911 firefighters

A SECOND CHANCE TO BECOME ELIGIBLE FOR BENEFITS: The Victim Compensation Fund has extended filing for first-responders like these firefighters and other survivors of the devastation from the 9/11 terrorist attacks to receive free medical coverage and other benefits in the wake of the enactment in July of the Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act. Some of those who were eligible for help did not become aware of it until the previous filing deadline had passed.

The 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund has revisited its policy of imposing a two-year deadline for first-responders, survivors and their families to apply from the time a family member had died, or from the date their WTC condition had been certified, according to a VCF spokesperson, setting a new deadline of July 29, 2021.

Several 9/11 compensation lawyers and WTC health-care advocates said the change throws a lifeline to thousands of people who had been previously denied benefits because of the two-year deadline.

Follows VCF Extension

The rollback of the time bar on wrongful-death and WTC-health claims came as a result of the passage this summer of the Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act.

Prior to Congress’s re-authorization of the VCF, it was slated to close next year and was running out of money.

On July 29, President Trump signed the re-authorization making the VCF funding permanent and extending its life until Oct. 1, 2090.

“As a result, the Special Master has determined that all claims are timely filed if registered by July 29, 2021, which is two years from the date of enactment of the VCF’s Permanent Authorization Act,” a VCF spokesperson wrote in response to a reporter’s query. “The revised policy is intended to address the concerns about claimants who missed prior deadlines because they did not know that the VCF existed or was open to them, did not know that their conditions (or the death of their loved one) was related to 9/11 exposure, or did not realize that they were eligible to file a VCF claim or that the VCF would be available to provide relief on a more permanent basis.”

‘Good News for Group’

“It is a real victory for the 9/11 community that doesn’t usually get good news,” said John Feal, a 9/11 first-responder and founder of the FealGood Foundation, a 9/11 advocacy non-profit. “That two-year window was a real hindrance for people, and as we speak, all those major law firms—who told these people they couldn’t represent them because they were timed out—are racing to find their contact numbers.”

Michael Barasch, a leading WTC attorney, said in a phone interview that VCF Special Master Rupa Bhattacharyya’s decision “will enable the families of first-responders and survivors who died more than two years ago to now submit a claim and also allows a window to file for those that have gotten official notification of their World Trade Center illness” but had run afoul of the old deadline.

Matthew Baione, an attorney who also specializes in WTC claims, said the revised timelines would help those eligible better navigate what can be a confusing process.

“I had one client who thought the V in VCF stood for veteran,” Mr. Baione said, adding that the deadlines had in some cases prompted clients to opt for filing a formal appeal. “And that meant that under oath they had to testify about all the pain they went through, which had the effect of opening up those traumatic memories,” he said.

As of Nov. 30, the agency has received 53,630 claims and approved 26,823, with 13,982 still pending. Initial award decisions have been reached in 25,995 claims, 1,086 of which were wrongful death. The fund has paid out just over $6 billion.

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