Social Security Disability Claims for 9/11 Victims

Social Security Disability Claims for New York City 9-11 Victims

Any individual left disabled by a health condition resulting from exposure to the toxic dust in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks may be entitled to significant compensation.

In fact, anyone with any 9/11-related health condition or families who have lost a loved one because of such a condition can claim compensation from the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF).

If, however, a condition leaves an individual with a disability and he/she wins a Social Security Disability claim, the amount awarded by the VCF can be significantly higher.

Let’s first understand what Social Security Disability benefits are, who qualifies for them, and how they may affect VCF claims.

What are Social Security Disability benefits?

People who work in the U.S. must generally pay Social Security taxes. These taxes are known as FICA taxes, and they are deducted automatically from paychecks.

The purpose of these taxes is to cover benefits paid for retirement, disability, and survivors’ social security. Some people consider these benefits as “welfare”, but they are more accurately thought of as a federal government disability insurance policy funded by all workers.

Under the SSD benefits system, monthly payments are made for those who cannot work as a result of a disability.

Anyone who meets the definition of “disabled” under the federal government rules is essentially reaping the rewards of the “insurance premiums” that they have paid—often for many years. The same principle applies to long-term disability (LTD), workers’ compensation, and NYC and New York State Retirement Pension disability claims.

Can victims receive Social Security disability benefits AND an award from the VCF?

SSD benefits from the federal government can provide 9/11 victims with a steady income to cover lost wages. They also provide Medicare health insurance for non-9/11 related medical conditions.

Filing for Social Security Disability benefits does not interfere with the process of claiming from the Victim Compensation Fund—in fact, it can assist victims in boosting a claim for losses and generating the level of income and protection they need to manage their difficult situation in the future.

Qualifying for SSD benefits can increase awards from the VCF for anyone with a 9/11-related health condition. In particular, winning such benefits will increase the tax-free 9/11 “lost earnings” or “economic damages” award (more about this below).

However, under the World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP)), victims only receive medical care for “certified” 9/11-related medical conditions. Other, non-related conditions are not covered so it will help to combine WTCHP and VCF benefits with SSD benefits for access to traditional Medicare or Medicare Advantage plans.

Maximizing payouts in this way is essential for anyone whose health was adversely affected by exposure to the harmful toxins in the 9/11 dust, particularly if they are disabled and unable to work. Victims should aim to maximize their lifetime incomes to help manage the years ahead.

Qualifying for SSD benefits is an important step and one that may be best managed with the help of a seasoned attorney.

Do you qualify for Social Security Disability benefits?

Qualifying for disability benefits can be challenging even if you consider yourself “disabled”. The hurdles are often many, and some people are intimidated by the application process, which requires considerable evidence to be presented.

Individuals must show that they have worked in a job that is covered by Social Security for a certain period, earned enough Social Security credits from their past work history, and be able to prove that they are unable to work due to a physical or mental disability that is expected to last at least 12 months or result in death.

If the initial application is turned down, applicants may need to appear before a Social Security Administrative Law Judge to prove their entitlement to benefits. The process is made easier and less stressful if individuals can rely on the assistance of a knowledgeable attorney to plead their case.

How to qualify for the VCF award

The September 11th Victim’s Compensation Fund was established to provide compensation for anyone who suffered illness or injury as a result of the 9/11 attacks—notably responders and survivors who were exposed to the toxic dust cloud in the days, weeks, and months following the attacks.

To successfully claim compensation for the pain and suffering caused by illness or injuries from 9/11, claimants must demonstrate that they were in one of the designated exposure zones between 9/11 and 30 May 2002. These include much of Lower Manhattan, the Pentagon, and the Shanksville, PA crash site.

Claimants must also demonstrate one of the following:

  • A physical injury or illness caused or aggravated by the events of September 11th, 2001, or
  • A family member died due to the attacks.

Claimants can be awarded up to $90,000 for pain and suffering caused by most 9/11-related conditions, but for cancer, the upper limit is increased to $250,000. However, each case is assessed separately by the fund administrators.

How to prove eligibility for a VCF award

Although the requirements to claim a VCF award are very clear, presenting the correct documentation can be a challenge for some claimants.

Generally, a range of supporting documents are required for a claim, such as medical records, proof of residency or employment, and evidence of losses due to the attack. Claimants need to show that a physical injury or illness was caused or aggravated by the events of September 11th, 2001 or that a family member died due to the attacks.

Claimants also need to prove their presence in a designated exposure zone (in NYC, this is south of Canal Street) on 9/11 or after the attacks until May 30th, 2002 through documentation or witness testimony.

Potential challenges when applying for Social Security Disability benefits

The “all evidence rule” for claiming Social Security Disability benefits can be problematic for many claimants, greatly impacting the compensation they receive. Many claimants receive less than they are entitled to.

In particular, listing pre-existing conditions with your 9/11-certified condition will likely reduce the claim unless reliable and informed advice is available before completing the application.

9/11 Social Security Disability claims and the Victim Compensation Fund

Responders and survivors who claim 9/11 Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits receive a monthly income to cover some of their lost earnings.

Claiming economic and non-economic losses from the VCF is usually an advisable step because these benefits only cover a fraction of lost earnings.

The Victim’s Compensation Fund was enacted under the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act specifically to compensate victims and their families.

Victims should target both SSD benefits and VCF compensation. SSD benefits only cover some loss of earnings and do not compensate for all economic losses, such as loss of future earnings potential or benefits and bonuses. However, they are available for non-9/11-related health conditions. The VCF does cover most economic losses—but only for 9/11-related conditions—as well as non-economic losses, such as pain and suffering.

When calculating your economic losses, the VCF will obtain documentation from the Social Security Administration (SSA) directly, outlining disability, earnings history, and pension benefits. The VCF will factor in any payments you have received as collateral offsets.

The disability determination from the SSA will also be sufficient in confirming disability when claiming non-economic loss from a 9/11 disability. Awards can be significant if the application is handled properly.

Social security benefits and filing for VCF economic loss in deceased claims

The VCF also enables families who have lost loved ones to a 9/11-related health condition to file a compensation claim for economic and non-economic loss.

Even if the individual was receiving SSD benefits or survivor or dependent benefits from the SSA during his/her lifetime before passing away, an award may be made—but it will be reduced by the collateral offsets received.

To discuss your situation and learn more about how we may be able to help you, please call Weisfuse & Weisfuse, LLP at 212-983-3000 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

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