9/11 Victims Fund Making Headway on Backlog of Claims

Sarah Dorsey Chief Leader

People with September 11-related illnesses are being evaluated for Federal funds more quickly as officials catch up with the enormous volume of applications submitted in the last year and a half, a report released July 3 revealed.

But of 15,600 claims received by the Victim Compensation Fund, which issued the report, almost 7,000 are incomplete, highlighting the difficulties some still face in completing the necessary paperwork.

$322 Million in Aid 

Fund Special Master Sheila Birnbaum noted that the number of aid decisions has more than doubled in each of the last two quarters. As of June 30, more than 1,100 decisions worth more than $322 million had been issued, compared to about 500 decisions at the end of March.

The awards, which cover the medical care, lost wages and other costs of Trade Center-related illness, so far range from $10,000 to $4.1 million. The average payment is nearly $282,000.

But because Congress in the Zadroga Act made only $875 million of the nearly $2.8 billion in funds available during the first five years, those payments have been prorated. Each applicant will receive a smaller amount up front, to be re-evaluated in 2017.

Expediting Process 

The awards got off to a slow start last year, but Ms. Birnbaum said that she has worked closely with claimants and their attorneys to speed up the process. She helped direct more applicants toward the website, which she said has meant less time spent on paperwork. And she reported that she’s hired more staff to focus only on making initial payments. Of the completed, eligible claims, more than 80 percent have had decisions issued.

The vast majority of awards have been granted to first-responders, though a few dozen other workers and residents have also gotten decisions.

The VCF has also received more than 54,000 registrations by people who have fallen ill but not yet decided whether they will file a claim.

Of the 6,901 cases that can’t be decided yet, about half belong to people who don’t appear to have an eligible condition and who have not responded to requests for more medical documentation. Nearly a quarter are missing signed authorizations allowing the fund to handle their claims. The rest are missing other information, such as proof that they were in the area after the attacks or that a lawsuit for compensation has been resolved.

Victim advocates are already gearing up for their next legislative battle, when the Zadroga Act expires in 2016. With dozens of cancers added to the list of eligible conditions, they say much more funding will be necessary.



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