Since its inception just weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) has gone through a number of changes. While its mission has always been to provide compensation to victims of the attack and the families of those who lost a loved one, it has continued to evolve in terms of claims processes and scope – particularly with the passage of several critical 9/11 compensation legislative bills, starting with the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010 (Zadroga Act). The Zadroga Act reactivated the original bill and was “authorized to operate for a period of five years, ending in October 2016.” In 2015, the bill was reauthorized to extend claims submission to December 18, 2020. Finally, “The Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act” was signed into law in 2020, extending the claims filing deadline to October 1, 2090 and creating permanent funding.
These bills do not:
- Make it easier for survivors to get quick appointments with the World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP). As the number of those made ill by exposure to increases, especially as the rates of diseases such as cancer go up, the pressure on the WTC Health Program is greater than ever. As such, there are delays in getting certified by the WTC Health Program and being seen by a physician. In fact, the new law has nothing to do with the WTCHP, which is a federal program administered by the CDC’s National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
- Compel the VCF to make payments more quickly. Like the World Trade Center Health Program, the VCF is federally funded and operated under the Department of Justice (DOJ). Claims still have to be made to the VCF and their guidelines must still be met.
What these bills may help accomplish is to ease the way for survivors and families of deceased victims by:
- Establishing a “simplified alternative method for Victim Compensation Fund awards, consisting solely of non-economic losses such as emotional damages.” Non-economic damages include “physical and emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience, physical impairment, mental anguish, disfigurement, loss of Awards for noneconomic losses caused by 9/11 cancer are still capped at $250,000. Awards for noneconomic losses not related to cancer are capped at $90,000.
- Under NY State Senate Bill S.6810/A.7425, a September 11th Victim Compensation Fund award will be treated differently than a typical wrongful death award. This allows a personal representative to “file a consent to the adequacy of the award by all interested parties in lieu of a compromise proceeding” in cases of deaths associated with 9/11. Eliminating this step allows the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund to process the award and get the payment more quickly—saving claimants as much as a year of waiting time.
- Offering better access to Workers’ Compensation regarding 9/11 claims. Legislation under 9370/A.9922A “provides presumption” for Workers’ Compensation claims. According to a New York State release from the office of Governor Hochul, “Many of the first responders and rescue and recovery workers have a timely claim for benefits with the NYS Workers’ Compensation Board but have been denied without cause. Other dependents of workers who died of 9/11 certified illnesses are barred from filing claims for Workers’ Compensation benefits because the statute of limitations expired before the CDC World Trade Center Health Program certified illnesses was accepted as presumptive cause.” This bill helps ensure that “those first responders and rescue and recovery workers who contracted an illness or died of a certified illness get the benefits that they and their families deserve.”
- Allowing ”any participant [in the WTC rescue, recovery and cleanup] who became disabled between September 11th, 2017 and September 11th, 2021 to file a claim before September 11th, 2026.” NY Bill S.9294A/A.10416. In addition to extending the time limit for filing a Workers’ Comp claim, it allows a denied claim to be reconsidered. Moreover, it “extends the time period to September 11th, 2026 for filing a notice of participation in New York State’s public retirement systems.”
A last piece of the legislation that was signed into law by Governor Kathy Hochul is an additional acknowledgement of the heroes of 9/11—particularly those whose deaths are associated with 9/11 rescue and recovery efforts. “Legislation S.8273/A.7057-B designates a portion of the State Highway System as the ‘Port Authority Police Officer James W. Kennelly Memorial Highway’. James Kennelly was a volunteer firefighter and Massapequa resident who assisted in the search, rescue, and recovery efforts at Ground Zero at the age of twenty. He passed away at 37 from 9/11-related cancer.”
While these new legislations will benefit so many who suffered harm as a result of 9/11, including families of those who died from 9/11-related illnesses, there is still much confusion as to how to take full advantage of the laws. As experienced New York September 11th Victim Compensation Fund compensation attorneys, we help first responders, rescue, recovery, and cleanup workers and volunteers get the full benefits they deserve. We also work with personal representatives and the families they speak for. To learn more about the new laws, how they may affect you, and to answer any questions you may have, please contact us online or call our office at 332-334-8155 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.