When to appeal a VCF award can be complicated. The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund provides vital compensation to victims (first responders, residents, downtown workers, and students) of the 9/11 attacks—both those who suffered immediate injuries at the 9/11 scene and those who were exposed to hazardous chemicals during the weeks or months after 9/11 that they spent near Ground Zero. The program provides for an award of tax-free payment to the downtown community of residents and area workers, helping them to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of cancer or other serious illnesses related to their exposure to the dust in the air during the many months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Many claims, however, are denied by the VCF. Sometimes, a claimant might fail to provide enough information in your initial claim, especially if you do not work with an attorney to ensure that you have all the necessary evidence related to your claim.
For example, if you worked with a construction company that helped haul away debris from the 9/11 attacks, leading to asbestos exposure that eventually caused you to develop mesothelioma, but you failed to provide evidence that you worked at Ground Zero in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks (2001 and much of 2002), it could lead to claim denial. Likewise, if you fail to get certified by the WTC Health Program for all conditions or diagnoses you faced as a result of being exposed to the 9/11 dust, you might end up with a lower award than you deserve.
What happens next? You may know that you deserve compensation for the losses you faced, but if the VCF denied your claim, you may not know what to do next. Follow these steps to help protect your right to compensation.
1. Act Fast
You have 30 days after a claim denial to submit an appeal. If you fail to submit that appeal before the 30 days runs out, you may have to live with the VCF’s decision. While you can wait until the deadline to file a claim with the VCF, once you have had your claim denied, you need to act fast to protect your right to compensation.
Do not delay taking the necessary actions to appeal your claim. If you believe that you deserve more than the VCF awarded, take action quickly. Do not just sit on the award or decide to live with it. Remember, the VCF exists to protect victims of the 9/11 attacks. As one of those victims, you deserve a full award as part of the benefits provided by the Fund.
2. Reach out to an Experienced 9/11 Attorney as Soon as Possible
Often, the VCF may deny your claim because you failed to fill out the needed paperwork or provide the right evidence. Many victims find that trying to handle the claim on their own can present additional complications and can make it more difficult for them to receive the compensation they ultimately deserve for injuries or illnesses suffered as a result of their efforts at Ground Zero. To make your appeal claim move more smoothly, reach out to an experienced 9/11 attorney as soon as possible.
Ideally, you should already have an attorney to work with you on your claim. However, if you did not hire an attorney to help collect evidence and fill out your initial claim, you should certainly contact an attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can manage the appeal.
An Attorney Can Help You Collect Essential Evidence
To file a claim with the VCF, you will need to show two key things: that you suffered a 9/11 related diagnosis, and that you lived, worked, went to school, or volunteered somewhere in Lower Manhattan on 9/11 or in the weeks and months immediately following the 9/11 attacks.
Some victims have no trouble proving their presence at that location. They may have clear evidence that shows where they lived or worked during that time. Others, however, may have to dig further to establish the evidence the VCF needs to process a claim.
Perhaps you, like many people, simply headed to Ground Zero to volunteer as soon as you recognized the need. Maybe you did not volunteer with your employer, or you do not have records that show where you worked in 2001. An attorney could help collect that vital evidence and show exactly when you were in Lower Manhattan during late 2001.
An Attorney Can Help You Understand Your Legal Rights
How much compensation should you really expect from the VCF as a result of your claim? In your initial consultation with an attorney, you will have a chance to sit down and tell your story. Everyone who faced Ground Zero immediately after the terrorist attacks has a story to tell. Once we hear your story, an attorney can provide you with guidance on how long the process will take, what amount of award to expect, and answer all other questions that you may have.
The people who lived or worked in Lower Manhattan near Ground Zero (south of Houston Street), or volunteered their assistance immediately after the terrorist attacks experienced different types of harms. The impact the attacks had on you will not look exactly like the impacts those events had on anyone else. Your diagnosis may not look exactly like anyone else’s. Likewise, the impact your diagnosis has had on your life may depend on your activity level and its severity. Every case is different.
Your 9/11 attorney will listen to your story and determine how the events of 9/11 impacted you, specifically. What limitations have you faced as a result of your diagnosis? Have you missed valuable time at work? Experienced substantial medical expenses related to your injuries? The financial losses you faced as a result of your diagnoses, treatment, and illness or injury, the more compensation you deserve. An attorney can help you fully evaluate and establish the compensation you deserve through the VCF for those losses, getting you the maximum award available under the law.
An Attorney Can Properly Fill out and File All the Paperwork Correctly
Most often, the VCF denies a claim because you missed a detail somewhere in the paperwork: because you filled it out incorrectly, perhaps, or because you did not fully understand a specific set of instructions. An attorney can go over your paperwork and make sure that you miss no important details, increasing the odds that you will get the compensation you deserve.
3. Work With Your Attorney to Establish Why the VCF Denied Your Claim
To appeal your claim, you need to understand why the VCF denied it in the first place, or why you did not receive the compensation you deserve. The VCF may deny your claim or minimize the compensation you could receive for several reasons. Work with your attorney to establish the reason for your claim denial. Check your eligibility denial letter or award letter for an appeal request form. If you do not see that form in your letter, you may not have grounds for an appeal.
Reason #1: You Failed to Establish a Certified VCF Condition
The VCF covers an extensive list of conditions that could occur as a result of exposure at Ground Zero. To receive compensation through the VCF, you must establish that you had or have one of these conditions and have the condition certified by the WTC Health Program as related to your 9/11 exposure. The list includes both traumatic injuries incurred at the scene of the accident and injuries and illnesses that could crop up over time (most often many years later) like cancer, mesothelioma, digestive conditions, skin disorders, and lung disorders.
You will need proof of those diagnoses to receive compensation through the VCF. You might, for example, showcase your medical records, including your treatment records. Where did you receive treatment? What doctor diagnosed your illness? That doctor can provide the essential records that will establish what diagnosis you faced and when it took place. If you sought treatment through the WTC Health Program (which provides medical care to 9/11 victims free of charge), you will need to provide the VCF with a copy of your WTC Health Program certification letter.
If you suffered more than one diagnosis, or if you suffered a secondary diagnosis after the initial one, you may want to amend your VCF claim. When new information comes to light, including a new diagnosis or additional complications to your existing diagnosis, the VCF offers an amendment option that would allow you to include that new diagnosis as part of your claim.
Reason #2: You Did Not Prove Your Presence at Ground Zero or in Lower Manhattan Following the Events of September 11, 2001
Following the events of September 11, 2001, and until May 30, 2002, were you physically present, at any time, in lower Manhattan in the area south of Canal Street? You can file a claim if you:
- Lived in the area
- Went to school in the area
- Worked in the area
- Volunteered at Ground Zero in any capacity, including rescue, first response, medical care, or construction
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, most people did not realize the potential dangers associated with living and working near Ground Zero, including much of lower Manhattan. Schools opened back up. Businesses continued normal operations. Meanwhile, the dust cloud surrounding the area exposed many people to high levels of toxic dust and debris that later led to severe diagnoses.
To seek compensation through the VCF, however, you must prove that you were present in the Exposure Zone anytime between 9/11 and May 30, 2002. You may need to show employment records, including records that your employer sent you to help at the scene. You may need to show volunteer records, provide evidence of previous addresses, or show evidence that you went to school somewhere in Lower Manhattan in late 2001 or early 2002. If you did not provide these records as part of your claim, the VCF may deny it. An attorney can help you quickly find and display that evidence, allowing you to move forward with your appeal.
Reason #3: You Failed to Fill out All the Information on Your Forms
Filing for compensation through the VCF includes filling out a complicated series of forms. To seek compensation, you must fill out these forms completely and correctly. Any missing or incorrect information on the forms—for example, entering your name or birth date incorrectly, or entering your birth date differently at different points in the forms, typos, or simply making a mistake in answering a question the wrong way—could cause the VCF to deny your claim.
Often, the complexity of the forms can make it very difficult for you to fill them out in their entirety. Many people fail to finish filling out the forms due to simply now knowing how to answer forms that are explained in hundreds of pages of hard to understand federal rules and regulations. You might even have intended to come back to a specific part of the form later, only to realize that you did not fill it out once it was submitted.
An attorney can help review those forms and check for any missing information. Your attorney can also ensure that you accurately report all of the information on your forms and that you missed nothing that could impact your claim.
Reason #4: You Have an Active 9/11 Lawsuit Pending
Some people choose to pursue compensation for the losses they suffered as a result of their actions at Ground Zero through a lawsuit (against the City, the Port Authority, or a contractor for example, or even against an asbestos manufacturer whose materials led to exposure). If you have an active lawsuit pending relating to your 9/11 exposure, however, you cannot file a claim through the VCF. People who accept compensation through the VCF waive their right to a 9/11 lawsuit. To appeal your claim, you will need to have timely withdrawn your 9/11-related lawsuit.
Reason #5: You Did Not Respond to a Request for Information or Clarification
As you progress through the VCF claim process, the VCF may contact you to ask you to review the information you submitted previously. You may need to clarify the information you provided or provide additional evidence or documentation. If you fail to respond to those queries by the deadline, generally 60 days after the VCF submits a request for information, you may have your claim denied.
Do You Need an Attorney to Help Appeal the Decision on a VCF Claim?
If you received a claim denial or received an award letter that did not include the compensation you feel you deserve for the losses you faced after 9/11, you may need an attorney to help. Contact an experienced 9/11 attorney to help you file an appeal.