Frequently Asked QuestionsAnswers For 9/11 Victims and Their Familiies
In Light of the COVID-19 Health Crisis, Will the Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) Still Be Reviewing Claims?
Yes, the VCF remains open and continues reviewing claims. Outgoing mail is still being processed on a daily basis, and all deadlines contained in the letters remain in effect at this time. They also do not expect any delays in the processing of incoming mail. But for now, the VCF has canceled all in-person hearings.
Is the World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP) Still Accepting and Moving Forward With Applications?
Due to the global health crisis, processing may be delayed. While the WTCHP remains open, they are not allowing clients to enter for exams, and for the time being, future exams will not be scheduled.
How is the 9/11 Community More Vulnerable to the COVID-19 Virus?
While the WTC toxins have been linked to 69 cancers, they have also been linked to serious respiratory illnesses such as asthma, reactive airway disease, chronic bronchitis and sinusitis. Those in the 9/11 community who have been diagnosed with respiratory illnesses in particular are more vulnerable since their lungs and immune systems are compromised.
Am I a “Responder” or a “Survivor”?
Not everybody is familiar with the terminology that the WTC Health Program and Victim Compensation Fund use to classify the populations they serve. Here’s a quick primer:
General Responders: This category is for people who worked or, in some cases, volunteered down at the WTC site on September 11th or during any part of the 8 month-long clean-up. This includes anybody who was there in a professional capacity, not just members of the uniformed services. Beyond police, firefighters, and military, the “responder” category includes any other people who worked or volunteered onsite in rescue, recovery, debris cleanup, or related support services, workers at debris removal barges or at the Staten Island Landfill who handled and sorted WTC debris, employees at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of NYC or morgue workers who sorted or identified dust-covered remains, and news crews who reported from the scene.
*FDNY Responders and Shanksville Responders receive the same services as the WTC General Responder population but have their own health programs within the WTC Health Program.
NYC Survivors: The WTC Health Program is available for people who attended school, lived, or worked below Houston Street or in western Brooklyn between September 11th, 2001 and July 31st, 2002. Survivors receive slightly different benefits from responders in the WTC Health Program, but care for both groups is available nationwide.
The VCF is for both responders and survivors who were exposed to the 9/11 toxins south of Canal Street. They are entitled to the same benefits, but the proof of presence requirements are slightly different.
If you were in lower Manhattan on or after September 11th, knowing which category you qualify for is important for the World Trade Center Health Program application.
For more detailed definitions check the WTC Health Program’s page on the topic: https://www.cdc.gov/wtc/eligiblegroups.html
WTC Health Program vs. VCF: Do I Qualify for One or Both?
The World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP) and the Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) are often mentioned in the same breath. This makes sense since both were established by the Zadroga Act and run by the federal government. Misunderstandings about the differences often cause confusion, however, since many people don’t realize it is possible to qualify for one and not the other. Here are the main things you need to know to find out if you are eligible for one or both of these programs:
Are There Any Benefits to Retaining an Attorney for My VCF Claim Rather Than Pursuing It On My Own?
While the VCF processes all claims equally, by retaining an attorney you gain access to a team of highly experienced attorneys and paralegals who have made thousands of claims with the VCF on behalf of our clients. We are proud to be able to advocate for our clients who we know have suffered and continue to suffer debilitating illness which as a result makes filing a claim on their own exceedingly difficult.
Does Filing a Claim With the VCF Affect My Immigration Status?
No. Filing a claim with the VCF is independent of your immigration status and will not affect it. If you have any questions or concerns please call our office at: 212-385-8000.
Coping With Events That Trigger Memories of 9/11
Watching a disaster unfold either in real life or on television can be tough for many 9/11 responders and survivors, and we’ve had our share recently. For those of you looking for somebody to talk to, below are some resources.
If I Retain Your Firm for the Lawsuit Resulting From the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), Can I Also Make a VCF Claim?
Yes, you may pursue a JASTA claim while simultaneously filing a claim with the VCF.
What are the Geographical Boundaries for the WTC Health Program vs. the VCF and What Does That Mean Regarding My Eligibility?
Both the World Trade Center Health Program and the Victim Compensation Fund require survivors to prove that they were in the exposure zone on 9/11 or during the World Trade Center clean-up. Each program’s definition of that exposure zone, however, is different. This can sometimes cause confusion for survivors trying to figure out which of the programs they qualify for – not everybody qualifies for both.
World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP) Questions
What is the Nationwide Health Program Network?
Though everybody in the 9/11 survivor community was in New York on the day of the attacks or the months that followed, thousands of the former responders, as well as office workers, residents and students, no longer live or work in the New York City area. Those now outside the City can still access care through the World Trade Center Health Program by choosing to see doctors through the Nationwide Provider Network (NPN).
Can I Participate in the WTC Health Registry?
The WTC Health Registry is a study of the 9/11-impacted population being conducted by the New York City Department of Health. It includes the nation’s largest research cohort of 9/11 survivors – i.e. people who lived, worked, or attended school in lower Manhattan after the attacks – and is a vital source of information about the health impacts emerging in the 9/11 community.
What is the WTC Health Registry and How is it Different From the WTC Health Program?
Many of the people in the 9/11 Community tell us that they have already registered in the WTC Health Program when they are actually registered in the WTC Registry. The WTC Health Registry is a health study that was established in 2002 by the NYC Department of Health to monitor the health of people directly exposed to the WTC disaster. Participants completed a confidential health survey and were asked to fill out follow-up surveys every few years. Periodically the study’s findings were published in medical journals, but the registry does not conduct medical testing, nor is it a treatment program. The Registry is currently not accepting new participants, though they may be creating a millennial cohort soon to help track the health of the youngest members of the exposed community. (More news about that soon!).
What Conditions Does the WTC Health Program Cover?
The World Trade Center Health Program covers a specific list of conditions for both Responders and Survivors. For survivors, diagnosis with one of these conditions, either through the program or by a private doctor, is necessary in order to participate in the program. Here’s the list of conditions:
What is the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program? What is the process of getting certified?
The WTC Health Program provides medical monitoring and treatment for 9/11 related conditions. To get certified, you must first enroll in the program and provide one proof of presence affidavit or other presence document as well as pathology reports or medical records related to your 9/11 condition. To find out if your condition is 9/11 related please visit: https://www.cdc.gov/wtc/conditions.html. Once accepted into the program, you must make an appointment for an evaluation to get certified. All certified physical conditions are eligible for compensation through the VCF and all certified conditions receive free healthcare through the WTC Health Program. Please call (888)-982-4748 or visit https://www.cdc.gov/wtc/index.html to apply. If you prefer, you can call our office 212-385-8000 and we can help you through each step of the enrollment process.
If I Join the WTC Health Program, Can I Keep Seeing My Personal Doctor?
The answer to this is a little complicated. In general the program only covers treatment by program doctors at the Centers of Excellence or through the Nationwide Provider Network. This requirement is sometimes waived if a condition requires treatment not offered through the program or if a patient is mid-treatment for a serious condition when they are certified. If you are in a complicated or precarious medical situation, it’s worth speaking to the program directly about your options. Getting treatment at one of the WTCHP’s Centers of Excellence, however, does give you access to a team of experienced doctors who are familiar with the unique concerns of the 9/11-exposed community.
I Now Live Outside of the United States. How Can I Get My Health Condition Certified?
Unfortunately the WTC Health Program does not operate outside of the United States, so foreign residents are not able to get their 9/11-linked conditions certified with the program unless they travel to the US for an initial screening. The VCF recognizes that that possibility is not available to everybody.
Where Can I Get Treatment From the WTC Health Program?
The World Trade Center Health Program offers treatment nationwide for a long list 9/11-related conditions. Care is provided at no cost to 9/11 responders and survivors, and responders can take part is yearly health screenings even if they are not sick. It seems like a good deal, but where exactly do you need to go for appointments and screenings?
If I Have Been Waiting to Get an Appointment With the WTC Health Program for Months, Will This Harm My VCF Claim?
No, after you are registered with the VCF you have until December 18, 2020 to submit your claim as well as any supporting documents. The VCF cannot process your claim without a certification letter, however your right to file a claim in the future is preserved once you register with the VCF.
If I Have an Illness That is Not Covered by the WTC Health Program, Should I Enroll in the Program Anyway?
The WTC Health Program provides monitoring for those who do not yet have a WTC related condition, but who were exposed to the toxic dust in the aftermath of 9/11. We urge you to enroll even if you do not yet have a WTC related condition as the WTC Health Program provides free checkups for first responders and survivors. Additionally, The WTC Health Program has added new conditions in the past, so if you believe your condition may be WTC-related we urge you to enroll.
I am Retiring and Moving Out of New York. Can I Still Receive WTC Health Program Treatment and Monitoring Without Coming Back to NY?
Yes, the WTC Health Program has a national provider network of clinics where survivors and first responders can received treatment and monitoring. Please call 888-982-4749 to find out which clinic is closest to you.
It is Difficult for Me to Get Around. Do I Have to Come Into the Office to File a Claim? What About If I Cannot Travel to a WTC Health Program Clinic?
No, you do not need to come in to the office to file a claim. You can call our office at 212-385-8000 to speak to an attorney to see if you are eligible for a claim. Additionally, if you are unable to travel to a WTC Health Program clinic for an evaluation due to illness or another impediment, we can submit a Private Physician Packet to the VCF. Our office can discuss with you which documents are needed for a PP Packet, and the VCF website outlines the eligibility criteria for a PP packet here: https://www.vcf.gov/privatephysicianprocess-forms.html.
Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) Questions
What is the Zadroga Act and What Does it Cover?
The Zadroga Act is the shorthand many people use to refer to the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. This bill, signed into law in 2010, established the two federal health programs that serve the 9/11 community. The programs were initially only funded for five years, but the health program was permanently extended in 2015 and the VCF was permanently extended in 2019. Members of the 9/11 community are now protected for life.
How Do I Register for the VCF?
Registering with the VCF preserves your right to file a claim whether or not you are sick. It’s incredibly quick and easy, and no documents or proof of presence are needed. If you are eligible because you are either a first responder or survivor who was below Canal Street on September 11th, 2001 or during part of the 8-months following, you should register now, even if you are not sick with a 9/11-related illness. (Registering does not obligate you to file a claim with the VCF, nor does it waive your right to file a claim in the future.)
What is the New VCF Registration Deadline and What Is Its Impact?
The VCF has a few restrictions around “timely filing,” which is the amount of time that they allow to pass between a claimant learning of a diagnosis and filing with the fund. Recently, because so many people were not aware they qualified for the fund, the VCF updated their policy on timeliness to make it more expansive and allow the many people who just learned of their eligibility a chance to participate.
If I Have an Old Certification Letter That is Past the Two Year Deadline, Am I Still Eligible for a VCF Claim?
If you are certified with a new WTC condition now or in the future you may still be eligible to make a claim with the VCF. Call our office to discuss your options at: 212-385-8000.
Will the VCF Expire or Run Out of Money?
For years we’ve heard that the Victim Compensation Fund will eventually run out of money. Many people with minor illnesses chose not to file claims because they didn’t want to take money from those who were sicker or “deserved it more.” Now that the VCF has been fully funded and permanently extended, that is no longer the case! Congress has passed an extension that fully funds the VCF until 2090, making it essentially permanent.
How Long Will It Take My Claim to Be Paid?
This depends. The VCF generally prioritizes claims on the basis of when they received them, meaning they try to address older claims first before moving onto newer ones. The process is sometimes expedited, however, when the victim is critically ill or destitute. If you or a loved one is suffering from a critical illness related to 9/11, or you have received a mortgage foreclosure or eviction notice, we can ask the VCF to expedite your award and payment.
I Received My Award Determination Letter. How Long Until I Can Expect to Receive My Check?
After you receive your award determination letter from the VCF, it takes approximately 6-8 weeks for your check to be ready. Our firm will contact you when your check is ready to be released.
How Do I Know If My Award is Fair?
Our attorneys complete extensive reviews of each award breakdown and are able to determine if your award is fair. If you have any questions please call our office at 212-385-8000.
I Recently Received a Denial Letter From the VCF for Additional Compensation for My Conditions. Is There Anything I Can Do Moving Forward?
If the VCF denies an amendment there is no appeal process. However, even though you may have been denied for an amendment you still retain the right to amend your claim in the future based on any new conditions or a future disability determination.
If I Don’t Receive an Award for My Illnesses, Do I Owe the Law Firm any Fees for Their Efforts?
No, our 10% fee only applies if you receive an award from the VCF.
I Have Multiple Certified Conditions. Does Each Condition Increase My Award Amount?
As the VCF states on their FAQ page, the VCF does not evaluate the amount of an award based solely on the number of conditions a claimant may have, but rather on a variety of factors such as severity, type of condition, and the impact it has on your life. By law, the VCF can only issue a maximum of $90,000 for non-cancerous conditions and $250,000 for cancerous conditions. For more information, please visit the VCF’s FAQ page: https://www.vcf.gov/faq.html.
Can I Recoup Medical Expenses I Paid as a Result of My 9/11-Related Condition?
The short answer is yes. If you paid for care for your compensable condition out-of-pocket, either because treatment was not available through the WTC Health Program at the time or because of another reason, reimbursement for those costs is generally available from the VCF.
Do You Have to Be a U.S. Citizen to Apply to the VCF?
New York City is incredibly diverse, so it’s no surprise that many people who contributed to the WTC rescue and clean-up efforts, as well as many members of the lower Manhattan community, were originally from somewhere else. Among the thousands of people who were exposed to the air downtown during the WTC clean-up are many people who do not hold U.S. passports. That doesn’t mean, however, that they aren’t entitled to compensation from the federal government.
Am I Waiving My Right to Participate in Future Lawsuits if I Register With the VCF? Do I Waive My Rights in the Future if I Am Awarded Compensation From the VCF?
Registering for the VCF does not require you to waive any rights, and we encourage anybody who was below Canal Street on or after 9/11 to do that now, whether or not they are sick. It’s quick and easy to do. Just go to www.VCF.gov and click on the menu item that says “Register.” From there, fill in the requested info and you’re done! Or call us and we will gladly do it for you. We encourage everyone to do this now to protect their future legal rights.
I Started a Claim for My Child, But He/She is Now Over 18. What Should I Do?
Once the minor child turns 18, unless he or she is deemed incapacitated, he or she must assume ownership of a previously-filed claim. If a claim has already been filed on their behalf, the VCF will send a letter to the now-adult child explaining the steps they will need to take in order for the VCF to continue processing the claim.
Who Can Submit a Claim on Behalf of a Deceased Responder or Survivor?
In most cases, the families of individuals who are incapacitated or deceased as a result of a VCF-eligible condition are able to file a claim on the victim’s behalf. Regardless of their family relationship to the victim, however, people filing a claim on behalf of a deceased victim must prove that they have the legal authority to do. They can do this by providing court documentation that shows that they have been named the victim’s Executor, Administrator of the Estate, or in the event that there is no will, that they are the person the court recognizes as having authority over the estate.
Is My Other Income Deducted From My VCF Award?
For the most part, no, your VCF award is not taxed and other income is not deducted from your award. VCF payouts are meant to compensate you for pain, suffering, and the expenses you’ve already laid out for your treatment, and are therefore not considered “income.” There is, however, one circumstance in which this issue may come up.
Do I Need to Prove I Lost Income or Property In Order to Qualify for a VCF Award?
No, absolutely not. The VCF does not premise their award amounts solely on financial losses. Anybody with a physical health certification from the WTC Health Program and/or medical proof that they suffer from a condition the federal government has linked to 9/11 can qualify for an award for “pain and suffering”, also known as “non-economic loss.” That is true whether or not the health condition they’re suffering from has led to loss of income or other financial losses.
If I am Disabled as a Result of My WTC Conditions, But I Do Not Have a Disability Determination, Can the VCF Issue Me a Disability Determination?
Claimants are able to request a VCF disability evaluation he or she does not have a previous disability determination. Please call our office at 212-385-8000 to discuss what is needed to request a disability evaluation from the VCF.
How Do I File a Claim If I’ve Changed My Name Since 2001 or After I Filed My Claim?
Many 9/11 responders and survivors went through major life changes after the attacks, and those changes may have include getting married or experiencing other life events that resulted in a legal name change. The VCF will accept claims under your new name, but requires some proof of the change.
Proof of Presence Questions
If I Was a Resident Below Canal Street, What Should My Affidavits Say?
Filling out an affidavit to support a residency claim for the NYC Exposure Zone is similar to filling one out for any other purpose, but these affidavits should include a couple of extra facts:
Which Schools are in the WTC Disaster Zone?
Thousands of children breathed in toxic dust and fumes in lower Manhattan after 9/11. Many of them did so from the supposedly safe confines of their classrooms. Often parents, staff, and administrators learned that they’d been lied to about the safety of the air only after the damage was done.
What Documents Can Students Use as Proof of Presence?
Former students who attended school near the WTC clean-up have a lot of options when it comes to proof of presence documentation. Not only were many residing downtown during the 2001-2002 school year, but the WTC Health Program and VCF both accept official school documents that are fairly easy to get. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that the programs have slightly different requirements. Some of the documents that will work for one will not work for the other. In general, here’s what you need for each:
Who Should I Ask to Fill Out My Affidavits?
The Victim Compensation Fund accepts a few different kinds of proof of presence, but for most claimants, the best evidence is two affidavits. These affidavits should come from people, preferably non-family members, who personally witnessed you in the NYC Exposure Zone between September 11, 2001 and May 30, 2002. To be accepted as proof, affidavits should explain when specifically the affiant saw you, where they saw you, why they were in the zone, why you were in the zone, and what you both were doing there.
Can I Use Pictures of Myself in the Exposure Zone to Prove I Was There?
No, the VCF will not accept photographs as proof of presence documents. The VCF requires two affidavits from individuals who witnessed you in the exposure zone. If two affidavits cannot be acquired, one affidavit and a combination of other proof of presence documents such as: an employer letter or work log, memo book, W2 form, lease agreement, or other document proving your location in the exposure zone can qualify as a proof of presence document. If you were an active duty FDNY or NYPD officer, a Notice of Participation from the NYPD or FDNY records office can suffice as both proof of presence documents.
What If I Can’t Find Proof of Presence That I Was in the WTC Exposure Zone?
If you spent a lot of time in the WTC contamination zone on or after September 11th, 2001 but do not have a straightforward way to prove your presence, the Zadroga programs will still work with you. Maybe you volunteered regularly outside of a formal organization or attended regular meetings downtown. Perhaps you lived in Battery Park but have long since discarded your lease. Maybe you worked for a small firm that has since gone out of business. In these cases, both the WTCHP and the VCF will accept affidavits from witnesses who physically saw you downtown and can attest that you were there. Both programs will accept detailed statements that describe your whereabouts, what you were doing, and the conditions you experienced near Ground Zero, though generally these kinds of accommodations are considered on a case by case basis. If your proof of presence is deemed insufficient and your application is denied, the VCF allows you the right to appeal their decision and testify at a non-adversarial hearing in person, or over the phone, to supply additional information.
If My Proof of Presence Isn’t Accepted, Can I Appeal the Decision?
Absolutely. Both the WTC Health Program and the VCF will give you a chance to submit additional documents and testimony if your initial application is denied on the grounds that your proof of presence is not sufficient. In the case of a denial from the WTC Health Program, you should call the program and find out what was lacking so you can provide them with whatever additional documentation they need. In the case of the VCF, there is an official appeals process during which you can schedule an in-person hearing. Here’s what the VCF says about the appeals process:
Is There Anything I Should Do If I Was Downtown After 9/11 But I Am Not Sick?
As a first responder, you are able to access monitoring from the WTC Health Program whether or not you are sick. Going to your yearly monitoring visits, even if you’re healthy now, is helpful from a research perspective and is also a great way to make sure that you get certified immediately should you develop any 9/11-related conditions. And, the doctors at the Health Program see and treat more 9/11 illnesses than private doctors. Thus, they are more likely to catch and relate symptoms to a 9/11 illness.
Join our 9/11 “Witness Protection Program”: Why it’s crucial to get your proof of presence now.
The WTCHP and VCF require that claimants prove they were in the exposure zone in order to qualify for health care and compensation, and depending on a person’s reasons for being downtown on and after 9/11, there are several ways to do this. A lot of people find that the easiest way to prove their presence is to send the VCF and Health Program two Witness Affidavits. These are written statements from people who personally saw you in the exposure zone sometime between September 11th, 2001 and May 30th, 2002. They must describe where and when they saw you and what you were doing.