Statement from 911 Health Watch on the Second Anniversary the appointment of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Special Master Rupa Bhattacharyya
Statement from 911 Health Watch on the Second Anniversary the appointment of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Special Master Rupa Bhattacharyya.
Below is a message from Rupa Bhattacharyya, released today on the Second Anniversary of her appointment as September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Special Master. Ms. Bhattacharyya, along with Deputy Special Masters Stefanie Langsam, Jordan Feldman, and the entire staff of the VCF have made significant progress in the last two years in the processing of claims by injured 9/11 responders and survivors.
9/11 Health Watch commends them, the Attorney General, and the Justice Department for their work and their commitment to continue to improve the performance of the VCF so that it can fulfill its mission as intended by the Zadroga Act.
July 24, 2018
When I stepped into the role of Special Master two years ago, I was focused on our number one priority: to process and pay claims with thoughtful consideration and without unnecessary delay. Although I knew there were challenges ahead, I was eager to build on the progress the VCF team had made since the passage of the Zadroga Act in 2010 and its reauthorization in December 2015.
Today, I remain focused on processing claims in a fair and expeditious manner. While the original course we mapped in 2016 has taken many twists and turns, I am extremely pleased with the significant progress that has been made since then, in terms of the number of decisions rendered and the speed with which we are processing claims.
As of June 30, 2018, the VCF has awarded nearly $3.99 billion dollars, with over half of that ($2.13 billion) awarded since July 2016. In the past two years, we have rendered over 13,400 compensation decisions (including initial awards on new claims and revised awards on claims with amendments or appeals), a substantial increase over the 9,407 decisions that had been rendered when we closed Group A in 2016, adding up to over 22,800 total decisions. Since July of 2016, we have determined that over 5,100 additional claimants are eligible for compensation, for a total of just under 20,000 eligible claimants, and the number of claims denied has steadily decreased, which we see as a clear sign that our process is working to help people provide the information needed to decide their claims favorably.
I am also pleased to report that we have practically eliminated the backlog of claims that existed when I assumed the role of Special Master. Whereas, in January 2017, we had more than 3,000 claims that had been pending for more than two years, today there remain just over 500 claims that were filed before January 1, 2017, and many of those are claims that have only recently re-activated as claimants have responded to requests for missing information and helped us to move their claims forward. In the VCF Sixth Annual Status Report, published in February 2018, I indicated that we were on track to decide claims within 18 months of the day they were filed (assuming we had all information needed to decide a claim). We continue to shorten that timeframe; claims filed in early 2017 are now receiving award decisions, while claims filed in mid-2017 are under review, and claims filed in late 2017 will come under review soon. I am hopeful that, at our current rate of progress, we will soon meet my goal of deciding claims within one year of when they are submitted.
While the VCF’s progress has been substantial, that is only one side of the story. What has remained constant over the last two years is the significant need for compensation that exists in the 9/11 community, as demonstrated by the many thousands of claimants who continue to file new claims with the VCF, or amendments on their old claims, as they develop new or worsening health conditions or suffer new losses. It is heartbreaking to know that, even with almost 23,000 compensation decisions behind us, more than 12,000 remain for us to process, with more coming in every day. At the same time, it is rewarding to understand that those numbers mean that those affected by the events of 9/11 have a path to achieving some small amount of redress and that they are becoming increasingly aware of, and reaping the benefits of, the fund that was created to help them. One of the improvements we expect to implement in the near future is to increase transparency by publishing summary statistics each month, in addition to our more detailed status reports published three times each year, and our annual report. These reports keep the entire community apprised of our progress, answering the two questions I have asked continuously since I joined the VCF in 2016: How many claims have we done? How many do we have left to do?
The volume of claims still to be decided demands both our unwavering commitment to streamlining processes and our continued allegiance to accuracy and fairness. The urgency is not lost on me or on the dedicated and talented VCF staff with whom I am honored to work every day. We continue to monitor claim volumes very carefully and remain cognizant of the directives imposed by the Zadroga Act that the VCF prioritize claims for claimants who suffer from the most debilitating conditions, while ensuring that we do not exceed our available funding. As we approach the next cycle for my annual reassessment of whether VCF policies and procedures are properly tailored to meet those twin goals, I plan to formally seek input from the 9/11 community on the best way to do so.
At the heart of everything we do are the individuals whose lives continue to be impacted every day by the events of September 11, 2001. Over the past two years, as I have met with so many heroes from the 9/11 community, I have been astonished by their selflessness, their strength, their depth of character, and their resiliency. I have heard stories of their families, their struggles, and their bravery, and I am reminded every day of the magnitude and importance of the task at hand. At the same time, I am thankful and privileged to partner with the dedicated and compassionate medical professionals, advocates, lawyers, and the innumerable others who serve and support this community. And I am extremely grateful for the continuing full support for the VCF from the Department of Justice and the Attorney General. As I said in my first message to this community in 2016, there is much work yet to be done and I stand ready to move forward with purpose and focus to provide the help that is so urgently needed and so justly deserved.