9/11 Fund Eligibility, Award Rulings Jump; but Still Low

By Joseph Straw New York Daily News

Eligibility and award rulings from the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund have roughly tripled from abysmal figures issued late last year, but sick workers’ advocates want more, and faster.

As of last week the $2.7 billion VCF had ruled 4,294 sick Ground Zero workers and area residents eligible for awards, and had set final award figures for 323.

Roughly 53,000 people signed up to submit claims, through last year’s October deadline for most fund registrations but less than half that number are expected to be ruled eligible.

In its November annual report, the VCF revealed that it had only rendered 2,500 eligibility decisions had set just 112 award values.

“The numbers are getting better but they’re not where we want them to be,” said Ben Chevat, executive director of 9/11 Health Watch.

The Justice Department-run VCF, which roughly doubled staff last year to process registrations and claims, is still short paperwork from potential awardees, according to its data.

After registration workers and residents must complete eligibility paperwork demonstrating that they worked or lived in covered areas of the city in the months following the attack.

If ruled eligible they must then file full claims documenting the extent of their illnesses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and any 9/11-based compensation they have received or are due from other sources.

The fund has received just over 12,000 eligibility forms, but it said more than half are incomplete. As of Jan. 28 it had received a total of only 732 completed claims, according to its data.

John Feal, the Nesconset construction supervisor whose left foot was crushed on “The Pile” and led lobbying efforts for the 2011 law that reestablished the VCF for worker illness and injuries, credited the VCF with simplifying its Website in the weeks since November’s report.

“If you weren’t a lawyer you couldn’t understand the website,” he said.

Feal still wants Fund Special Master and Manhattan lawyer Sheila Birnbaum to add a simple online checklist to aid claimants and their lawyers, but cited improved communication between claimants, lawyers and the VCF.

“I think the new numbers show progress. Is it enough? Absolutely not. Over the last month there’s been an improvement in communication between all the parties, and everyone working in unison, and that’s important because communication solves everything,” Feal said.

Award decisions thus far total more than $135 million. Claimants, however, immediately receive only 10 percent of their award amounts. If total award decisions exceed VCF funding, claimants will only receive an equal percentage of their decision balance based on available funds.

The fund initially covered 9/11-linked respiratory, digestive and autoimmune disorders, but was expanded to cover Ground Zero-linked cancers. A separate registration deadline for cancer claims falls this October.

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