Advocates Worry Money Will Run out for 9/11 Victims

Ridgely Ochs Newsday

Advocates praised the faster pace of awards from the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, but said they worried there won’t be enough money left after it stops taking claims next year.

More than $1 billion in loss determinations — the amount people are eligible to receive — have been made to more than 4,400 people from the $2.775 billion fund, Special Master Sheila Birnbaum said in a report released Wednesday.

Of the 18,895 eligibility forms that have been filed, 11,771 can be decided, according to the fund. The VCF said it has approved close to 90 percent of those and has made compensation decisions on 75 percent of completed compensation claims. In a message accompanying the report, Birnbaum said the statistics “show that our work with claimants, attorneys, and third parties has resulted in improvements across the board.”

The fund, created under the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010, had been criticized in previous years for taking too long to process claims. In 2013, for example, about 1 percent of responders who had filed eligibility claims had received a decision.

“I think everything is going great,” said attorney Noah Kushlefsky of Kreindler & Kreindler in Manhattan, which represents about 7,500 responders. His firm received notice of awards in 40 to 50 cases on Tuesday. “They are moving through everything very, very quickly.”

“They’re doing a great job,” said Benjamin Chevat, executive director of 9/11 Health Watch in Manhattan, a nonprofit formed by unions. “They really turned it around.” But, he added, “this indicates the need for legislation to extend the VCF to make sure that there are sufficient funds to fully compensate 9/11 responders and survivors.”

Under the act, $875 million can be paid out in the first five years of the program. The VCF is open to new submissions until Oct. 3, 2016, and has until Oct. 3, 2017 to make final payments.

The fund “needs to be extended,” said John Feal, founder of the 9/11 advocacy group FealGood Foundation in Nesconset. “About 4,000 people got awards, and they spent $1 billion and there’s only $2.775 billion in the fund. Do the math.”

Feal said he and 17 other responders are going to Washington on Monday to meet with 76 legislators to lobby for extending the Zadroga Act.

Several New York representatives from both houses and parties expressed support for an extension. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is “working toward reintroduction of the bill when Congress returns from recess next week,” a spokeswoman said.

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said in an email that it was “imperative that we renew and extend the Zadroga Act,” while Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), also in a written statement, said he would be “urging all of my colleagues to vote for it.”

The report showed that responders accounted for 92 percent of the total loss amount and those with cancer accounted for 27 percent of the awards.

According to the fund, as of the end of March, it has made 10,727 eligibility decisions, finding 10,549 claimants eligible for compensation. Of those eligible, 5,881 have submitted complete compensation claims and the VCF has made determinations on 4,415 of them for a total of $1,058,398,144.44. The highest award so far has been $4,133,466; the lowest $10,000.

Another 1,222 eligibility claims are in progress, the VCF said. And 6,946 cannot be decided now because most of the claimants don’t appear eligible and haven’t provided additional medical documentation.

Awarded so far

Some highlights from the report on the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, as of March 2015:

Decisions rendered: 4,415

Dollar value: $1,058,398,144.44

Highest amount: $4,133,466

Lowest amount: $10,000

Mean dollar value: $241,038.07

Source: September 11th Victim Compensation Fund

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