VCF law signing

NEXT STEPS: It was standing room only on July 23 when the U.S. Senate passed the permanent funding for the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. Now, VCF officials tell this newspaper that they are committed to expediting the claims of 1,700 applicants whose awards were cut because the fund had been running out of money until Congress acted this summer. Under provisions of the new law, any claimants who were shortchanged will be paid their claim in full.

Thanks to the reauthorization of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, the 1,700 claimants whose awards were cut earlier this year are being notified that they will be getting the full amounts to which they were originally entitled.

On July 29, President Trump signed the reauthorization of the program, which won near-unanimous Congressional support. Under newly enacted Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization Act, the fund’s life was extended until 2090.

The fund, which has been a financial lifeline to thousands of 9/11 first-responders, WTC survivors and their families, had been set to close in December of next year.

Halts Major Reductions

Last year, Rupa Bhattacharyya, the Special Master for the 9/11 VCF, announced that as a consequence of a dramatic spike in the number of 9/11 wrongful-death and World Trade Center-related cancer claims, the $7.3 billion fund, then down to just over $2 billion, would have to reduce the size of its payouts by up to 75 percent, depending on the nature of the claim.

“With the enactment of the new law, the Special Master has determined that there is sufficient funding available and the reductions are not necessary,” said Jordy Feldman, the Deputy Special Master who is the Director of the VCF’s New York City office. “Under the new law, we are required to begin issuing payments to individuals who were impacted [by the cuts] in the fiscal year following enactment of the law which…begins on Oct. 1 of this year.”

But Ms. Feldman said in a phone interview that the VCF was “operating with an accelerated timeframe” because “we recognize the urgency of this community and our team is committed to begin the process immediately.”

VCF officials told this newspaper they anticipated completing the outreach to the 1,700 shortchanged claimants by the Sept. 11 anniversary, with the payments to be processed shortly after that. Those affected do not need to take any additional action, they said.

The VCF covers close to 90,000 first-responders and 400,000 survivors who lived or worked south of Canal St., including 20,000 former New York City public-school students who were sent back to 29 DOE facilities in the WTC hot zone after then U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Todd Whitman said the air in lower Manhattan was safe to breathe.

Beware of Ruses

Stefanie Langsam, a Deputy Special Master who manages the Washington D.C. office, warned potential claimants to be on the lookout for law firms that have set up official-looking web pages that may appear to be a 9/11 VCF application form but are really an aggressive marketing tactic to get leads on potential clients.

“Unfortunately, this is something we have heard about,” Ms. Langsam said. “There are cases where we have actually contacted the law firms and asked them to continue changing their message and the information they are presenting. We always encourage everyone to make sure they are going to our .gov website.”

While 82 percent of the VCF claimants are represented by legal counsel, there are those who opt to do it themselves. “Our helpline is an incredible resource, particularly for claimants not working with an attorney,” Ms. Langsam said.

The helpline can be reached at 1-855-885-1555. Claimants can schedule appointments to have help-line representatives walk them through the application process.

The WTC Health Program has already confirmed that there have been almost 12,000 WTC-related cancers among the first-responder community and those who lived, worked or attended school south of Houston St. and portions of Brooklyn from Sept. 11, 2001 through the clean-up the following May.

Up to 20,000 More?

During the congressional hearings leading up to the reauthorization, World Trade Center Program officials testified that there had been an exponential increase in a myriad of cancers and that “soon the day will come when there are more people that died of WTC-related diseases after 9/11 than perished that horrible day [2,973].”

Congress was told that there could be as many as 20,000 additional cancer cases due to exposure to the contaminants that were released by the collapse of the World Trade Center and fires that burned for months after at the site.

About 55,000 individuals have been certified for at least one WTC-related health condition, with over 35,000 individuals suffering from two or more certified conditions. Over 50 percent of the Firefighters who worked at the WTC have developed a persistent respiratory condition.

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