Chief Leader - June 22, 2016by SARAH DORSEY
More than $1.5 billion in compensation funds has been distributed since 2011 to victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the U.S. Justice Department announced June 15.
Since the Victim Compensation Fund was reopened five years ago, Special Master Sheila Birnbaum has approved final payments for 8,930 claimants.
Stems From ‘Zadroga’
Congress authorized the fund in December 2010 as part of the James Zadroga Act. It pays out-of-pocket costs for residents, workers, visitors and volunteers physically harmed by the 9/11 attacks. That includes lost wages, unreimbursed medical care, and other expenses. The VCF does not reimburse for mental-health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder.
On Dec. 18, 2015, Congress reauthorized the Zadroga Act, extending the fund for another five years and $4.6 billion. It also extended the law’s free medical care for 75 years.
Nearly all the claimants whose losses were approved by then have had their final payments authorized, though about 200 claims remain. By the end of June, Ms. Birnbaum plans to resolve the issues preventing them from being paid.
Those whose losses were determined later will begin learning that their payments have been authorized in mid-August, Ms. Birnbaum hopes. VCF officials have already decided the eligibility of 2,500 such claimants.
Her office has created a new claim form for victims, designed to be easier to use. A sample can be found at www.vcf.gov, though it won’t be available to submit until the end of July. A new rule was also published in the Federal Register on June 15, explaining the regulations that will govern the fund in the coming years. Comments can be submitted for 30 days; information on claims, awards, regulations and other topics is available at 855-885-1555.
Caps Now in Place
Under the reauthorized Victim Compensation Fund, some caps have been placed on awards. The less-tangible effects of injuries, such as pain and suffering, disfigurement, and an inability to enjoy life, are capped at $250,000 for cancer patients and $90,000 for all others.
Awards for lost wages depend partly on a victim’s salary. Those with incomes over $200,000 are considered to make that amount for purposes of determining awards. People with the most-debilitating ailments are given priority when making payments.
“I realize no amount of money can alleviate the losses suffered on Sept. 11, 2001, but the 9/11 community is one of great resilience, and the men and women who are working so hard to process VCF claims are proud and privileged to work with all of you,” Ms. Birnbaum said in a statement.