Accelerate Approvals of Compensation for Post-9/11 Victims

Sarah Dorsey, Chief Leader

Compensation awards for September 11 victims under the Federal Zadroga Act continued to roll in at a faster pace during the last six months of 2014, with more than $804 million in awards announced by Jan. 2.

In six months, the number of award decisions nearly tripled, from about 1,100 to 3,128.

The payments are issued by the Victim Compensation Fund, which covers out-of-pocket medical costs, lost wages and other expenses for those injured, sickened or killed in the September 11 attacks or their aftermath.

Many Forms Incomplete

The VCF, administered by Special Master Sheila Birnbaum, appears to be making up for a previous backlog of cases. But of the 18,148 eligibility forms submitted, about 40 percent are incomplete, suggesting that some claimants are still having difficulty navigating the system and providing the necessary documentation.

So far, the awards range from $10,000 to $4.1 million, with the average payment worth $257,977. Just 39 claimants have been turned down as ineligible for benefits, and 9,677 have been ruled eligible. Of these, 90 are now deceased and their awards will go to their families.

Congress in 2010 allotted nearly $2.8 billion to the VCF, but made just $875 million available for the first five years. To ensure that awards are distributed fairly, Ms. Birnbaum has limited each recipient’s first payment to 10 percent of his total reward, with more available in 2016.

The vast majority of decisions so far—2,691 of them worth about $748 million—are for first responders, including two who responded to the attack on the Pentagon.

Thirty-five awards have been decided for residents of Lower Manhattan, and 362 decisions were rendered to employees not considered first responders. Half of those were cleaning or maintenance workers.

More Money Needed?

When more than 60 types of cancer were added to the list of eligible Zadroga conditions in 2012, some advocates stressed that the fund would need far more money to cover the influx of new claimants.

But cancer can take years to surface, and the VCF decisions appear to reflect that reality, with just 470 awards having being issued to cancer patients. The other 2,658 decisions, worth nearly $605 million, were issued for other conditions. Post-traumatic stress disorder, respiratory and digestive ailments are all common among those who inhaled the toxic dust from the World Trade Center and witnessed the devastation of the terrorist attacks.

About 65,000 people have registered with the fund, which gives them an opportunity to file a claim in the future. Ms. Birnbaum said she expects that many of these registrations will never result in a claim.

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