911 Health Statement on Cuts to Compensation For Those Injured by 9/11 Due to Lack of Funding

STATEMENT FROM 911 HEALTH WATCH ON the VCF’s determination of Insufficiencny and the cuts in Compensation that are being imposed FOR THOSE INJURED BY 9/11 DUE TO LACK OF FUNDING

February 15th, 2019

Today’s announcement from the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Special Master, that there will be severe cuts to the pending compensation awards for injuries caused by the toxins at Ground Zero is terrible news for the 9/11 community.

These cuts of 50% in awards for pending cases and 70% percent for future cases is devasting to the thousands of injured 9/11 responders, survivors and their families who have been waiting for assistance for years and were expecting the help to finally arrive.

911 Health Watch Inc. understands that the Justice Department, which administers the VCF, has no choice in this matter. While it has made great strides in reducing the large backlog of claim determinations, under the current law, there is not enough funds to keep paying clams at current levels
The shortfall in funding to pay claims is the result of the dramatic increases in cancers and claims for both cancer and non-cancer conditions over what was estimated in 2015.

As the VCF explained “To date, the VCF has awarded $5 billion of its $7.375 billion appropriation on over 21,000 claims.  With just over $2 billion remaining, nearly 20,000 additional claims and amendments (19,285) remain pending for determination and thousands more are expected to be filed.”

These numbers show that the shortfall in funding from what is needed to fully pay compensation claims to injured, ill and deceased 9/11 responders, survivors and their families is Congress’s problem to solve. 
It is Congress’s responsibility to provide the VCF with all the funding needed to make sure that 9/11 responders and survivors get the help they need and deserve. 

The number of people coming forward with illnesses and cancers related to their exposure to toxins at Ground Zero grows every single day.  Every other day another 9/11 responder or survivor reportedly dies from a 9/11 related cancer.  The magnitude of the 9/11 cancer problem, though obvious today, was not entirely known in 2015 when the VCF reauthorization was funded. For some that have died from 9/11 illnesses, like those that do not have pensions and those that volunteered on 9/11 and answered the call, a VCF award is their family’s only financial support.

These are the facts today:

  • The more than 45,000 people who are in the World Trade Center Health program are suffering from at least one certified 9/11 condition caused by the toxins at Ground Zero, the Pentagon and Shanksville crash site; a large percentage have multiple conditions.
  • Chronic diseases like asthma, obstructive pulmonary disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and cancer continue to plague those who were exposed to the many toxins and carcinogens on 9/11 and in the weeks and months after.
  • Over 10,000 of those enrolled in the Health Program have been certified with a 9/11 related cancer, with more that are being diagnosed every day. Thousands more who have been diagnosed with cancer are only now joining the health program, so these numbers will increase dramatically.
  • 9/11 responders and survivors in the Health Program are in all 50 States and in 434 out of 435 Congressional Districts.

Congress must provide the funds needed by the VCF so that these cuts can be reversed—cuts that will impact the lives of those injured and still suffering, as well as the families of those that have died.
Remember, it was the Federal Government that said the air was safe to breathe.

It was also the Federal Government that refused for years to take responsibility, to do the research and respond to the health crisis that is facing so many.

We know that the sponsors of the “Never Forget the Heroes: Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act,”, Senators Gillibrand, Schumer and Gardner and Representatives Maloney, Nadler and King-along with their colleagues from both parties will be working to get Washington to respond.
Injured 9/11 responders, survivors and their families do not need speeches, they need action. “Remembering 9/11” should be more than a bumpersticker.

You can read the Special Masters message here on the VCF website or below.

Message from Special Master Rupa Bhattacharyya

February 15, 2019

Dear Friends,

Today, the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (“VCF” or “Fund”) publishes its Seventh Annual Status Report and the Third Annual Reassessment of Policies and Procedures (available here) required under the terms of the Reauthorized Zadroga Act, Pub. L. No. 114-113 (Dec. 18, 2015). As you will see in the report, 2018 was an incredibly productive year for the VCF. We ended the year having issued 8,619 compensation determinations, with initial or revised determinations on almost 7,000 claims, totaling almost $1.5 billion in awards, the largest amount of compensation awarded in a given year since the Fund’s inception. Also included in the report is a comprehensive review of the progress, improvements, and changes made throughout the year to increase productivity, enhance processes, and ultimately, enable the VCF to best serve the 9/11 community. I encourage you to read about the details of these many successes in the report, and I am very proud of the dedicated VCF team that works so hard to make these successes possible and to ensure that compensation is paid to those in need.

In this message, I want to focus on what I know is always most important to you – where is the VCF headed in the future? Unfortunately, the situation the VCF currently faces is a difficult one. As the report also details, the VCF received a record number of new claims in 2018, with a particularly significant increase in claim filings over the past four months (including January of 2019). For perspective, in the first five years of the Fund, through December 31, 2016, over 19,000 compensation forms were filed. In the two years after that, through December 31, 2018, almost 20,000 additional compensation forms were filed, with another 4,800 compensation forms filed just last month, in January 2019. There is no doubt that the dramatic increase in VCF claim filings over the last four months was due, in part, to the publication of the VCF’s Notice of Inquiry in October 2018, which likely prompted many individuals – who may have otherwise waited to submit their claims – to file them now. But the increase in VCF claim filings in 2018 was also due to a number of other factors, most notably the increased rates of serious illnesses suffered by members of the 9/11 community, the increasing number of deaths that can be attributed to 9/11 exposure, and the continued and important outreach efforts of the VCF, the World Trade Center Health Program, the 9/11 advocacy community, and the attorneys who represent 9/11 claimants, all in an attempt to reach potential claimants who might have been affected by the events of 9/11 and their aftermath.

As of the date of this message, the VCF has awarded nearly $5.0 billion in original and amended determinations on more than 21,000 claims. That leaves approximately $2.375 billion of the $7.375 billion appropriated funding available to compensate all pending and anticipated future claims filed through December 18, 2020, the VCF’s statutory end date, including the almost 20,000 claims and amendments that are currently pending an award determination, and the thousands of claims still expected to be filed.

As the law requires, I have conducted my annual reassessment of the VCF’s available funding in light of the claims already filed and those reasonably projected to be filed in the future. That analysis is explained in detail in Section 9 of the report. Given the funding already expended, and the increases in claim volumes, I have determined that there is insufficient funding remaining in the Fund to pay all current and projected claims at the same levels as under current policies and procedures. Accordingly, as the law requires, I am modifying VCF policies and procedures so as to ensure that the VCF does not expend funds beyond its appropriated limit of $7.375 billion. To that end, the VCF must make significant reductions in awards, and these reductions will affect all claims for which a determination has not yet been made, regardless of when the claim was filed. The VCF is also making several policy changes, independent of the funding insufficiency determination, which I have determined constitute better, sounder policy. These reductions and policy changes are explained in detail in Section 10 of the report.

I am painfully aware of the inequity of the situation. I also deeply regret that I could not honor my intention to spare any claim submitted prior to this announcement from any reductions made due to a determination of funding insufficiency. But the stark reality of the data leaves me no choice. If there had been a different option available to me, I assure you I would have taken it. As detailed in the report, the plan we have adopted meets both the requirements of the law and the policy goals we identified as most important: adhering to the statutory mandate of prioritizing the claimants with the most debilitating conditions; compensating all claimants who file a claim by the statutory deadline of December 18, 2020 (subject to offsets); and implementing a plan that would not unduly delay claim determinations. I could not abide a plan that would leave some claimants uncompensated or that would fail to make any allowance for the claimants who suffer the most. The Department of Justice and the VCF also will work with the Administration and Congress to ensure every appropriate consideration is given to claims as soon as possible.

In the end, I sincerely hope that the terrific work done in the past year by the very dedicated team at the VCF will not be eclipsed by this announcement. I personally remain extremely grateful for their commitment to the 9/11 community, and unspeakably proud to work with them every day. Ours is a mission that runs deep within us, and one that we will continue to honor to the very best of our ability in the year to come. I also remain constantly in awe of the deep reserves of strength and resilience in the 9/11 community. It is, as it has been from day one, a deeply humbling responsibility to be able to serve you through this work, and I remain hopeful, despite the situation in which we find ourselves, that the work we do provides at least some measure of needed relief to those who have sacrificed so much and suffered for so long.

As always, if you have questions about the VCF claims process, I encourage you to call our toll-free Helpline at 1-855-885-1555. For the hearing impaired, please call 1-855-885-1558 (TDD). If you are calling from outside the United States, please call 1-202-514-1100.

Best regards,