Advocates seek greater momentum in rulings by 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund

By Joseph Straw New York Daily News

Sheila Birnbaum, the 9/11 Victim Compensation fund special master, is credited with simplifying the fund's website. Robert Sabo, New York Daily News

Sheila Birnbaum, the 9/11 Victim Compensation fund special master, is credited with simplifying the fund’s website. Robert Sabo, New York Daily News

‘Is it enough? Absolutely not.’ The $2.7 billion fund had decided on final award figures for 323 claimants as of last week, a considerable jump from the 112 finalized by November.

WASHINGTON – Eligibility and award rulings by the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund have tripled from abysmal figures issued late last year, but advocates want more, and faster.

As of last week the $2.7 billion fund had ruled 4,294 Ground Zero workers and downtown residents eligible to file claims, and had decided on final award figures for 323.In November, the fund revealed that it had deemed only 2,500 claimants eligible and determined just 112 awards.

John Feal, the construction supervisor whose left foot was crushed on “The Pile” and who lobbied for the law that reestablished the fund, said “the new numbers show progress.”

“Is it enough? Absolutely not,” he said.

Ben Chevat of 9/11 Health Watch called the numbers “a solid improvement in the fund’s performance and a lifeline for those struggling with 9/11 related health problems.”

Roughly 53,000 people signed up to submit claims through last year’s October deadline for most fund registrations but less than 25,000 are likely eligible.

Feal credited fund special master and Manhattan lawyer Sheila Birnbaum with simplifying the the fund’s website in recent weeks.

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

The fund now holds twice-weekly conference calls for any lawyers representing claimants to field questions and comments about the process.

As a result of the calls, “We’re getting better materials coming in, which makes it easier to process them quickly,” Birnbaum said.

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.

Birnbaum said the fund’s paperwork backlog is shrinking, however, and staff is reviewing submissions within a week of their receipt.

Award decisions thus far total more than $135 million. Claimants, however, immediately receive only 10% of their award amounts. If total award decisions exceed 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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