Individuals who have suffered a 9/11-related cancer or other illness can seek compensation for the expenses and impacts of their illness through the federal September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF).
This fund offers compensation for pain and suffering plus any economic losses such as wage/income loss resulting from the claimant’s inability to work due to the illness and treatment. Once a detailed claim is submitted with all necessary evidence, affidavits, and other proofs, the claims process typically takes the VCF over a year to complete. During this time, many individuals want to check on the status of their VCF claim status during this time. For more information, please reach out to our lawyers.
How the VCF Claims Process Works
To obtain compensation through the VCF for the expenses and impacts of your 9/11-related illness, you must first register with the program by the deadline and then file your claim. Before finalizing an award decision, the claim will undergo two levels of review. Here is a look at the steps of the claims process.
Registering with the VCF
To file a VCF claim, you must first register with the program. The registration is a reservation to file your claim anytime before the program expires in October 2090.
While the 2090 deadline for filing a claim is fairly well known, the deadline for registering with the program is as follows:
- Those seeking compensation for their 9/11-related illness must register with the VCF within two years of the most recent certification of their 9/11-related medical condition.
- Family members seeking compensation after an individual has died from a 9/11-related medical condition must register with the program within two years from the date of death or the date if the deceased died of a condition that was certified by the WTC Health Program.
- IMPORTANT: If an individual or deceased was not enrolled in the WTC Health Program or did not have the 9/11 condition certified, then the registration and filing deadline is October 3, 2090.
The VCF encourages potential claimants exposed to the toxins associated with 9/11 to register for the program as soon as possible, even if they are not currently sick with a 9/11-related illness, to keep open the option of later filing a claim, if needed.
Applying for WTCHP Benefits
The World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP) is the federal program created by the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act that provides lifetime medical monitoring and healthcare for all 9/11 conditions, including cancer. Additionally, the program provides a process of certifying conditions as 9/11-related, which then satisfies the first part of the eligibility requirements for filing a VCF claim.
While the WTCHP and the VCF are two distinctly different programs, using the certification process of the WTCHP is essential for filing a VCF compensation claim. The WTC Health Program certification is how the VCF administrators know that a cancer or other illness is 9/11-related.
Filing Your Claim
When an individual who has registered with the VCF is ready to file a claim for the compensation, they can do so by uploading the required documentation and submitting the claim, along with the documentation, online. The VCF is strict in the requirements for a successful claim, including that the various affidavits and other supporting proofs are in the correct form and contain all the information specified in the VCF’s Regulations and its Policies and Procedures, otherwise the claim will be denied.
The VCF provides checklists the claimant can access to determine if they have submitted the documentation necessary for the program administrators to evaluate the claim correctly.
Having an attorney to navigate the claims process can save time and frustration. This is particularly true when gathering documents because they know what types of documentation are needed for your claim to be reviewed and have a legal team that can help draft affidavits, obtain the necessary other documents, and gather the necessary information as quickly as possible.
Typically, the VCF evaluates claims on a first-in, first-out basis. However, suppose the claimant is facing emergency circumstances, such as a terminal illness or extreme financial difficulty. In that case, the VCF can expedite the claim by written request of the claimant or their attorney, supported by proof that meets the VCF’s requirements.
VCF Initial Review
The claim will undergo an initial VCF review to account for all necessary documents. These documents include those required to prove the claimant’s presence at an eligible site, authorizing the VCF administrators to obtain information from the WTCHP, your employers, and other third parties needed to validate the claim, and information about your certified condition.
If the VCF administrators discover that some of your documents are missing during the initial review, they will notify you or your attorney of the missing information. The claim will go inactive until you provide the missing documents. Failing to provide the missing documents within 60 days can result in the VCF denying your claim.
VCF Award Decision
When the VCF receives and verifies all of the documentation necessary for the substantive review, it will notify the claimant and their attorney of their eligibility decision.
If the claim is eligible for compensation, it will move to the next phase of the process, which is a review of the compensation requested. If the VCF denies eligibility, it will notify the claimant and provide information about how to appeal the decision. You can file an appeal within 30 days of the date of the eligibility determination letter.
The compensation review for eligible claims evaluates the expenses and impacts of the illness claimed. If the claimant seeks compensation for income lost from the injury, the VCF administrators will likely verify employer information about pensions or other disability programs available for the claimant, review Social Security earnings records, and then determine their income history and calculate the economic loss.
After the VCF Special Master has reviewed the compensation requested through the claim, they will decide on a compensatory award for the claimant. This involves determining the amount of “pain and suffering” damages the claimant is eligible to receive based upon the seriousness of their medical condition as certified by the WTC Health Program.
Cancer claims generally result in a higher level of compensation than claims involving non-cancerous conditions. If the claimant seeks economic losses such as past and future loss of earnings due to the illness, the VCF will consider applicable income information.
Finally, the VCF will deduct any collateral offsets from any economic damages award—such as benefits from other programs, pension funds, life insurance, or workers’ compensation—from the award amount, and notify the claimant of the compensation awarded.
Adding New Conditions to Your Claim
It is not unusual for 9/11 responders and survivors to become ill with multiple eligible conditions. If an individual was already approved for compensation of one certified condition and they later obtain certification of a new 9/11-related condition, they can submit a claim for the new condition by filing an amendment.
The VCF will evaluate the new condition and determine if the claimant is entitled to an award of additional compensation. The VCF does not base its awards on how many 9/11-related conditions the claimant suffers from but on the severity of each condition. Also, a new condition does not always mean additional compensation.
If the collateral offsets (assistance from other programs) that the claimant receives are more than the new loss they are claiming, they will probably not receive additional compensation. The economic calculations can be complex and the VCF does not share its financial models, so it’s best to check with a VCF attorney who is experienced with submitting economic loss claims.
Checking Your Claim Status
The VCF tries to limit the disruption to claimants’ lives by submitting questions they have to the claimant’s attorney or seeking needed information from third parties, such as the claimant’s employer. After an award decision, the VCF notifies the claimant and their attorney. However, it is understandable that claimants often want to know where their claim is in the review process.
There are three ways of checking the status of your claim, including:
- Log into your VCF account.
- Call the VCF helpline. The helpline is also available for those who have lost their claim number and cannot access their online account information.
- Ask your attorney, who assisted you with submitting your claim and associated documentation.
Calling the VCF Help Line
If you have any questions about your claim or want to know its status, you can also obtain information by calling the VCF Helpline at 1-855-885-1555. If you have the claim number, this information can help speed up the process of checking the status by telephone. However, the helpline can also assist you in obtaining this number.
Asking Your Attorney to Check Your Status
If you have obtained an attorney to assist you with your claim, one of the best ways to check on your claim’s status is simply by asking them. They know what information and documentation they submitted for you and when, and requests from VCF administrators often go directly to your attorney. Essentially, they know what recommendations the VCF made and whether the needed information will delay your claim.
Other Services an Attorney Can Provide to Assist You With Your Claim
Obtaining compensation for your 9/11-related illness through the VCF can be overwhelming. Extensive documentation is needed to prove your presence at a 9/11 terror attack site within the eligible periods and to link the medical condition you are suffering from to your exposure to 9/11 toxins. An experienced 9/11 benefits lawyer can do more than check your claim’s status.
They can also:
- Assist with the World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP) application process.
- Register with the VCF and file a claim for you.
- Gather the necessary documentation to prove presence at a 9/11-related site and show a link between that exposure and the illness you suffer from.
- Appeal a VCF award decision and appear for your at the Department of Justice hearing
- Examine other federal, state, and local benefits programs from which you can also receive assistance, including Social Security Disability benefits. While participating in some programs will reduce the amount of compensation available through the VCF, an attorney with an understanding of how collateral offsets can impact the value of a claim can review your options to determine a strategy that provides you with the best lineup of benefits.
If you suffer from a 9/11-related illness and need more information about obtaining benefits from the federal 9/11 programs, contact a 9/11 benefits attorney for a free case evaluation.