Parker Waichman LLP, a national law firm that has spent many years fighting to ensure that the heroes and survivors of the 9/11 terrorist attacks are never forgotten, comments on recent news involving benefits for these rescue workers and survivors. According to an April 15, 2016 announcement by the fund’s Special Master, Sheila Birnbaum, the recent status of the Victims Compensation Fund (VCF) has been released.
Parker Waichman notes that, following approval of the $8.1 billion measure to renew the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, President Obama signed the bill into law on December 18, 2015, reauthorizing the Act. The Act includes the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program and the VCF. The WTC Health Program provides medical treatment and monitoring and is extended for another 75 years to 2090 with $3.5 billion in funding to monitor and care for 73,000 responders and survivors. The VCF was set to expire October 1, 2016 and is extended for another five years to 2021 with $4.6 billion in funding.
The new law directs the VCF to issue full compensation to claimants with Group A Claims— those nearly 10,0000 claims for which a loss determination was made on or before December 17, 2015—which will be followed by payment Group B claims, the firm explains.
The Special Master’s report reveals the progress made since the VCF was reauthorized in December 2015. Special Master Birnbaum reiterated that, “our most important priority at this time is paying all Group A claims in full as quickly as practicable.” She also announced that, as of March 31, 2016, the VCF has authorized 3,624 claims to be paid in full, for a total of over $716 million and the program is scheduled to meet its published timeline for completing these payments; the VCF program will continue its direct work with claimants and their representatives to handle issues that may prevent claim payment.
“We are thrilled that the VCF is expediting payments to those individuals who already received their award letter and applaud the VCF for looking for ways to make the process even more efficient to benefit the remaining claimants,” said Mathew McCauley, Senior Litigation counsel at Parker Waichman.
In the meantime, the VCF was advised that the Department of Justice’s (DOJ’s) financial management system will be shut down from April 18 to April 26, 2016 to move the system to a new data center. The outage will not affect the VCF’s payment authorization and processing, but will temporarily delay Treasury Department payment issuance. The VCF is working closely with the DOJ’s budget office to ensure the temporary outage does not affect the VCF’s overall schedule for issuing Group A payments, according to the Special Master’s report.
The VCF has also drafted the updated regulations to reflect the new law and began the government review process mandated before posting for public comment. Final regulations will be effective no later than June 15, 2016. The VCF will also continue its review of Group B claims submitted prior to the reauthorization; to date, review of over 560 compensation claims has been completed. The Special Master reiterated that determinations may not be rendered until updated regulations are published; however, the process of sending “Group B Complete” letters to claimants to inform them that their claim has been reviewed has begun. The VCF has also revised its internal procedures to accommodate the reauthorization requirements and is working to make the process generally more efficient. The claim form has also been revised to reduce the amount of questions and better target needed claimant information for processing. The notice of the new claim form was published April 8, 2016 in the Federal Register; comments will be accepted until May 9, 2016. More staff is being recruited for Group B claims processing now that the VCF is halfway through the 9,131 Group A payments. The expanded team is expected to be in place by summer 2016.
To allow potential claimants to meet Zadroga Act deadlines—regardless of if they may ultimately file a claim—the VCF continues to enable individuals to “register” with the Fund, preserving the right to file a claim any time before the VCF closes submissions on December 18, 2020. The Special Master also notes that the VCF has allowed individuals to file an “Interim Registration.” Updated VCF program statistics through end-of-day March 31, 2016 have also been published and, as of this report, 67,295 registrations have been filed with the VCF
Parker Waichman notes that responders and survivors were exposed to many hazardous substances—asbestos, pulverized cement, and other toxins and chemicals—which have been tied to serious, life-altering conditions, including asthma, obstructive pulmonary disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and over 50 types of cancer. At least 4,166 cancer diagnoses have been linked to exposure to the toxic cloud that hovered over Manhattan’s attack site and that number is expected to increase.
“These individuals selflessly answered the call for help during and following the attacks and survivors may not know they have a developed condition as a result of the attacks,” says Mr. McCauley. “These individuals now know that these benefits will remain open for them and their families.”
Parker Waichman vows to continue its efforts to safeguard these heroes and ensure that they receive their deserved Zadroga Act compensation. Please visit Parker Waichman’s website or call 1-800-LAW-INFO (1-800-529-4636) for additional information and assistance.