This September will mark 17 years since the 9/11 attacks. Since that time, thousands of Lower Manhattan residents, office workers, and rescue and recovery personnel present at Ground Zero after 9/11 have developed cancer, lung disease, and a host of other medical conditions.
NYPD detective James Zadroga developed pulmonary fibrosis as the result of exposure to toxins at Ground Zero and eventually succumbed to his illness. In 2010, the United States Congress passed the James Zadroga Health and Compensation Act, often called the Zadroga Bill, which created the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) and the World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP).
The VCF, a federal fund, offers financial awards to those who have been diagnosed with cancers and non-cancer conditions as a result of the dust and debris from the fallen World Trade Center Twin Towers or from the presence of toxic materials at the Pentagon or Shanksville, Pennsylvania crash sites. The WTCHP, administered by NIOSH, provides free health care for the medical conditions related to exposure after 9/11.
A “Victim” is defined by the VCF and WTC Health Programs as anyone who was present, at any time between September 11, 2001 and May 30, 2002, at the site of the attacks that sustained injury or later developed an illness as a direct result of exposure to the toxins emitted at Ground Zero, the Pentagon, or Shanksville crash sites.
A Victim could have been living in these areas, working there as a first responder or in one of the many surrounding office buildings, attending school or daycare, or simply just visiting there at any point in the nine months after 9/11.
Injury Statistics and Studies for First Responders
The multitude of statistics and studies published on the various injuries and diseases incurred by first responders present at Ground Zero on 9/11 highlight their seriousness.
As of January 2002, there were 200 firefighters on leave for respiratory issues who had been present at the WTC on 9/11.1
A significant study was published in 2010 by the chief medical officer for the Office of Medical Affairs at New York City’s Fire Department. This study involved 5,000 rescue workers and found that all had an average of 10 percent impairment in their lung function, with little to no improvement over 6 years.2
Up to 40 percent of rescue workers in the 2010 study reported persistent respiratory symptoms. 20 percent of them were, as of the publishing of the 2010 report, on permanent disability for their respiratory condition.3
Another study done in 2006 by Mount Sinai Hospital found that as many as 70 percent of first responders at Ground Zero suffer from chronic lung ailments.4 It is estimated that firefighters who inhaled the air at Ground Zero lost approximately 12 years of lung function.
The Victim Compensation Fund
The 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund or VCF provides Victims with financial compensation for their losses, both economic and non-economic. It also compensates relatives of Victims who died as a result of the 9/11 attacks.
The World Trade Center Health Program
The WTC Health Program provides Victims with free medical screening, testing, treatment, and other forms of healthcare for the rest of their lives.
Why Your 9/11 Claim Needs NY Personal Injury Lawyers
As with any legal matter, it is not necessary to have an attorney to file a claim to the VCF. However, the VCF is a governmental agency and the claims process can be complicated and confusing. Having an experienced law firm on your side that are experts at the VCF claims process can help get your claim submitted more quickly and completely, which can decrease the amount of time it takes for VCF to review and issue an award.
VCF Claims Process
Submitting a VCF claim requires completion of the claim form application, as well as the submission of numerous supporting documents and records. If the application is completed incorrectly, or any of the required supporting documentation is missing, the claim will be marked as Inactive and review will not continue until the missing information is provided.
Every claimant must provide proof that they were present in Lower Manhattan at some point between September 11, 2001 and May 30, 2002. Acceptable forms of “proof of presence” include affidavits, NYPD memo books, letters from your employer, and sign-in sheets. Typically, VCF does not accept copies of WTC ID cards.
In order for a medical condition to be considered by the VCF, it must be “Certified” by the WTC Health Program. The WTC Health Program certification process simply means that a doctor has officially diagnosed you with a covered condition or cancer, and that you were present in Lower Manhattan after 9/11. Once a condition has been certified by the WTC Health Program, you will receive a “WTCHP Certification Letter” listing your certified conditions. A copy of that Certification Letter must be submitted with your claim to the VCF.
List of Covered Conditions
The medical conditions that are considered eligible by the VCF include almost every form of cancer (68 cancers are currently covered), as well as many Aerodigestive Disorders like Asthma, COPD and GERD. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is covered by the WTC Health Program, meaning that you can get medical treatment for it, but it is not covered by the VCF for compensation.
The list of covered conditions may change over time as additional research and data becomes available regarding 9/11 exposure and its effects on health.
Calculating VCF Awards
There are two types of awards that VCF can issue: an Economic Loss Award and a Non-Economic Loss Award.
What Is a Non-Economic Loss?
Non-Economic losses are those which cannot be defined with a set monetary value, like pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life. Anyone who has a certified condition from the WTC Health Program is entitled to a Non-Economic Loss Award from the VCF. VCF assesses the value of Non-Economic Loss Awards based upon the severity of the condition and the impact that it has had on the person’s life.
What Is an Economic Loss?
Economic losses are your financial losses. Not everyone who submits a claim to the VCF is entitled to an Economic Loss Award. In order to be eligible for an Economic Loss Award, a claimant must have been deemed disabled by a third-party entity (Social Security, Workers’ Compensation, an insurance company), and that disability determination must be based upon an eligible condition.
The VCF is currently scheduled to remain open through 2020. But there are deadlines to register with the VCF, so it is very important to speak to an attorney as soon as possible, because if the registration deadline is missed, your VCF claim will be denied.
Get Help from Our Specialized NY Personal Injury Lawyers
The Dearie Law Firm, P.C. has represented hundreds of claimants to the VCF since its creation in 2011, including first responders, office workers, residents, and volunteers. Our experience with quickly moving cases through the VCF process is second to none. Our clients receive the highest possible awards for their VCF claims, and so can you. Call our 24-hour toll-free line at 1-800-2-DEARIE, or visit our Manhattan or Bronx locations to learn more.