The 9/11 community’s health crisis has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic because first responders and survivors with compromised immune and respiratory systems are uniquely vulnerable to the disease.
This crisis has placed an enormous emotional, physical, and financial burden on individuals and families, including responders, debris removal and construction workers, downtown office workers, residents, students, teachers and staff at nearby schools.
The scars of 9/11 are all around us, in the lives cut tragically short, the previously vital individuals fighting to maintain their health, and the thousands of families struggling with unimaginable loss.
Thanks to the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund (VCF), 9/11 first responders and survivors – as well as their families – have a key lifeline to access resources in their time of need. The substantial awards available through the VCF are crucial to easing the financial burden on thousands of families. Free health care from the WTC Health Program (WTCHP) offers access to experts who treat more 9/11 illnesses than any other doctors.
We have travelled across the United States to spread the word about the VCF and the nation-wide health program. The two programs are separate but they work hand in hand. For individuals who are certified by the Health Program with a 9/11-related health illness, VCF awards include compensation for pain and suffering, in addition to economic loss where appropriate (for example, if you were found disabled as a result of your illness).
Awards for Pain and Suffering
After last year’s permanent extension, the VCF Special Master changed the range of compensation awards. Awards for pain and suffering, also known as non-economic loss, are based on the severity of the illness. The VCF reviews medical records and other evidence to determine the impact of the illness. Since the permanent extension, awards for non-economic loss have ranged from $10,000 to $340,000. The range of awards demonstrates that the VCF has been making case-by-case determinations on each claim. This is why we encourage our clients to write personal impact statements that describe how their lives have been affected. Remember that you never waive your future rights when you receive an award. And, past awards are no guarantee of future awards.
The following are some of the thousands of non-economic loss awards that the VCF has recently been issuing to our clients with non-disabling cancers and other WTC-related illnesses:
- $20,000-$90,000 awards for respiratory illnesses
- $90,000-$250,000 awards for skin cancers
- $200,000-$340,000 awards for other cancers
Lost Income Awards
The VCF awards additional compensation for economic loss when an individual has been found disabled from a 9/11-related physical illness (not a psychological illness). The disability determination must be made by an independent governmental entity, such as the FDNY, NYCERS, the Workers Compensation Board, or the Social Security Administration. In some cases, the VCF will consider disability findings of an insurance company.
Economic loss awards are based on your age, work history, and prior earnings. Where an individual has received a disability pension, Social Security Disability (SSD) award, or World Trade Center litigation settlement, the VCF award will be reduced accordingly.
Wrongful Death Awards
Families who have lost a loved one to 9/11-related illnesses are entitled to recover additional compensation for the victim’s pain and suffering, as well as non-economic losses for the spouse and each dependent, replacement services, burial costs, and economic losses resulting from the death. Replacement services are the expenses incurred when, for example, a spouse has to pay someone to do the household chores that his/her deceased spouse used to do. If a personal injury claim was not made during the victim’s lifetime, the family will also be entitled to the award that a victim would have received during his or her lifetime.
Wrongful death awards start at $250,000 for the deceased claimant, plus $100,000 for the spouse and $100,000 for every dependent. Additional compensation is available for lost income (generally to age 65), funeral costs, and replacement services.
The Effect of COVID-19 on the 9/11 Community
As stated above, the health crisis in our country has had a devastating effect on the 9/11 community in particular. Tens of thousands of responders and survivors have severe respiratory illnesses and compromised immune systems due to the WTC toxins. They are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.
Fortunately, the VCF Special Master has addressed our concerns for those who have died of COVID-19. The VCF has announced that it will acknowledge COVID deaths as being caused by a 9/11 illness if the underlying 9/11 illness is listed on the death certificate as either the immediate cause of death or as an underlying illness which contributed to the claimant’s death. If the death certificate fails to mention the underlying 9/11 illness, the VCF will consider the death to be caused by the 9/11 illness if medical evidence is presented which connects the dots and demonstrates how the VCF-eligible condition resulted in death.