Many individuals who obtain compensation from the VCF, or health benefits from the WTC Health Program for medical conditions caused by exposure to the toxins present at the 9/11 terrorist attack sites, including Downton Manhattan and, at the Pentagon, also receive benefits from other disability programs such as Social Security Disability, workers’ compensation, short- or long-term disability insurance, or a disability pension. 9/11 claimants often don’t know how these programs work together or even whether you can receive benefits from more than one program.
Yes, you can receive an award from the VCF plus disability benefits from other programs. However, disability or other benefits may reduce the amount of compensation that you receive from the VCF if you receive disability benefits for your 9/11 condition. The federal law instituting the VCF requires that it offset the compensation you receive for your 9/11-related medical condition from your award.
Benefits you receive from other organizations for other disabling conditions that are different from your 9/1-certified cancer or other condition will not reduce the amount of compensation you receive from the VCF for your eligible condition.
An experienced 9/11 attorney can analyze the benefits that the client deserves, advise you how these programs work together, and provide the best solution for ensuring the maximum amount of your VCF award.
Types of Disability Programs Available to 9/11 Victims
In the years since the September 11 terrorist attacks, many individuals have acquired cancers and other disabling illnesses because of exposure to the toxins in the area near the attack sites. You may have different options to obtain benefits for losses related to these illnesses, though not all of the programs are consistent. Here is an overview of each.
The WTC Health Program
The WTC Health Program provides medical treatment and monitoring for individuals with an eligible 9/11-related condition. The Health Program’s designated treatment Centers of Clinical Excellence provide medical treatments. The program provides a one-time initial health evaluation for eligible applicants, annual screenings for members, plus lifetime treatment for eligible conditions and coverage of associated prescriptions from program-affiliated pharmacies.
The WTC Health Program also certifies conditions, which most claimants seeking compensation for the expenses and impacts of their injury through the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund need.
The September 11 Victim Compensation Fund (VCF)
The VCF provides compensation for the expenses and physical impacts of a 9/11-related medical condition. To obtain these benefits, claimants must first register with the VCF online within two years after the last date listed on the WTC Health Program certification of an eligible condition, or—if filing a deceased claim—within two years after the deceased’s 9/11-related medical condition was certified by the WTC Health Program. If the claimant was never in the WTC Health Program or the deceased’s condition was never certified by the Heath Program before the passing, then the deadline is extended to the year 2090. Please also remember that the simple registration also reserves the right for a claim to be filed any time before October 1, 2090.
The VCF generally uses the WTC Health Program certification to determine medical eligibility for the program and to make an award for pain and suffering. The VCF relies heavily on the findings of the Social Security Administration’s approval to prove disability from employment to make an award for lost wages.
Social Security Disability Insurance
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) replaces income for individuals who cannot perform any substantial gainful activity because of a disabling condition. These benefits are generally contingent on how many years the claimant paid into the Social Security system through the payment of Social Security taxes through on-the-job income. The Social Security Administration has allotted funds to provide retirement benefits, disability benefits, and other benefits to the victims of 9/11.
For individuals filing a deceased claim who have received the $255 death benefit for family members from the Social Security Administration, the VCF will reduce a deceased claim award by that amount.
Benefits received through a workers’ compensation policy for medical coverage and wage replacement will often result in a VCF offset of lost earnings only. While some workers’ compensation laws in various states or even in foreign countries allow the insurance carrier of the workers’ comp policy to insert a lien against awards in typical cases, awards issued by the VCF are generally free of any liens.
The VCF will generally offset or reduce the lost wages part of a VCF award by amounts paid workers’ compensation payments for wage replacement. The VCF will not reduce the non-economic loss award (pain and suffering) by any workers’ compensation benefits.
Department of Veterans Affairs Benefits
Individuals who receive disability benefits for a service-connected disability and qualify for a VCF claim related to exposure to toxins in New York City or at the plane crash site at the Pentagon, may not need to offset either payment unless the disability for which the VA provides compensation directly relates to the 9/11 eligible illness.
This is, however, more of a concern with workers at the Pentagon who contracted a 9/11-related illness and were military personnel or employees during the attack. For these claimants, the VCF award will offset the VA disability payments. The VCF will make an award for the difference between the full pay of the claimant before he or she was disabled and the lesser amount if VA benefits that were or are being paid.
Life insurance benefits paid to a claimant filing a deceased claim are generally offset from the claimant’s VCF claim from all damage claim categories, including non-economic losses, economic losses, burial expenses, and replacement losses. However, the VCF Special Master has the discretion to exclude life insurance benefits from VCF offset consideration if the proceeds went to someone other than the VCF claimant.
Additionally, the Special Master can also adjust the offsets to exclude premiums or assets that the victim accumulated through self-contributions into a life insurance program to build up a tax-deferred cash value.
WTC Volunteer Fund, from the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board
Generally, these individuals don’t qualify for workers’ compensation benefits as these benefits only cover paid employees. However, after the terrorist attacks, New York amended its Workers’ Compensation Law to provide access to benefits for certain volunteers who participated in the rescue, recovery, and cleanup activities at Ground Zero.
The federal government initially paid for this program through a Congressional appropriation, the funds were exhausted in 2016, at which point the state took over funding the program. The state lawmakers included a provision that if the funds were again exhausted, 9/11 volunteer claimants could seek compensation through the Uninsured Employers Fund. This fund consists of the fines levied against businesses in New York that failed to follow the state’s workers’ compensation requirements.
Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB)
If PSOB pays a benefit to a 9/11 victim, the VCF offsets the amount. The VCF has an arrangement with PSOB to exchange information regarding the status of any claim, the amount of any award determination and payment, and the basis of the award determination.
Individuals who participated in the World Trade Center rescue, recovery, or cleanup operations at any time within the first 48 hours after the terrorist attack or worked at least 40 hours within the first year after the attacks and have suffered a qualifying 9/11-related medical condition have until September 11, 2022, to apply for 9/11 disability benefits from New York’s World Trade Center Presumption Law.
To receive disability benefits through this program, you must prove your presence in the affected area and a presumptive condition.
Most pension plans provide wage replacement, and the amount of lost earnings the individual has received through a WTC disability pension, either NYCLERS or NYSLERS, reduces only the lost wages part of the VCF award.
If you received payments from a 9/11-related lawsuit settlement or an award from the original VCF program, your VCF award will offset the compensation you received from these sources, including the amount that you paid your lawsuit attorney.
What Happens if You Receive Disability Payments After Filing a VCF Claim?
The VCF requires that anyone who submitted a claim and then later receives benefits from another program, known as collateral sources of payment, inform them of this collateral source of payment. This includes both individuals with pending VCF claims, as well as those who received compensation.
You must inform the VCF if:
- You have received or have become entitled to receive payment from a new collateral source since filing your claim with the VCF.
- There has been an increase in payments you receive from a collateral source since filing your claim with the VCF.
- There has been a decrease in payments you receive from a collateral source since filing your claim.
If you already received an award determination on your claim, you have 90 days to inform the VCF that you qualified for a new or revised collateral source of payment. If you fail to provide this information within 90 days, the VCF may adjust your determined or paid award to reflect the new or revised payment as an offset, which can result in a lower award.
If you would like the VCF to review your award because of a change in collateral source payments—such as benefits that offset your VCF award are now less than before—you must complete and upload the collateral payments form as well as submitting an amendment. If you only want to report the receipt of new collateral source payments, you should simply upload the completed form without filing an amendment to your claim.
An Attorney Can Help You Obtain Benefits for Your 9/11-Related Disability
Helping 9/11 victims, responders, and survivors to obtain the compensation they need to survive and thrive in the face of debilitating illnesses is the focus of 9/11 benefits attorneys. An attorney can discuss benefits with you, including an overview of the benefits you are already receiving, programs providing benefits that you are eligible for, and how those benefits can work together to provide a safety net as you focus on your health.
They often provide other services, including assistance filing VCF claims, or applying for SSD benefits or healthcare benefits through the WTC Health Program.