Who is Eligible for the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund?

Robert A. Grochow
February 2, 2022

The events of September 11th, 2001, devastated the country and forever changed the lives of millions of people. The attacks caused injuries and deaths of tens of thousands of victims who saw their lives destroyed on 9/11 and in the years that followed. 

The events of 9/11 changed the United States irrevocably.

In the wake of the tragedy, the United States Congress created the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which would disburse billions of dollars to 9/11 victims and their families. The fund was initially created as a no-fault alternative to the lawsuits that might bankrupt the airline industry and others responsible for the tragedy.

According to archived records from the Department of Justice, the original fund operated from 2001 to 2003. In 2011, President Obama signed a new law called the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, reactivating the fund and allowing more families to determine their 9/11 compensation eligibility. Thousands of families began applying for benefits.

Congress reauthorized The Zadroga Act in 2015 with a new claim deadline and an additional  $7.375 billion to the total available funds. When the fund neared its expiration date, victims and their advocates worried that it would soon run out of money and many would still be left out.

After a contentious battle in Congress regarding the extension of the fund and the authorization of additional money, the House Judiciary Committee passed the Never Forget the Heroes Act. President Trump signed the bill that would permanently reauthorize the fund and provide billions of dollars to victims through 2090, a date chosen to cover claimants for the rest of their lives.

Time passes, and memories fade, but the injuries and suffering caused by the events of 9/11 may remain with a victim for the rest of their life. Families of victims, too, may see their lives irrevocably changed after a loved one starts exhibiting signs of a disease or condition caused by 9/11 exposure. Applying for compensation from the VCF takes time and dedication, and many victims choose to work with a lawyer during the process.

What is the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund?

According to the federal government's official September 11th Victim Compensation Fund website, compensation is offered to individuals present at the World Trade Center or the New York City Exposure Zone

Compensation is also provided to victims in the area around the Pentagon crash and at the crash site in Pennsylvania. Claimants must have been present at those sites between September 11th, 2001, and May 30th, 2002 and must have since experienced illness related to their exposure.

One of the critical benefits of the VCF is that it's not only offered to first responders. Eligibility to receive funds applies to anyone who volunteered during site clean-up, participated in construction projects, and helped clear debris, as well as those who anyone who lived, worked, or attended school in the NYC Exposure Zone.

If an individual who was exposed has passed, their personal representatives are eligible to apply on their behalf and receive funds, too.

VCF deadline update

Congress made a valuable update to the VCF when they modified the program in 2019 to extend the deadline for filing claims until 2090. Victims and their representatives now have a lifetime to submit their claims and get the help they deserve from the fund.

When it was initially created in 2001, the VCF distributed more than $7 billion to the families of more than 2,800 people who died on 9/11, as well as 2,680 others who suffered injuries. Eligible applicants were people who were harmed directly by the attacks and the volunteers and first responders who worked to secure the disaster sites and clean up the debris.

Most of the initial claims submitted to the original VCF were based on physical injuries. However, participants in the WTC clean-up and those present at the attack sites who survived began developing cancer and other illnesses related to their exposure. 

A report on the health risks of exposure to the toxic contaminants of 9/11, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), indicated that an estimated 400,000 people in the area may have been exposed to a toxic debris cloud through their skin or when they inhaled the toxic dust. 

Some of the symptoms indicated by the CDC that could occur included asthma, chronic laryngitis, reactive airways dysfunction syndrome (RADS), and a host of other problems.

When it became clear that there were additional victims of the terrorist attack and that they had started exhibiting symptoms after the initial VCF expired, President Obama reactivated the fund when he signed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010. Congress named the act after a New York City police officer who died in 2006 due to his exposure to the collapse of the Twin Towers.

The act added more than $4 billion to a fund called the World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP), which would bear the responsibility of testing and helping treat those with long-term health problems due to 9/11 exposure. The Zadroga Act had an expiration date of October 1st, 2015, which meant that Congress would eventually need to reauthorize the act.

President Obama would eventually reauthorize the act with a new filing deadline of December 18th, 2020, and an increase of funds to more than $7 billion. The act was reauthorized a final time in 2019 with the Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act.

Who is Eligible for the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund?

Victims Compensation Fund award. Applicants aren't required to meet all requirements unless all apply to the victim's personal circumstances. 

The litany of eligibility requirements is complex, but a 9/11 lawyer's careful analysis of each criterion will help a claimant determine whether they are eligible to file.

VCF eligibility criteria

1. Registration and Claim Filing

Applicants for compensation must file a claim and register with the VCF to start the claim process. The VCF lists two deadlines: the Claim Filing Deadline and the Registration Deadline. The Claim Filing Deadline is October 1st, 2090, and is the same for all applicants. 

The program's administrators encourage all who apply to file a claim with the VCF after the World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP) certifies them for having a physical health condition related to 9/11. 

In addition to the Claim Filing Deadline, the VCF also lists a Registration Deadline, where an applicant preserves their right to file a claim in the future. Registering doesn't force anyone to waive their legal rights, nor does it obligate the registrant to file a claim. 

The VCF encourages anyone who believes they might want to file a claim to register as soon as possible, even if they haven't yet been diagnosed with an illness or certified by the WTCHP. 

There are unique registration deadlines that depend on whether a claimant is filing a personal injury claim or a claim on behalf of a deceased individual. Victims must file personal injury claims within two years of the date when a government entity notified the claimant of an eligible 9/11-related health condition. 

In the case of a claim made on behalf of the deceased, the deadline is the latter of two possible dates: 

Within two years of the victim's date of death – or -

Within two years of the date when the VCF verified the death as related to 9/11.

2. Dismiss or Complete 9/11 Related Lawsuits

For most who file, VCF claims are prohibited for those who have an active lawsuit related to 9/11. When filing a claim, a victim must have their lawsuit dismissed or finalized. Filing a claim for damages with the VCF means waiving the right to file a civil action in any federal or state court for damages related to the aircraft crashes or subsequent debris removal.

This facet of filing a claim is vital because a claimant will waive their right to a future lawsuit before the VCF determines whether they are entitled to compensation. There are two exceptions for some filers, including civil actions for the recovery of collateral source obligations and civil actions against any person who is alleged to be a "knowing participant" in the 9/11 attacks.

The most famous example of a civil action against an alleged "knowing participant" is the years-long battle of 9/11 families in their suit against Saudi Arabia. Victims filed a lawsuit in 2017 that accused the Saudi government of involvement in the 9/11 attacks. 

The lawsuit was allowed because of an act of Congress called the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which Congress passed in 2016 despite the threat of a veto from President Obama.

3. Possess a 9/11-Related Physical Injury or Condition

Eligibility for compensation requires proof of having a physical injury or condition caused by the crashes on September 11th, 2001, or an injury or condition that occurred because of participation in the rescue, recovery, and debris removal immediately after the attacks. The World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP) lists several categories of physical health injuries and conditions that may make an applicant eligible for compensation from the VCF.

Conditions include asthma, chronic rhinosinusitis, certain musculoskeletal disorders, acute traumatic injuries, Reactive Airways Dysfunction Syndrome (RADS), interstitial lung diseases, and many other ailments. 

Several types of 9/11 covered cancer are also associated with time spent at crash sites. The VCF offers compensation to people who have had “covered-cancers” that include digestive system cancers, thyroid cancers, urinary system cancers, bladder cancer, breast cancer and cancers of female reproductive organs.

The WTCHP has established minimum and maximum time intervals between when an individual experienced 9/11 exposure and when their symptoms began. Timeframes are different for each category of conditions, and the WTC Health Program has been modified a handful of times as further information on victim conditions became available.

Individuals suffering from psychological ailments related to their presence at the crash sites aren't eligible for compensation from the VCF. Still, the World Trade Center Health Program is authorized to offer treatment to individuals diagnosed with 9/11-related psychological conditions.

4. Show Proof of Being at One of the Attack Sites at a Required Time

Eligibility for compensation depends on a claimant's proof that they were present at one of the 9/11 crash sites during or immediately after the incidents or were in the area between September 11th, 2001, and May 30th, 2002, during the clean-up process. 

Although first responders were the first beneficiaries of the VCF, the fund is currently available for anyone in the area, whether they were a responder or not.

The crash sites include the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the Shanksville, Pennsylvania site. Some of the damaged buildings in the immediate proximity to the WTC towers are included in those crash sites. 

Beyond the immediate area where the Twin Towers fell, claimants may also prove that they were in the New York City Exposure Zone, which covers the tip of Manhattan south of Canal Street and areas near the routes of debris removal.

5. Show Proof of a Worsened Condition for Additional VCF Claims

In some cases, individuals who received compensation from the original September 11th Victim Compensation Fund that concluded in 2004 may gain eligibility to apply for additional compensation when they can prove that their initial injury has become substantially worse. 

Further, individuals who already received payment from the original VCF may file another claim if they have developed a new physical injury or condition that wasn't present at the time of the first claim. 

In some cases, someone who was given funds from the first VCF could become eligible for additional money after a secondary condition that wasn't initially eligible for claims was made compensable in the newest iteration of the VCF. Some individuals who experienced new or worsening physical problems may amend their claim and request additional compensation if their claim is already under review by the VCF.

6. Be Legally Authorized to File a Claim for a Decedent

Those interested in filing a claim on another person's behalf must show that they are authorized to act as a Personal Representative for a deceased victim or for an adult who is incapacitated. Legal authorization may come via a court order or a previously established guardianship under the law. 

Before the VCF considers a claim filed on behalf of a victim, a person known as the Special Master of the VCF will validate the individual's authority to act as a representative of the victim.

The Documents Required publication from the September 11th VCF lists items that a personal representative must provide the VCF to determine whether that person can file a claim on behalf of someone else. Documents and information required include the victim's death certificate, proof of the victim's cause of death, and a completed claim form signature page. 

The representative must also supply Letters of Administration, Letters of Testamentary, or a court order showing the representative's appointment as a personal representative, estate administrator, or executor of a will. 

There are some limited circumstances when the Special Master of the VCF may appoint a representative who cannot supply one of the required documents. In some cases, the VCF may appoint more than one representative with one person deemed the "lead" for the purposes of submitting a VCF claim.

The WTCHP and VCF Exposure Zones

When filing a claim, individuals must receive an evaluation from the World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP), as well as prove that they were present within the New York City Exposure Zone, which is south of Canal Street and within several blocks of Ground Zero and the former site of the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center. 

Exposure zones also include the sites at the Pentagon in Washington D.C. and the crash site in Pennsylvania.

Expressly, the NYC Exposure Zone in Manhattan is contained within an area that is south of Canal Street, from the Hudson River on the west to the intersection of Canal and East Broadway on the eastern side of Manhattan, and on to Clinton Street, which runs south to the East River. 

In addition to the area contained within the southern tip of Manhattan, the Exposure Zone also includes areas along the routes taken to remove debris from Ground Zero and the barges that carried the debris and the dumping site at the Fresh Kills Landfill. The VCF provides a graphical NYC Map of Exposure Zone page, which may help individuals determine whether they might qualify for a claim from the fund.

Once a claimant determines they were in one of the exposure zones defined by the VCF, victims must register and seek an evaluation from the World Trade Center Health Program, the official agency responsible for medical monitoring and treatment of anyone who exhibits World Trade Center-related health conditions. 

The WTCHP treats responders and survivors with care administered by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, part of the CDC and the U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services.

The WTCHP operates in the New York Metropolitan Area in its Clinical Centers of Excellence (CCE) and from authorized providers in its Nationwide Provider Network (NPN). Medical professionals at the nation's CCEs have diagnosed and treated people with conditions related to 9/11 exposure for the past twenty years. 

Registering with the WTCHP doesn't cost anything, and victims may receive treatment without the burden of application fees, premiums, or co-pays. First responders receive free monitoring, treatment, and medication for their WTC-related conditions unless the responder has a workers' compensation claim for their condition. Survivors' individual health insurance plans will help pay for the costs associated with monitoring and treatment, and the WTCHP program pays for the remaining charges. 

It's important to remember that registering with and receiving treatment from the WTCHP is separate from registering with and filing a claim with the VCF. An essential step in the journey toward successfully filing a claim is submitting an application to the WTCHP and getting one's condition certified.

What is the Average Payout Through the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund?

calculating a VCF payout

Each year, the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund publishes a report with details on compensation totals, applications, and other facets of the program. In the VCF 2020 Annual Report, the fund approved 8,273 individuals, processed 9,129 payments, and delivered 8,813 initial award letters. 

Further, they expedited 454 claims, fielded 47,153 calls to its helpline, and sent out an astounding 179,758 letters communicating with applicants and their authorized representatives.

As of the conclusion of 2020, the fund has distributed a total of $7,758,313,266.43 in awards, with $1,597,762,389.38 awarded in 2020. While exact figures for the amount each victim has received aren't readily available, there are recently published statistics regarding the number of claims and the average payouts given to various types of claimants. 

For example, the earliest iteration of the VFC received more than 7,400 claims from 2001 to 2003, with more than $7 billion awarded in compensation.

Many of those early claims were made by families who had a family member who died on 9/11. The fund gave those families an award that averaged $2,082,128.00, with the highest awards topping $7 million. For claims distributed to individuals who hadn't died on the day of the tragedy, the awards ranged from $500 to $8.6 million.

As it stands today, the VCF has received claims from people in every U.S. state, as well as 31 foreign countries, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. More than 40,000 people have received an award, with more than 67,000 people applying for an award since the fund reopened in 2011. 

Overall, more than 106,000 people have registered with the VCF as of 2020, but not every registrant has submitted a claim.

To determine an award, the VCF uses a three-part equation. Each award is based on the following formula.

Non-Economic Loss + Economic Loss – Collateral Offsets = VCF Award Amount

Non-Economic Loss

Non-Economic Loss is what the average layperson might know as a "pain and suffering" award. The VCF will examine the severity of an applicant's condition and how it impacts the experience of daily life for the claimant. Non-Economic Loss is separate from the amount calculated for Economic Loss and may be calculated based on a victim's death or injury.

Economic Loss

Economic Loss is a figure that comes from examining the pecuniary loss caused by an eligible condition. Monetary losses include the loss of earnings, loss of benefits received through employment, medical expenses, and other similar costs. Claimants must submit proof that they are unable to work or cannot continue their previous job because of an eligible condition and supply information about previous earnings and benefits.

Collateral Offsets

Collateral Offsets in the VCF equation are monies received outside the scope of the VCF that are related to the claimant's eligible condition. For example, disabled or deceased wage earners awarded money from the Social Security Administration are considered to have collateral offsets. In some cases, pensions are deemed collateral offsets. The VCF recommends that claimants consider their collateral offsets and speak with their attorney before submitting a claim.

Health Risks as a Result of 9/11

The health risks and conditions stemming from exposure to the events of 9/11 and beyond are staggering and include conditions like asbestosis, cancer, pulmonary fibrosis, and lung problems.

The World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP) publishes a list of Covered Conditions that fall into five categories, but there are some special circumstances and diseases that the WTCHP might approve, even though the agency doesn't list those conditions on their website.

  • Acute & Traumatic Injuries
  • Cancers
  • Musculoskeletal Disorders
  • Airway and Digestive Disorders
  • Mental Health Conditions

Acute Traumatic Injuries are described as physical damage to the body caused by adverse conditions or hazards. Some examples of acute traumatic injuries include burns, eye injuries, and head trauma. Other acute conditions include tendon tears, fractures, and complex sprains. 

Cancer is the uncontrolled growth and spread of cells that may occur anywhere in the body. Cancer may make it difficult for normal bodily functions to happen, and the WTCHP lists many different types of cancers as included in the health risks resulting from 9/11 exposure. 

Some of those cancers include those of the prostate, thyroid, breast, ovaries, and respiratory system.

Musculoskeletal Disorders are eligible conditions for WTC Responders but are not allowable conditions for Survivors. These disorders are described as chronic or recurring disorders of the musculoskeletal system. Causes include repetitive strain on the joints and excessive heavy lifting. Conditions include lower back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), and other musculoskeletal disorders.

Airway & Digestive Disorders are several problems impacting breathing through the sinuses, lungs, and upper digestive tract. These issues are also known as Aerodigestive Disorders. Some examples of these disorders include asthma, chronic laryngitis, chronic rhinosinusitis, upper airway hyperreactivity, and interstitial lung disease.

Mental Health Conditions aren't allowed as conditions that will allow a claimant to receive money from the VCF, but the WTCHP will provide mental health treatment as part of their healthcare services. 

Mental health conditions that may allow an applicant to receive treatment include panic disorders, acute stress disorders, substance abuse problems, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The WTC Health Program makes occasional changes to their list of approved conditions, which means potential claimants and their legal team should check for updates with the Federal Register, where the WTCHP publishes changes. Further, the WTCHP also publishes minimum and maximum timeframes between when a claimant suffered 9/11 exposure and experienced the start of their symptoms. 

Get help from the experienced team of 9/11 attorneys at Gregory J. Cannata & Associates

The September 11th Victims Compensation Fund represents an incredible resource and benefit for anyone who has experienced an adverse, life-changing condition due to their presence at a crash site on 9/11 or their work during the resulting clean-up.

The registration process with the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, getting approved by the World Trade Center Health Program, and submitting an official claim to the VCF is a complex process significantly aided by a dedicated legal team with experience in 9/11 VCF claims.

Gregory Cannata & Associates helps individuals with qualifying medical conditions recover compensation from the Victim Compensation Fund. 

We want to help you receive the compensation you deserve, whether you were an office worker caught in the toxic dust cloud that erupted from Ground Zero on 9/11, or you were a rescue worker who searched tirelessly for survivors after the tragedy. 

Let a dedicated leader in the field of September 11th Victim Compensation Fund claims help.

We've already recovered more than $300 million for our WTC clients, and we'll be at your side every step of the way.

Please call 1-888-982-8428 for a free consultation with one of our committed VCF lawyers or contact us on our website.

Robert A. Grochow
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Robert Grochow has over 30 years of experience as a personal injury lawyer in New York, serving as co-counsel in over a thousand cases. He has also received recognition as one of New York’s “Most Honest Lawyers” from the National Law Journal/Washington Post.

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