The World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP) is completely separate from the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF). The WTCHP makes the medical decision following the guidelines in an administrative manual if a person’s exposure downtown is linked to their later cancer or other illness and, if the link is made, issues a letter that “certifies” the disease as eligible for lifetime treatment in the Program. The VCF, a compensation and not a medical program, relies on this WTCHP certification to determine if a person has a health condition that may be eligible for compensation — the first of many other requirements that must be met before a decision is made to award compensation.
The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) provides compensation for victims who have suffered serious diagnoses long after the attacks, including any physical injuries that were certified by the WTCHP as 9/11 related. It recognizes a long list of illnesses faced by victims who may have suffered delayed diagnoses, including cancer, respiratory conditions, skin conditions, and digestive disorders.
Many survivors wonder, however, if they must have their condition or conditions certified with the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program before registering with the VCF. Read on for more information about how we can help you obtain the benefits you deserve if you were a first responder or if you lived, worked, studied, or volunteered near Ground Zero during or after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Who Does the WTC Health Program Help?
The WTC Health Program provides diagnosis, evaluation, and treatment for diseases associated with the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, many people, including first responders and medical personnel, jumped into action without pausing to consider the potential health ramifications. No one fully realized the extent of the toxic debris filling the air in New York City—debris that continued to impact those that lived and worked in the area long after the disaster, as well as those that aided in restoration and recovery efforts.
Within days of the attacks, workers had removed thousands of tons of debris from the scene. They did so because the head of the EPA and local city and state officials said it was safe to do so. They told workers, volunteers, and residents that the air was safe to breathe and the water was safe to drink. They lied.
It took more than nine months to remove all of the debris from Ground Zero. During this time, workers and residents in the area faced exposure to asbestos, lead, and mercury. The WTC Health Program helps provide vitally-needed care for those individuals who developed illnesses and injuries from those chemicals — cancers and other diseases that were directly caused by the 9/11 environmental fallout but often diagnosed many years later.
The WTC Health Program acknowledges four categories of people that it represents:
- New York City Fire Department (FDNY) responders, who participated in rescue and recovery efforts
- General responders, who participated in rescue and recovery, demolition, or hauling debris
- NYC survivors, or people present in New York City during or immediately after the attacks due to work, school, or residence
- Pentagon responders who aided during recovery efforts at the Pentagon
Individuals who fit into the above-listed categories all have powerful stories related both to their service following the 9/11 attacks and to the long term impact the attacks have had on their lives, as these individuals discovered health complications stemming from the attacks. The WTC Health Program acknowledges these stories, these contributions, and the suffering that these individuals may now face as a direct result of their contributions.
What Does the WTC Health Program Offer?
The WTC Health Program offers several services for individuals who have faced serious impact due to their contributions after 9/11, including:
Many illnesses, including over 70 types of cancer, may initially show few to no symptoms. Others may show misleading symptoms that could prove difficult to diagnose. The WTC Health Program offers diagnostic services, including testing and evaluation, of any conditions that could relate to debris exposure after 9/11.
Many courses of treatment are extremely costly. Cancer treatment, ongoing treatment for asthma and digestive disorders, and treatment for mesothelioma or other conditions related to asbestos exposure, for example, may require expensive and aggressive medical care. The WTC Health Program provides the treatment needed for those illnesses suffered due to debris exposure at Ground Zero at any of their Centers for Clinical Excellence in New York and New Jersey. If you live outside of the area, you can also obtain treatment at a provider near you through the Nationwide Provider Network.
Mental Health Care
In addition to care for physical health services, the WTC Health Program also assists with mental health care. Many of the first responders and other volunteers after 9/11 suffered mental trauma due to the catastrophic nature of the accident scene, which may have left victims suffering from anxiety, depression, and/or symptoms of PTSD. The WTC Health Program provides mental health treatment that can help victims move on from their trauma and live fuller, more productive lives.
Free of Charge for Enrolled Members
The WTC Health Program exists to provide these treatments free of cost to its members. For victims of the 9/11 attacks, including those who faced their diagnoses years after the initial attacks, these services can mean receiving a higher standard of care and ensuring that victims get the treatment they need. WTC Health Program providers also have a high degree of familiarity with the various illnesses and diseases that can occur due to debris exposure after 9/11, which can help increase the speed of diagnosis and the effectiveness of treatment. The WTC Health Program does not charge copays or deductibles to any of its patients.
The WTC Health Program only provides treatment for conditions related to debris exposure at 9/11 or conditions that worsened due to debris exposure after 9/11. For any other conditions that victims may have, they will need to receive treatment on their own through other medical providers. However, WTC Health Program providers will help coordinate treatment with your other doctors and ensure that you receive care that takes all of your conditions and needs into consideration.
Do You Need to Have Your Conditions Certified With the WTC Health Program Before You Can Register With the VCF?
No. You do not have to certify your conditions through the WTC Health Program to initially register with the VCF — the basic first step in the VCF process that helps ensure that you meet the VCF strict deadlines But in most cases, however, you do need to have certification of your illness by the WTCHP to complete the filing of your VCF claim.
In some cases, as a victim who suffered a severe diagnosis long after the 9/11 attacks, you may have chosen to pursue treatment on your own. You might not even have realized at first that your condition related to your 9/11 efforts until well after your initial diagnosis. A doctor might have eventually informed you about the possible correlation, or you may have discovered the possibility through your own research.
Even if your treatment is complete, you still need to have your condition certified by the WTC Health Program to pursue compensation through the VCF. You may also choose not to pursue certification through the WTC Health Program, especially if you have already received a full course of treatment for your disease and no longer need treatment for that illness.
While you need not necessarily have your condition or conditions certified with the WTC Health Program before registering (just the first step in the VCF process) with the VCF, having your conditions certified is necessary for the complete filing or submission of your claim to the VCF for a decision. Talk to an attorney to learn more.
Is There a Deadline for Filing With the VCF?
If you have already been diagnosed with a condition related to debris exposure after 9/11, and you have had your diagnosis certified through the WTC Health Program before July 29, 2019, you will need to register with the VCF before July 29, 2021, to file a claim. On the other hand, if you have not yet had your condition certified through the WTC Health Program, you have two (2) years from the date your condition is certified by the WTC Health Program to register with the VCF and until 2090 to complete and file a claim.
You will also need to register to file a claim with the VCF by July 29, 2021 if you plan to file on behalf of a loved one that you believed died of 9/11-related causes before July 29, 2019. If the death occurred after July 29, 2019, then the family has two (2) years from the date of death to register the deceased claim with the VCF.
What Must I Do to Get WTC Certified?
The WTC Health Program certification process involves three key steps. Working with an experienced 9/11 attorney throughout the process can help you fully understand the process, track down supporting documentation, and increase your odds of a swift approval. An experienced 9/11 attorney will also make sure that all of your paperwork is filled out correctly and that you have no missing details.
Step One: Determine Your Eligibility
To receive assistance through the WTC Health Program, you will need to prove your eligibility. If you do not fall under a covered group, including first responders, responders to the scene, or residents of New York, you cannot receive assistance through the program.
Step Two: Locate Supporting Documentation
You will need to provide supporting documentation to prove the impact that the 9/11 terrorist attacks and resulting recovery and cleanup have had on your health. The WTC Health Program notes that insufficient documentation and failure to fill out paperwork properly cause the greatest number of delays in the application process, leaving many people to struggle on their own. They may not know how to seek the treatment they need.
You may need to prove what type of activity you performed, including the support you offered; the address where you provided that support; and when you worked at each location, including the hours per day that you worked. An attorney can help you locate documentation to help prove your contributions, including the number of hours that you worked and, therefore, how many hours you faced exposure.
This documentation may include:
- Letters from your employer
- Police memo books
- Overtime reports
- Awards and letters
- Workers’ compensation reports that contain data about 9/11 activities
If you lived, worked, or went to school in lower Manhattan following the attacks, you may also need to provide proof. You will need to document your address, enrollment, or employment records from that time and show that you faced exposure to the dust cloud. These records will prove crucial in securing support through the WTC Health Program.
Don’t worry if you can’t find everything you need. Gather what you can, and call a September 11 lawyer for help compiling and submitting the rest of the required paperwork.
Step Three: Fill out Your Application
You will need to fill out your application accurately and honestly. Do not falsify any information on your application. Make sure it contains all relevant information and that you back up your data with supporting documentation as needed.
Applications for the WTC Health Program get processed on a first-come, first-serve basis. Sometimes, as during the COVID-19 crisis, those applications may get backed up. Ideally, you should work with an attorney to ensure your application’s accuracy, which may help streamline the approval process and get you the treatment that you need sooner rather than later.
What Does Registering With the VCF Entail?
The VCF helps provide much-needed compensation to victims of the 9/11 attacks: not just those who suffered immediate impact during the terrorist attacks themselves, but those who suffered severe physical diagnosis due to the aid they provided after the attacks, including mesothelioma, cancer, and respiratory or digestive diseases.
Some victims chose to pursue treatment on their own, rather than going through the WTC Health Program, because many may not have realized that their diagnosis related to the 9/11 attacks and the dust cloud exposure. Others may have received treatment through the WTC Health Program, but now face additional economic and non-economic losses related to their diagnoses.
For example, you might need compensation for wages lost due to your inability to work while dealing with your illness, or compensation for the pain and suffering associated with that diagnosis. Every 9/11 victim, including responders and construction workers who worked in the dust cloud, has a story to tell, and the VCF helps compensate those victims for their contributions to the recovery effort.
When you register with the VCF, you will establish your right to benefits through the VCF at a later date. This neither removes any of your current rights nor entitles you to compensation through the VCF. Registration simply begins the process in case you do develop a 9/11-related illness.
You do not have any obligation to file a claim in the future just because you registered with the VCF. You do, however, have to register with the VCF to meet any deadline to complete the filing of a claim at a future date. Talk to an attorney to learn more about registering and filing a claim, if needed.
Did You Face a Severe Diagnosis Due to Your Contributions After 9/11?
In the years since 9/11, many people have faced more serious health impacts due to their selfless contributions than they likely could initially have imagined back in 2001. If you have faced a serious diagnosis related to your contributions, you have the right to VCF benefits. An attorney can help you apply for them.
Contact an experienced 9/11 attorney today to learn more about your right to compensation through the VCF and how certification through the WTC Health Program can impact your claim.