by Richard Alles, Deputy Chief FDNY, ret
In our last issue, we sounded the alarm about the approaching July 29th deadline to register claims with the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. I’m very happy to report that many of you took our advice to heart. We’ve received a flood of calls from people in the 9/11 community asking us to register claims for illnesses that would normally have been time-barred. There are 68 cancers and a host of respiratory ailments that have been linked to 9/11 exposure, and we want to make sure victims do not forfeit their rights.
What is this deadline about?
While the VCF will be open through the year 2090, there are registration deadlines that must be met in order to receive compensation. The law requires those enrolled in the WTC Health Program to register their claims with the VCF within two years of the date of certification of their illness. For wrongful death claims, the family must register the claim with the VCF within two years of their loved one’s death. A great many people missed this deadline, and therefore were prevented from receiving compensation from the VCF. In 2019, the Special Master of the VCF opened a window to permit anyone who missed the registration deadline to file their claim. That window will close on July 29, 2021. Thereafter, the only claims permitted by the VCF will be personal injury claims that are registered within two years of certification, and wrongful death claims registered within two years of a loved one’s death.
Has the extension made a difference?
Many of the people who have reached out to us of late had illnesses that were certified by the Health Program or the FDNY well over two years ago, which ordinarily would mean that it was too late to register their claims. Nearly 40% of the families who reach out to our firm for the first time lost a loved one more than two years ago. Thanks to the extension, all of their claims are now eligible. So yes, the extension has made a tremendous difference to the victims and families of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Why did the VCF create this window?
On July 29, 2019, thanks to the persistence of unions and advocates like Jon Stewart and John Feal, Congress permanently extended and fully funded the VCF, underscoring the singular importance of the program. The change was intended to ensure that every member of the 9/11 community has access to compensation. However, at the very moment that the government made the VCF permanent, there were thousands of people who were barred from receiving the compensation they deserved because they did not timely register their claims. The Special Master, Rupa Bhattacharyya, made a very compassionate but temporary change in the rules to help these individuals. It was, without question the right thing to do. Victims and families learn of their rights primarily through the work of advocates, not from the government. The effort is herculean, because our community is vast and dispersed, and reaching people is not easy. Moreover, there are many people who developed cancer or lost a loved one before the VCF even recognized cancer as a covered condition.
What else do you need to know?
The Covid pandemic has not helped matters. It has made traditional outreach more difficult, which means that there are still many people who are unaware of their rights. You should know that Covid presents special risks to the 9/11 community. The respiratory illnesses and cancers which disproportionately afflict us result in weakened immune systems and make it more likely that Covid will turn deadly. The VCF Special Master recognizes this. On 9/11/2020, the Special Master announced that “the VCF is likely to receive claims from those with a 9/11-related condition who also suffered or died as a result of COVID-19 and the VCF will review each case based on circumstances.” In other words, where someone passes away from Covid, and a 9/11 illness contributed to the death, the VCF will likely issue compensation for the claim.
We thank you in advance for helping us spread the word about the July 29th deadline and we invite you to contact us for a free 9/11 legal consultation.