Many victims of the 9/11 attacks and volunteers in the subsequent clean-up efforts face health problems as a result of exposure to toxic dust and materials at the attack sites, including breathing or digestive condition or, in many cases, cancer
The federal government has created two principal programs to provide financial assistance and medical care to those individuals: the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program and the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund (VCF).
Although the two are related, the WTC Health Program is not the same or part of the VCF. They are two separate government programs that offer distinct benefits and services to 9/11 victims, responders, workers, and volunteers.
What Does the WTC Health Program Do?
The WTC Health Program provides medical care for individuals who suffer from health conditions acquired in connection with the 9/11 attacks. The Program’s services start with monitoring the health of at-risk individuals who were potentially exposed to toxic dust, materials, and debris during the attacks and in the subsequent clean-up efforts. Participants in the Program receive ongoing testing and evaluation to track any one of a variety of health conditions associated with 9/11 toxic exposure.
For individuals who receive a diagnosis of a 9/11-related health condition, the WTC Health Program also offers treatment for those ailments free of charge. To qualify for this treatment, victims must have a covered condition, such as cancer or respiratory ailment linked to exposure to dust and debris at an attack site.
Individuals with covered conditions can receive treatment at designated hospitals and clinics that participate in the Program. This ensures that individuals with 9/11-related health conditions receive high-quality treatment from medical providers who have years of experience dealing with conditions linked to the terrorist attacks.
The WTC Health Program provides a variety of treatment options for its members. Individuals with covered conditions, including those who only developed symptoms years later, can seek care that may include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, among others. The program also provides mental health care, if needed.
The WTC Health Program also works to educate victims of the 9/11 attacks who face, or may eventually face, 9/11-related health diagnoses about the symptoms, prognosis, and treatments for the wide range of covered conditions.
What Benefits Does the VCF Offer?
The VCF provides financial compensation for individuals who suffered injuries, health complications, and losses in connection with the 9/11 terrorist attack and its aftermath. VCF benefits include:
Medical Expenses Not Paid-For by the WTC Health Program
Individuals who obtain medical treatment for a covered condition through the WTC Health Program do not have to pay for those services. However, sometimes they may not have the ability to pursue treatment through the WTC Health Program, or may choose to seek treatment from a healthcare provider who does not participate in it. In those cases, individuals may apply to the VCF for compensation to pay for their 9/11-related medical care.
Lost Wages Due to 9/11-Related Health Conditions
Individuals diagnosed with 9/11-related health conditions, such as cancers and respiratory ailments, may temporarily or permanently lose the ability to work. Paid sick time or disability payments can reduce the financial impact of leaving work due to a health condition. Employers may also have a legal obligation to work with their employees to accommodate their health-related disabilities. In many cases, however, people with cancer or other severe illness lose wages (and benefits).
Nevertheless, many individuals with 9/11-related health conditions still encounter severe financial hardship. Disability payments do not replace all of a worker’s income, and there are limits to how far an employer must go to accommodate an employee’s debilitating health condition. Not only can these health conditions cut-off a person’s income, they can also add new expenses to their lives in the form of travel costs or hiring extra help to manage their lives.
The VCF offers compensation that can help replace some of the wages and income these individuals lose.
The VCF recognizes that 9/11 diagnoses also take a heavy toll on victims’ lives and relationships. Those non-economic losses include loss of enjoyment of life, strain on personal relationships, and the inability to participate in activities. The VCF assigns specific payment amounts to those non-economic losses based on the nature and severity of an individual’s physical diagnosis.
So, to summarize, the WTC Health Program provides ongoing treatment and assistance for covered illnesses and diagnoses. The VCF, in contrast, aims to provide financial compensation for other economic and non-economic losses suffered by individuals directly affected by the 9/11 attacks.
Do I Have to Apply for WTC Health Program Aid and the VCF Separately?
Yes. Applying to participate in the WTC Health Program is a separate process from registering and applying for VCF benefits. These two programs are governed by hundreds of pages of legal rules and requirements, but an experienced September 11 benefits lawyer will be able to navigate this federal process.
Applying for Assistance Through the WTC Health Program
Many individuals choose to start exploring their 9/11-related assistance options by registering with the WTC Health Program.
You have the right to apply for assistance through the WTC Health Program if you were:
- An FDNY responder at the World Trade Center sites;
- A WTC general responder who worked or volunteered in connection with the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks;
- A WTC survivor (anyone who lived, worked, or went to school in NYC Disaster Area) between 9/11 and July 31, 2002; or
- A Pentagon/Shanksville responder.
The primary requirement for participating in the WTC Health Program is belonging to one of the four groups above, all of whom have the potential to have suffered or develop 9/11-related injuries and health conditions. Proving your membership in one of those groups entitles you to be evaluated and monitored for 9/11-related illnesses by the Program, and to treatment for any injuries illness already diagnosed or diagnosed or in the future.
Applying to participate in the WTC Health Program involves submitting an application and supporting documentation (including multiple affidavits) showing that you are in one of the covered groups and can demonstrate actual or potential injury or exposure to toxic materials related to 9/11. Upon approval of an application, you will receive a medical evaluation and ongoing monitoring and covered treatment.
If you have, or eventually receive, a diagnosis of a covered condition linked to 9/11, then the WTC Health Program will provide you free medical treatment for it.
The Program will also “certify” your condition. This certification can help you separately obtain financial compensation benefits from the VCF — it establishes the link between your exposure to the toxins in 2001/02 and a disease or cancer that was later diagnosed. WTCHP certification alone, however, does not guarantee that you will receive VCF benefits.
The WTC Health Program may deny applicants due to a lack of evidence supporting their application. The Program may also suspend an application if it does not receive adequate information and/or documentation in connection with the application.
Seeking VCF Benefits Part 1: Registering With the VCF
To apply for financial compensation from the VCF, you must first register on the VCF website (whis is separate and addition to registration with the WTC Health Program). Registering with the VCF is not the same as filing a VCF benefits claim. It is a preliminary step that you must take before you can file a claim for VCF benefits.
Follow the instructions provided on the site linked above to register.
You must register before the registration deadline to receive compensation through the VCF.
Two deadlines are in effect:
- For anyone who received a diagnosis of a 9/11-related medical condition at any point on or before June 29, 2019, the deadline to register with the VCF is June 29, 2021. No matter how long ago you received your 9/11-related diagnosis, you can still register with the VCF until June 29, 2021. Do not miss this important deadline if it applies to you.
- If you received a diagnosis after June 29, 2019, then you have two years from the date of your diagnosis to register with the VCF. The June 29, 2021 deadline does not apply to you, but you must register within two years of getting diagnosed.
If you fail to meet your VCF registration deadline, you risk losing your right to claim VCF benefits. Contact an experienced 9/11 benefits attorney today if you have any questions about how to comply with the VCF registration deadline applicable to you.
Seeking VCF Benefits Part 2: Filing a VCF Benefits Claim
By registering with the VCF, you preserve your right to file a claim with the VCF at any time until October 1, 2090.
A successful claim for VCF financial compensation benefits requires, among other things, presenting evidence of a 9/11-related injury or health condition. If you receive treatment through the WTC Health Program, the WTC Health Program will issue basic information about your diagnosis directly to the VCF. This information includes only your primary diagnosis: the name of your condition, what category of 9/11-related conditions it falls under, and the medical code for your diagnosis.
The ability of the WTC Health Program to monitor you for, diagnose, and certify a covered condition to the VCF constitutes an important reason to participate in the WTC Health Program.
You typically do not need to submit your full medical records to file a VCF claim. However, the VCF may ask you to supply additional documentation concerning your diagnosis, including information about the extent of your suffering or the treatment you faced as a result of that diagnosis.
VCF benefits claimants can improve their chances of making a successful claim by speaking with an experienced 9/11 benefits attorney about the records the VCF may need to evaluate and approve a claim, and by working with an attorney to compile and submit a fully-documented claim. An attorney can also assist with pursuing the claim once it is filed, and in appealing or challenging any adverse decision from the VCF.
If I Did Not Register with the WTC Health Program, Can I Still Receive Compensation Through the VCF?
Yes, but it may make the VCF claim process a little more complicated. An experienced 9/11 VCF claims attorney can help to make sure you get the benefits you deserve.
Individuals who receive medical care through the WTC Health Program can prove their 9/11-related health condition to the VCF by showing that the Program has certified it. The VCF will generally accept the certification from the WTC Health Program as reliable, conclusive evidence of your condition (although it will often still request additional health information in certain cases).
Individuals who do not participate in the WTC Health Program—such as those who do not realize they’re eligible, or who chose different medical providers for some reason—will nevertheless need to obtain a Program certification of their health condition to receive VCF benefits. This may require submitting extra documentation to the WTC Health Program and VCF, separately. An experienced 9/11 VCF claims attorney can help you navigate the certification process to show the VCF your entitlement to financial benefits.
Does Using the WTC Health Program Automatically Entitle Me to Compensation Through the VCF?
No. They are separate programs.
As discussed above, receiving treatment for a 9/11-related injury or illness through the WTC Health Program can make it easier to establish your VCF benefits claim, because the WTC Health Program will have certified your condition already.
However, receiving treatment through the WTC Health Program does not automatically entitle you to compensation through the VCF.
Even if you participate in the WTC Health Program, to get VCF benefits you must:
- Register with the VCF before your deadline expires; and
- Prepare and file a claim for VCF benefits which proves, among other things, that you have a certified covered health condition.
Talk to an attorney to learn more about your right to VCF compensation, including how much you should expect.
If you have faced a severe diagnosis, including a cancer diagnosis or the diagnosis of a respiratory ailment, connected to the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath, then you may have the right to receive significant assistance and financial compensation through the WTC Health Program and/or the VCF. Contact an experienced 9/11 attorney as soon as possible to learn more about your rights.