Frustration over pace of 9/11 fund distribution

By Ridgely Ochs New York Newsday

Rescue workers search through the wreckage of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. (September 24, 2001) Photo by Ted Warren

Rescue workers search through the wreckage of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. (September 24, 2001) Photo by Ted Warren

Advocates and responders say they are frustrated with the slow pace of claims awarded from the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund.

According to the second annual report released last week by the fund’s special master, Sheila Birnbaum, about 1 percent of responders who have filed their eligibility claims have received a decision.

“We walked the halls of Congress for eight years. We’re not going to tolerate this any longer,” said John Feal, founder of the 9/11 FealGood Foundation, referring to the group’s advocacy for passage of the fund set up under the federal James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010.The report said that 54,897 people had registered by Oct. 3 with the $2.775 billion fund. Of those, 11,056 responders have submitted eligibility forms and 112 decisions on compensation have been rendered.

Feal and others attributed the slow pace to not enough staff in the fund to process claims and to responders’ lawyers, who have in some cases not been diligent in getting the needed paperwork for their clients.

“The delays in processing seem to be from both a lack of resources at the VCF to process claims and with the lawyers representing claimants in submitting the information needed by the VCF,” said Benjamin Chevat, executive director of the 9/11 Health Watch in Manhattan, a nonprofit formed by unions. “We know that this is a complicated process … but we would expect more progress after two years.”

But Birnbaum said she thought that the fund’s 75 staff members were sufficient for now and that the logjam was less in determining eligibility than in the lack of information submitted to determine how much compensation a responder should get.

“The problem is we have don’t have compensation information that we can review to give awards,” she said. “You not only have to show you’re eligible but you have to give us information as to economic loss.”

Of the 11,056 eligibility forms turned in, only 871 submitted compensation forms, she said.

But fulfilling eligibility requirements also has been slow: More than 6,000 eligibility forms submitted were missing signatures or required information, the report said.

Lawyers said getting all the paperwork required by the fund more than 10 years after 9/11 can be difficult. “The forms and documentation they’re looking for is a lot more — and intense — than anybody had anticipated,” said Robert Towsky of Andrea & Towsky in Garden City.

His partner, Frank Andrea, said less than a third of their 200 clients who have submitted eligibility claims have been approved and only one client — who signed up with the law firm after he received his compensation — has received any money.

Noah Kushlevsky of Kreindler & Kreindler in Manhattan said he has submitted eligibility forms for about 2,000 people. Of those, about 363 have been found eligible, but so far no one has gotten any money.

“The rules are evolving,” he said. “I think the VCF is trying to find practical ways of re-evaluating these claims based on the types of the documents. It just hasn’t happened yet.”

For Christine Famiglietti, 53, of Bay Shore, it can’t happen too soon, although she said she still must submit some paperwork. The former NYPD officer said she needs to go on a drug that could cost her thousands a month for a debilitating autoimmune skin rash she got during her eight months at Ground Zero.

“It’s already been three years,” she said.

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