In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the plane crash in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, Congress passed the Air Transportation Safety and System Stabilization Act (ATSSA; P.L. 107-42) on September 22, 2001. A key component was Title IV; the Victim Compensation Fund (VCF1), used to provide cash benefits to victims of the attack. VCF 1 closed in 2004 and was replaced by the Zadroga Act of 2011 and reauthorized in 2015. In February 2019, it was determined that there was insufficient funding to pay pending and projected claims.
In July 2010, the “Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund” was enacted, ensuring full and permanent VCF funding to provide financial relief to victims of the 9/11 attacks.
The Victim Compensation Fund has earned the reputation of being “faithful to their statute, fair to their claimants, and defensible to the taxpayers.” Their stated commitment is to “continue serving the 9/11 community as trusted administrators” of the fund.
While there is no requirement to have an attorney to file a VCF claim for compensation, there are literally hundreds of reasons why having a knowledgeable 9/11 lawyer can help victims more easily navigate the VCF claims system to ensure the best possible financial award.
How does the VCF work?
The VCF is operated by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and distribution of funds is managed by the Special Master. There are two phases to the VCF process: eligibility and compensation. A claimant (whether the victim or the personal representative of a deceased victim’s estate) cannot successfully apply for compensation with first showing eligibility. An eligible claimant is one that:
- Has a 9/11-related illness or condition as certified by the World Trade Center Health Program. (In the case of a deceased victim, personal representatives need to provide original or certified copies of documents such as death certificates and Letters of Administration issued by the court and certified by a Clerk of the Court.)
- Has proof of presence in the NYC Exposure Zone between the dates of September 11, 2001, and May 30, 2002.
- Has completed all forms accurately and submitted them with all required documentation by the specified deadline.
Compensation is individually calculated and based on the specific circumstances of the eligible claim. Awards may include both non-economic loss (called “pain and suffering”) that is based on the severity of the medical condition or illness; and economic losses, which include things such as loss of wages caused by a 9/11 condition that leaves a victim unable to work, as well as loss of retirement and/or other benefits.
If approved, payment is authorized and the U.S. Treasury disburses funds into bank account designated by the claimant.
For the thousands of victims of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center who now suffer the harmful effects of the toxic dust—such as cancer, lung conditions, and mesothelioma, among others—as well as family members of deceased victims, a VCF monetary award can help them move forward. Eligible claimants could include:
- A survivor of the attack who suffered physical injuries
- A victim of a certified 9/11-related illness
- Cleanup volunteers
- Transit, utility, and sanitation department employees
- Residents of the area south of Canal Street
- Employees of WTC-area business
- Visitors in the area at the time of the terrorist attacks
- Certain family members
- The personal representative of someone who died in or as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
How does a skilled 9/11 attorney help ensure successful VCF fund claim?
In addition to the documentation required, there are timelines to be met and additional steps that have to be addressed in order to be successful. In 2020 the VCF received nearly 7,500 claims, with more than 9,000 still pending eligibility. An attorney who has worked with 9/11 victims understands that it is critical to help the client understand the VCF claims system and knows what to look for, where to find it, and how to avoid potential issues along the way.
Perhaps one of the most important (and too often overlooked) advantages of working with a lawyer who has helped many victims of the 9/11 attacks is that it can help relieve the stress of going through the claim-filing procedure. For those who are dealing with a 9/11-related disease and for those who have lost a beloved parent, child, spouse, or partner, it can be difficult to navigate the ins and outs of the claims process. An experienced attorney takes that worry away.
Empathy is just as important as knowledge and skill. Our lawyers know that while all victims have the events of that awful day in common, each has their own set of concerns and their own story to tell. By listening to each 911 victim’s experience, we better understand their needs and provide the comfort of knowing that they are not in this alone.
As a 9/11 New York City law firm, we understand the horror of 9/11 as we also witnessed it firsthand. Whether representing a victim or a family member, a resolute and compassionate Weisfuse & Weisfuse LLP attorney is there to ensure a smooth process and help eligible claimants get full and fair compensation.
How does hiring the right lawyer help simplify the Victim Compensation Fund claims process?
For those victims and survivors of the attack on the WTC, as well as personal representatives of deceased victims, the claims procedures may feel daunting. We help take the confusion out of the process and move claims through as quickly as possible—allowing those who are dealing with a 9/11-related illness or the death of a family member caused by a long-term 9/11 medical condition to move forward with greater peace of mind.
Full and fair compensation requires correctly and completely filled out paperwork. It also means including all documentation and proof to support the claim. Proof can include sworn affidavits or sworn witness testimony as to a victim’s presence in the NYC Exposure Zone (the areas in Manhattan south of Canal Street and/or along the routes of debris removal, including barges, bus depots, and the Staten Island Fresh Kills landfill). This is the larger area that includes “Ground Zero,” which is more narrowly defined as the World Trade Center site; a 14.6 acre area bounded by Vesey Street, the West Side Highway, Liberty Street and Church Street. Victims who were injured or subsequently suffered a 9/11 medical condition need to show acceptable proof that they were in Exposure Zone “at some point” beginning on September 11, 2001, and through May 30, 2002.
If a victim fills out legal paperwork incorrectly or fails to provide the required documentation and supporting records, compensation may be delayed or, in the worst of cases, denied. (Typically, if there is missing information, the claimant will receive a letter from the VCF specifying what is still needed.) It is critically important that victims register with the WTC Health Program to get medical treatment while waiting for approval of a VCF claim. In the meantime, it may be possible to pursue compensation for living expenses while the claim is being processed.
To help ensure a successful claim, a 9/11 attorney makes sure it is accurate, complete, and timely, by:
- Getting the claimant registered: It is important to note that the registration deadline is not the same as the deadline to file a claim. The deadline for registering was July 29, 2021, however, as stated by the VCF, “the Registration Deadline is not the same for everyone. The Registration Deadline is determined according to claim type and varies based on individual circumstances.” If not registered by July 29, 2021, the only claims that will be considered valid are the one registered within two years of the certification of a 9/11-related illness or the date of death. An experienced attorney will register claimants immediately to help ensure that valid claims do not risk getting denied.
- Helping claimants obtain vital documents to prove presence in the Exposure Zone: As time has passed, it can be harder to obtain employment records, proof of residence (such as rent or mortgage receipts, utility bills, etc.), medical bills (including Worker’s Comp documents), school attendance records, or “contemporaneous documents” that show a victim’s presence at the site. Our lawyers are also skilled at helping with sworn affidavits or sworn testimony from witnesses.
- Help with WTC Health Program medical records or records from a personal physician that serve as proof of a qualified 9/11 illness or condition and ongoing treatments.
- Assistance with documentation related to non-economic losses: While they are not required, they are valuable in making a successful claim for pain and suffering.
How does hiring a dedicated 9/11 lawyer help maximize compensation?
By having a thorough understanding of the Victim Compensation Fund claims system and having successfully helped claimants, our attorneys bring dedication and aggressive representation to all claimants, with the goal of getting them the best possible compensation. In addition to ensuring complete, accurate documentation that includes accompanying evidence, and timely filing, we have successfully appealed denied claims. We pursue every avenue of compensation, because no victim of 9/11 should be victimized again because of a missed requirement or deadline. We help victims in areas including:
- Assistance with medical bills: The toxic dust that spread across the NYC Exposure Zone left a legacy of debilitating illnesses, medical conditions, and life-threatening diseases, such as 9/11 cancers. Numerous victims have already incurred expenses related to treatment such as radiation or chemotherapy, or surgery. By registering with the WTC Health Program, victims have access to health care and treatment through a WTCHP Center of Excellence, or for those outside the greater New York area, a Nationwide Provider Network clinic.
- Economic loss compensation: Victims are too often unable to continue to function in their job or unable to go back to work at all, leaving them without the wages they need to support themselves and their families. Loss of income, loss of retirement benefits or pensions, and loss of healthcare benefits have a devastating effect. We make sure that every legitimate expense is included in each victim’s 9/11-related claim.
- Non-economic loss compensation: Non-economic (or non-monetary) losses are those that aren’t specifically financial, but still have a cost. It means loss of ability to enjoy life, or to In complete everyday functions without considerable difficulty or discomfort. That is why this is called compensation for “pain and suffering.” If related to a 9/11 diagnoses, it is likely to be covered under the VCF.
The Weisfuse & Weisfuse, LLP advantage
Whether a firefighter or police officer, resident, visitor, student, teacher, office worker, EMT, sanitation department employee or cleanup volunteer, our promise to all 9/11 victims is that we put their needs first; that we do all we can to get them the best possible compensation, including offering an optional impact statement; and that we do it with care, commitment, and a thorough knowledge of what needs to be done. We take the burden of dealing with a complex system off our client’s shoulders and are always honest about the merits of their case.
To schedule a free consultation to discuss your needs, please call us at call 212-983-3000 or contact us online.