What is the Never Forget the Heroes Act?

Robert A. Grochow
October 15, 2020

The terrorist attacks on New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. on the morning of September 11, 2001, killed or injured many innocent people who were just going about their daily lives. As tragic as the single-day mass casualties were, thousands of first responders, members of the NYPD and FDNY, and others present at Ground Zero in the weeks and months to follow also died. 

The deaths of many first responders, civilians, and others occurring after September 11, 2001, were not directly from the terrorist attack but rather from exposure to toxic dust and fumes from the rubble of the collapsed buildings that enveloped lower Manhattan as a result of those attacks. Thousands more became seriously ill. By 2019, more than 10,000 people from the New York City Exposure Zone developed cancer and thousands of others developed other types of 9/11-related illnesses. Thousands remain yet undiagnosed and many cancers have yet to develop in our bodies but that will over time.

In response to the growing number of people with serious 9/11-related illnesses, Congress authorized funding for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) in late 2001. The initial VCF program was part of the Air Transportation Safety and System Stabilization Act that also provided funding to airlines affected by the terrorist attack. The program ended in 2004 due to funding issues. President Barack Obama reauthorized the VCF in 2010 and 2015. 

On July 29, 2019, President Trump signed permanent authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. The legislation received a new name at that time; the Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act. James Zadroga, who passed away of respiratory illness at age 34 in 2006, was the first known casualty related to toxic exposure. Detective Ray Pfeifer and firefighter Luis Alvarez each testified for the permanent reauthorization of the VCF while battling Stage IV cancer. Pfeifer died in May 2017 and Alvarez in June 2019.

The attorneys at Gregory Cannata & Associates have represented first responders and others affected by 9/11-related illnesses since the first VCF program launched just a few months after the terrorist attacks. Here is what you can expect when you work with our law firm:

  • We determine your eligibility based on your role in debris removal, rescue and recovery efforts, or civilian status, dates and times of your presence, and current 9/11-related illness.
  • We determine if you were exposed to the toxins as a result of your employment, residence, or other reason you were in the covered zones.
  • We complete program applications to the World Trade Center Health Program and VCF on your behalf, including location and submission of the required documentation and proof.
  • We represent you before the VCF to argue for maximum compensation for the illness you have had to endure for the good of our country or because you have become sick as a result of your presence in lower Manhattan for virtually any reason. 

You can trust the law firm that has successfully represented thousands of people with 9/11-related illnesses. Please contact Gregory Cannata & Associates today at 1-888-982-8428 to request your free consultation.

 H.R.1327 - Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act

Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat in the House of Representatives for the state of New York, sponsored and introduced the bill. The 116th Congress first received the Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act on February 25, 2019. 

The bill went to the Senate on July 12, 2019, where it passed with a vote of 97 yeas and 2 nays. The House of Representatives began hearing arguments for the bill on July 15, 2019, and passed it with a vote of 402 yeas and 12 nays. The Senate then sent an action to the House, and President Trump received the bill on July 24, 2019. He signed it into law five days later.

Most Important Provisions of the Never Forget the Heroes Act

Although the VCF had $7.375 billion in funding appropriated to it prior to President Trump's permanent reauthorization, it had inadequate funds to pay claims to people affected by 9/11-related illnesses and surviving family members of those who succumbed to disease. Under federal law, VCF program administrators could not expend funds beyond the previously appropriated amount. That meant a reduction in funding for the VCF unless Congress and President Trump took action. The changes to the VCF program described below occurred when the permanent reauthorization took effect in July 2019.

Victim Compensation Fund Permanently Funded

During the Senate and House hearings in the summer of 2019, the VCF received funding through the fiscal year 2092. People affected by eligible 9/11-related illnesses now have until October 1, 2090, to file a claim. Although there are different deadlines to register with the VCF depending upon your circumstances, any claim that might otherwise be late will be deemed timely if registration takes place prior to July 29, 2021. While the VCF exists to provide financial compensation to qualified individuals, the WTC Health Program offers free medical care and monitoring. Your attorney from Gregory Cannata & Associates will apply to both programs for you.

Removal of Funding Caps

The previous version of the VCF passed by President Barack Obama in 2015 gave people affected by 9/11-related illnesses until December 2020 to initiate a claim for financial compensation. Congress considers the new deadline of October 1, 2090, permanent because it exceeds the lifespan of first responders and others exposed to toxic dust and fumes. 

Removes the Cap on Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages such as pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and loss of consortium previously had a cap of $250,000 for VCF cancer claims and $90,000 for all other VCF claims. The 2019 permanent reauthorization of the Never Forget the Heroes Act retains these caps but allows the Special Master in charge of award determination to exceed those amounts in certain circumstances. 

The Special Master considers circumstances on a case-by-case basis, such as when the capped amounts are inadequate for the non-economic damages suffered. It is especially important to have experienced legal counsel argue on your behalf if you feel you should receive a higher amount for non-economic damages than the current $250,000 or $90,000 caps allow.

Extremely important is that there is no specific cap on economic loss, usually considered loss of earnings both in the past and until typical retirement age. 

Full Compensation to Prior Claimants for Awards Reduced on the Basis of Insufficient Funding

Claimants who received reduced funding before the permanent reauthorization on the basis of insufficient funding must receive the entire amount the VCF approved them to receive. When the law was re-authorized, those receiving only a percentage of their prior award were paid the additional benefit due. Additionally, VCF program administrators must implement periodic adjustments to the annual economic loss adjustment compensation to account for inflation.

How 9/11 Related Illnesses are Still Impacting New York First Responders and Others Today

According to a September 2019 article published in Newsweek Magazine, 3,946 people enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Program have died since the terrorist attacks. Newsweek received this data from the National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH), which operates under the umbrella of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). 

The NIOSH spokesperson providing the information did not confirm whether the deaths occurred due to 9/11-related illnesses. However, the spokesperson did relate that 125,000 people had enrolled in the WTC Health Program as of September 2019. This includes 74,000 first responders. Of that number, 18,000 had a diagnosis of cancer.

An August 2020 article in the New York Post describes how the coronavirus has wreaked havoc on many people already weakened by 9/11-related illnesses such as cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This aligns with the information known about coronavirus in that it is most fatal for those with serious underlying medical conditions, especially those with a pre-existing respiratory illness.

The Fund now recognizes that 9/11 complications can cause death from the coronavirus and, for the first time, will consider such claims under certain circumstances. 

The terrorist attacks on the United States occurred almost 20 years ago. Unfortunately, the passage of time has not lessened the damage inflicted on those present at the scene of the disaster in either an official or unofficial capacity. At Gregory Cannata & Associates, we think two decades is too long to wait for health care services, economic loss compensation, and non-economic damages. We are here to fight for your right to receive compensation and free health care. It is the least we can do after the sacrifices you have made for the United States.

Don't Miss the Deadline to Apply for the Never Forget the Heroes Act: Contact Us Today to Start Your Claim!

Before you can receive either economic loss compensation or non-economic damages from the VCF, we generally first need to enroll you in the WTC Health Program. We urge you to contact us today at 1-888-982-8428 and work with us to start the application process. There is a one-time extension on otherwise late claims before the VCF, which expires July 29, 2021.  

Your attorney will walk you through the process from start to finish to determine eligibility requirements, tracking down the required documentation, as completing applications on your own is time-confusing and frustrating. The best way to save yourself the aggravation of a denied application is to contact Gregory Cannata & Associates today.


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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