a two-stage process for timely filing of a claim. The first step involves registration of a claim and the second step is the filing of a suit. If you think you have a case, whether now or at some juncture in the future, you must register with the VCF before December 18, 2020. Missing this crucial deadline could result in the denial of your claim. Even if you do not otherwise qualify for benefits, you must register. Registering reserves your right to file a suit at a later date. You are not committed to pursuing your claim if you register; registering gives you the right to seek compensation.
The registration process differs depending on whether you are already a member of the World Trade Center Health Program. If you are, the filing deadline is two-years from the earlier date you received the World Trade Center Health Program certification letter or another governmental agency declared that your injury or illness was related to 9/11. Registration for one potential claim means that you are appropriately registered for all potential claims that might arise. If you are not a member of the World Trade Center Health Program, then the deadline date is two years from when you knew or should have known that you suffer from harm related to 9/11 and are otherwise qualified.
The VCF administrators must determine whether your status meets the physical requirements for eligibility. That means you must have a physical injury or illness determined to be a result of the terror attacks or debris remediation. Mental health conditions do not qualify the applicant for eligibility in the VCF. You can receive benefits from the World Trade Center Health Program but not the VCF. Also, your condition must be certified by the World Trade Center Health Program. There VCF recognizes very limited exceptions to that regulation and may permit a private physician to render an opinion. The VCF refuses to process any claim that the Health Program has not certified.
You have the burden to prove that you satisfy the presence requirements for eligibility. The VCF recognizes three areas which will qualify an applicant for benefits. You must show that you were present either at or near the World Trade Center, worked within the chain of debris removal, or were within the New York City Exposure Zone at any time from September 11, 2001, until May 31, 2002. The exposure zone defined by the VCF runs from Canal Street south and encompasses all of lower Manhattan. The Health Program’s disaster area is more extensive and runs from Houston Street south and 1.5 miles east into Brooklyn. No part of Brooklyn lies within the Exposure Zone delineated by the VCF.
Proof can take one or more of many forms. You may provide evidence of your presence in any one of those areas by providing employment records, medical records, rent or mortgage forms, or a sworn affidavit. The VCF can deny your claim based on a lack of presence. However, you have the right to appeal that decision. You can present evidence at the appeal and provide sworn testimony that you were where you say you were. Third parties such as the New York Police and Fire Departments might have your information as well which the VCF will accept in support of your application.
Lawsuits were abundant within the years following 9/11. The families of those killed by the terrorist attacks filed claims against several entities like the airlines, airports authorities, and even the terrorist organizations as well. The VCF regulations permit victims to recover damages from lawsuits. However, you must have settled the case or dismiss the case to qualify for benefits. The rules also require an offset from any funds you receive from the fund if you obtained a settlement from a lawsuit.
You are eligible for compensation from the Zadroga Act VCF if you received payment from the first version of the Victims’ Compensation Fund. You must prove that the medical problem from which you are suffering is different than these previous conditions for which you received compensation.
The final eligibility requirement relates to qualified personal representatives. The family of a person who died can file a claim with the VCF as well. But, to do so, the personal representative should be appointed by a court. Additionally, if the claimant is a child, then a parent or legal guardian must apply. The VCF does allow you to file a claim with the assistance of an attorney who is qualified to handle those claims. The VCF does not vet attorneys for their qualifications. Notwithstanding, you should have an attorney who has documented experience with successfully managing claims for compensation with the VCF.
Compensation from the VCF
Financial compensation from the VCF is based on three factors. The factors the administrations from the VCF consider when determining your award are:
- Non-economic losses. Non-economic are not quantified easily. Non-economic damages are also understood as “pain and suffering.”
- Economic losses. Economic losses are determined as out-of-pocket expenses, medical bills, lost wages, loss of economic advancement, and loss of money for services.
- Offset from a third party. As discussed above, your award from the VCF will be reduced by the amount of money you received for your injuries from another source. That source could have been from a lawsuit or claim you filed for personal injuries settled by an insurance company.
Non-economic losses the VCF will pay for depending on the circumstances of each person’s claim. The sum you receive for pain and suffering does not depend on the amount of qualified medical conditions from which you are suffering. Instead, the fund will pay non-economic losses up to $250,000 to a cancer patient and $90,000 for a person who does not have cancer-related to 9/11. The fund will pay a minimum settlement to cancer patients of $125,000 and a minimum of $20,000 to non-cancer sufferers.
The amount you receive for pain and suffering depends on the severity of your condition. You will receive higher compensation for serious, life-threatening injuries or illnesses. The VCF will pay out higher awards for diseases that were persistent and severely disrupted or altered the person’s quality of life. The VCF will pay a small award to those whose injuries or illness was under control, has resolved with the lapse of time, or is controlled by medication.
The amount of economic damages you might receive is contingent upon specific factors. First, you must have a disability from a qualifying medical condition. Secondly, your disability must be an opinion from a governmental agency like Workers’ Compensation, NYPD, FDNY, or social security or a private insurer. The VCF will also accept the opinion of your disability from the World Trade Center Health Program.
Compensation for your lost wages or lost economic opportunity will depend on factors like your age, the type of work you performed, length of disability, whether you have a total or partial disability and whether you received money from another source. World Trade Center Health Program enrollees may seek economic loss compensation from the VCF if they have at least one qualifying physical condition, there is no other disability determination, the claimant has stopped working or decreased the amount they work and there is a reasonable belief that the claimant’s disability is preventing him or her from returning to work or working full time.
Filing Your Claim
You must register before you file a claim. Once you register, then you must submit your claim on or before December 18, 2020. When you file a claim, you are giving the VCF permission to investigate your conditions. The investigators may examine your medical records from the World Trade Center Health Program. It is essential to note that you can amend your claim or add new information at any time up to December 18, 2020.
The VCF will process claims in the order they receive them. The time it takes to process your claim will depend on the complexity of the claim and the type of claim. Once you receive an award letter, you have thirty (30) days to appeal the decision. You may appeal if you were denied benefits or if you think you did not receive the amount of compensation to which you believe you deserve.
After the appeal period lapses, you could receive your check within twenty (20) days, but it could be as long as forty-five (45) days. If you are in desperate need of the money due to hardship or you are facing a terminal illness, then your attorney can request to expedite payment on your behalf.
A Parker Waichman VCF Lawyer Is Ready to Help You Obtain the Benefits You Need
Parker Waichman LLP’s VCF Attorneys have the skills, experience, and knowledge you need to obtain the benefits to which you might be entitled. They understand how to research your claim and assemble a compelling and persuasive claim package. Receiving compensation for your illness or injury requires more than filling out some paperwork. It requires thorough documentation supporting your claim accompanied by a compelling narrative describing how your loss has affected your life and the lives of your loved ones.
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Our lawyers are dedicated to superior advocacy, and we are proud to have received honors from the legal community and beyond, including:
- 8 (out of a perfect 10) Rating by AVVO (a service that rates every attorney in the United States)
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- Lawdragon’s highest rating of “5 Dragons.”
- Listed in the Best Lawyers Publication.
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