Nearly 3,000 people died in the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. In the days, weeks, and months that followed, thousands of first responders and volunteers worked tirelessly on the rescue, recovery, and cleanup operations at Ground Zero in New York City, and tens of thousands of individuals lived, worked, or attended school in the area. This post will discuss compensation for families of deceased 9/11 victims.
Many of these workers or survivors still don’t realize that they were vulnerable to respiratory illnesses, cancers, and other potentially fatal conditions from the toxic pollution lingering in the air. This pollution risk caused the “second wave” of casualties from the terror attack, and individuals are still diagnosed, treated, and die from exposure to this pollution.
If your loved one was exposed to the toxic dust in the New York City ground zero area and was later diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, you can seek compensation for your loss through the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF).
What Is the VCF?
Congress created the VCF following the 9/11 terror attacks to compensate those most impacted by the attacks, including first responders, those directly injured, or those whose loved ones died. This fund was available until 2004.
In 2011, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act reinstated the fund with new eligibility criteria, filing deadlines, and funding. This Act created a list of covered conditions. The VCF partnered with another federal 9/11 benefits program—the World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP)—to use their certification process to determine if an illness is 9/11-related.
The Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund was signed into law in 2019 after years of projected funding shortfalls and intermittent program reauthorization to reach those just beginning to become ill or develop a 9/11-related condition.
This law extends the claim filing deadline for the VCF until 2090 and appropriates the funds necessary to compensate future valid claims.
The VCF reported that 2021 provided an all-time high of new registrations, with nearly 1,000 new claims submitted every month. The VCF issued 10,000 award letters within a year and nearly $1.5 billion in VCF awards. Overall, the VCF awarded $9.3 billion. The program’s administrators receive over 1,000 calls a week for assistance or information about the program and accept claims from every state, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Island, and claimants living abroad.
The Types of Illnesses Covered by the VCF
The VCF covers medical conditions incurred from exposure to the physical hazards and environmental toxins at Ground Zero, other 9/11 attack sites, and the New York City disaster area (south of Canal Street in Manhattan).
Some conditions that qualify for compensation from the program include:
- Acute and traumatic injuries, such as burns, eye injuries, or head trauma
- Airway and digestive disorders, including asthma, chronic cough syndrome, interstitial lung disease, and new-onset and WTC-exacerbated chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Cancers of the uterus, blood, breast, digestive system including colon and rectum, eye and orbit, ovary, head and neck, prostate, mesothelioma, respiratory system, skin, soft and connective tissue, thyroid and urinary system including kidneys and bladder.
Other Eligibility Factors for VCF Deceased Claims
Additional eligibility criteria for obtaining compensation through a VCF deceased claim include:
- Proof of authority to act as the deceased person’s personal representative.
- Proof that the deceased or their family members were not part of an active 9/11-related lawsuit when they filed the claim.
- A standard death certificate for the deceased listing a 9/11-related condition as either the immediate cause of death, the underlying cause of death, or a significant contributor to death; or medical evidence showing that the condition likely caused or contributed to the death.
- Proof of the deceased’s presence at a 9/11 attack site on the day of the attack or (for Ground Zero claimants) in the following months of rescue, recovery, and cleanup operations. Documentation includes employment records, school or daycare records, proof of address in the exposure area, or witness statements.
Any new condition added to the list of covered conditions will trigger a new two-year filing period wherein individuals diagnosed with that condition or the family members of those who passed away from that condition can register to file a claim. Claims can be filed online or by mailing a hard copy of a completed claim form with associated documentation.
What Type of Compensation Does a VCF Deceased Claim Provide?
If a victim started or submitted a claim and then passed away, the next steps on the claim will depend on: (1) whether the victim died of causes related to their 9/11-related eligible condition or died of unrelated causes; and (2) the status of the claim at the time the VCF is notified of the death.
Claimants seeking compensation through the VCF through a deceased claim can seek two types of compensation: economic damages, which is compensation for the financial expenses, and non-economic damages, which pay for the effects of the loss on the lives of the loved ones they left behind.
The VCF uses a consumption factor when determining the amount of economic loss a household has suffered due to the death. The VCF will calculate the deceased’s contribution to future household expenditures. If the victim became disabled before death due to an ineligible condition (not related to 9/11 toxic exposure), the earnings portion of the claim decreases to reflect that a portion of the deceased’s earnings attributed to the disability.
The VCF also includes reimbursement of the out-of-pocket expenses family members paid for a funeral and burial or cremation if evidence shows that the death resulted from a 9/11-related medical condition.
The VCF also compensates for 9/11-related effects on the deceased’s quality of life and the family’s psychological loss. These awards include presumptive amounts of $250,000 for the decedent and an additional $100,000 for the spouse and each dependent. The personal representative must distribute compensation among the dependents following intestate succession laws where they reside.
How to Seek Compensation Through a VCF Deceased Claim
If you seek compensation for the expenses and effects of your loved one’s death through the VCF, you must first seek designation as the deceased’s personal representative. You must then fill out and sign all required forms and submit them along with documentation for review.
The claim you file depends on your loved one’s death circumstances.
- If the deceased individual filed a personal injury claim with the VCF before their death, and the death was unrelated to a 9/11 illness, you can file an amendment to the claim.
- If the victim died after receiving a VCF payment, fund administrators will determine if any additional compensation is available for a deceased claim by calculating the victim’s losses and deducting the amount that was already paid.
- If there was no payment for the claim before death, payment on that claim stops, and the VCF notifies you of the steps you need to take.
- If the deceased individual’s cause of death is likely 9/11-related and they had not yet filed a VCF claim, the personal representative can file a new deceased claim.
The Deadline for Filing Your Claim
Individuals who wish to file a deceased claim with the VCF must register with the program by the registration deadline. Registering is not the same as filing a claim but rather reserves your right to file the claim. If the deceased victim registered with the VCF by the applicable deadline, the VCF determines that the deceased completed a timely registration.
If the victim did not register to file a claim before their death, a personal representative of their estate may register within two years of the later of these two occurrences:
- The date of death, OR
- The date the VCF determined that the death was 9/11-related.
Once the prospective claimant registers with the VCF, they can file a claim at any time before the program closes in 2090.
The Review Process
Although applicants can claim extreme hardship exceptions, the VCF reviews most claims on a first-in, first-out basis.
The steps of the process follow:
- The victim files the claim and the VCF confirms receipt.
- Administrators perform a preliminary review to ensure it includes all required documentation. If there is missing information, the VCS informs the claimant and places their claim in inactive status until the missing information comes through.
- The fund administrators evaluate the information to determine if the claimant is eligible for an award. The administrators check if the claimant registered before the deadline, confirm that the victim’s medical condition is on the list of covered conditions, and verify the victim’s presence at a 9/11 terror attack site for the prescribed amount of time during the periods of high exposure.
- Once the VCF reviews the claim, the administrators determine whether to award the claim. If the VCF compensates the claim, it determines the award amount. The program informs the claimant of their decision and, if the VCF denies their claim, provides them with appeal information.
- The VCF calculates each award individually. The compensation review includes non-economic damages (often referred to as pain and suffering awards) and verification of economic loss related to the 9/11 condition, including past and future loss of earnings. Compensation review also requires the administrators to consider any collateral offsets, which involve compensation from other programs such as pension funds, Social Security Disability, workers’ compensation, or settlements or awards from 9/11-related lawsuits.
- After the VCA informs the claimant of their award status, the victim has 30-days to appeal the decision. Once this period passes, payment authorizes within 20 days.
- What a 9/11 Lawyer Can Do to Help You With Your Claim
While the VCF is an important program for the family members of those killed from a 9/11-related illness, the process of filing a claim is overwhelming.
An experienced 9/11 benefits attorney understands the process and can:
- Register you with the VCF and file a claim.
- Procure the documentation needed to prove the deceased’s cause of death from a 9/11-related condition and proof of presence at a 9/11 attack site.
- Request an expedited review of your claim if you face extreme hardship.
- Appeal the award decision if you deserved more than you received.
Let Hansen & Rosasco, LLP Help You With Your Claim
An experienced 9/11 attorney can help you with the VCF claims process.
Some of the services an attorney can provide include:
- Guidance and information about the process of obtaining compensation through a VCF wrongful death claim.
- Registering with VCF and obtaining the documentation that is needed for a substantive review of your claim, including the preparation of the required affidavits and other proof.
- Knowledge as to the full amount of damages you are allowed to claim through VCF.
- Coordination of your VCF claim and benefits that you are receiving through other federal, state, or private agencies.
- Representing you or your family before the Department of Justice to ensure that the VCF makes the maximum award for your claim.
- Representing you or your family with the appeals process if you are not satisfied with the decision that was made about your claim.
- Assistance in collecting the compensation award you receive.
Let the experienced 9/11 attorneys at Hansen and Rosasco, LLP provide you with the answers you need regarding how to obtain compensation following the loss of a loved one due to a 9/11 illness or injury.
Our founder partners and experienced staff have been assisting the families of 9/11 victims in receiving the help they need for years, and offer extensive knowledge of the Zadroga Act, as well as the claims and appeals process.