It is fairly common to add an attorney to your September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) claim after you may have taken the simple first step of registration.
Perhaps you started to file your claim on your own, only to discover that having an attorney on your side would make it much easier to navigate the challenges associated with collecting information and documentation or securing the full compensation you deserve for 9/11-related illnesses and injuries.
Maybe you started with one attorney that does not have much experience with 9/11 claims, so is not as good a fit for your claim as you initially thought.
How do you add or change the attorney on your claim?
1. Download the Change of Attorney Form
The official Change of Attorney Form will allow you to easily add a new attorney who can act on your claim. Once you fill out that form for one attorney, it will remove the previous attorney or you acting for yourself, from your claim.
Your new attorney should and will complete this form, and will need to know:
- The name of the law firm
- The name of the leading attorney for that law firm
- Contact information for the firm, including its address, email address, and phone number
Make sure you have begun a contractual relationship with your new attorney before filling out the form, since you do not want to go through multiple attorney changes on your paperwork. You also want to be sure that the attorney knows about your claim and has room for you on the firm’s schedule, since locating evidence for a VCF claim can prove time-consuming.
2. Submit the Form
The VCF will need to process your Change of Attorney Form and make changes in the online system to update your information. Changing your attorney will also change:
Who Has Permission to Access Your Online Claim?
The online claim contains your personal information and information related to your claim, including documentation that can help prove your presence at Ground Zero or in Lower Manhattan following the events of 9/11 and documentation that may help establish the extent of your illness and losses following the terrorist attacks. It may contain private medical information.
The information in your claim will remain the same even after you change the party that can access it. You will not lose any documents in the claim, and the VCF will choose to process them normally. Your newly retained attorney will be able to assist you with your claim, having full access to the original registration information and any filed documents.
The Party That Receives Correspondence Regarding Your Claim.
Sometimes, the VCF may need to contact you regarding your claim: to ask for more information or documentation, for example, or to update you about your claim progress. If you have an attorney working on your behalf, most often, that information will go through your attorney. When you add the attorney on your claim, it will update the party that receives that information, sending information and requests to your attorney instead of burdening you with any requests.
Changing Your VCF Attorney and Your Contractual Relationship
Changing the attorney on your VCF claim allows you to begin a new relationship with a new attorney. You may have chosen to change your attorney for a variety of reasons: because you found the requirements of the VCF complex and confusing, that you did not fully understand the complex relationship between the WTC Health Program and the VCF, that you did not want to navigate the process with the US Department of Justice alone, or that you wanted the piece of mind that your claim would have the best chance of success and the maximum award made.
Never Handle Your VCF Claim Alone
Working with an attorney can improve your claim’s chance of success and decrease the stress associated with it.
Before choosing to handle your claim on your own, make sure you carefully consider the difficulties potentially associated with choosing to self-manage your claim instead of turning it over to an experienced, reputable attorney.
An Attorney May Have an Easier Time Helping You Find Evidence That Will Prove Your Presence at Ground Zero or in Lower Manhattan Following 9/11.
Having lived through the disaster, you know what you contributed at Ground Zero or the complete mess and chaos that you endured if you lived, worked, or went to school in the lower Manhattan Disaster Area. To file a VCF claim, however, you will need to prove it. The VCF will require specific forms and multiple affidavits to acknowledge your claim and help you get the compensation you deserve. It accepts several documents that can help prove your involvement at Ground Zero, including volunteer records, employment records, and copies of rental agreements that detail residents in Lower Manhattan.
With so many years having passed since 9/11/2001, however, many people have trouble accessing that information on their own. They may not know who to call or have trouble tracking down former landlords, employers, and teachers, who can help provide that valuable proof. An attorney can often find that information more easily and less expensively than you can on your own.
An Attorney Can Help Ensure That You Fill out All Paperwork Associated With Your VCF Claim Properly and Promptly.
If you fail to fill out any of that information properly, the VCF may send your claim back, requiring you to fill out additional paperwork to get the funds you deserve for your losses. Not only can this prove incredibly frustrating, especially if you do not know what you failed to include in the first place or do not have the information asked for on the claim forms, it can slow down the processing of your claim and make it take longer for you to get the compensation you deserve.
Working with an attorney, on the other hand, will provide the assistance you need to fill out your forms properly. As a result, you will have the right information in them the first time, and the claim will proceed more smoothly.
An Attorney Can Help Manage Any Appeal You May Need to Make.
Sometimes, you may need to appeal the VCF’s decision in your claim. You may, for example, need to provide additional documentation that will support your presence at Ground Zero, or you may need to provide more information about your diagnoses and how they have influenced your life or led to considerable medical expenses following your illness. You would almost certainly want to be represented when you give sworn testimony at an appeals hearing heard before multiple DOJ-appointed hearing officers.
You have a limited amount of time to file an appeal after receiving the decision in your VCF claim. You must file that claim within 30 days of receiving your decision letter. For many victims, that can seem like a very tight timeline. An attorney can help you quickly respond to that letter and put together the information you need to help increase the compensation you may receive. An attorney can also help you work through the appeal process and whether it proves practical for your needs. Keep in mind that the VCF will issue no payment until your appeal is processed, which can delay compensation on your claim.
How to Choose a 9/11 Attorney
Whether you have tried to handle your claim on your own in the past or you have tried to work with an attorney in the past, only to discover that the attorney did not meet your specific needs, hiring a 9/11 attorney can prove daunting. You want to make sure that you choose the right attorney, especially since you may need to work with this attorney for some time before receiving a resolution in your claim.
To choose the right 9/11 attorney, look for these key elements.
Choose an Experienced 9/11 Attorney Who Has Worked With Other VCF Claims in the Past.
VCF claims often proceed differently than other personal injury claims. You do not, for example, have to identify the liable party. You already know that liability rests with the terrorists who committed the 9/11 attacks, and that the Victim Compensation Fund will provide much-needed compensation for your losses.
You will, however, need evidence that proves your presence in Lower Manhattan following 9/11 or your contributions at Ground Zero as well as evidence of your medical conditions. An experienced 9/11 attorney will know exactly what evidence you need and how to seek it.
Look for an Attorney Who Communicates Using Your Preferred Style.
Attorneys may choose to communicate in many ways. Some attorneys prefer email communication, while others may prefer to get in touch over the phone. You may also want to consider how often your attorney will communicate with you. Keep in mind that you may face delays and long periods with little to no communication while your claim processes, since it may take several months for the VCF to fully process your claim. In the meantime, your attorney may have few updates to offer.
Talk to Others Who Have Used the Attorney in the Past.
What do other victims of the 9/11 attacks have to say about working with a specific attorney? Those testimonials can help give you a better idea of what it will look like to work with a specific attorney.
For example, you may find that one attorney does a better job of listening to your story and how the events of 9/11 have impacted your life since then. Another attorney might have a reputation for aggressively pursuing claims.
Also look at what others in your situation have said about the attorneys or law firm. Does the attorney or firm have positive reviews on Google or in other public forums? Read the reviews and see if the attorney served clients similar to you and if these other 9/11 claimants were satisfied with the representation.