In order for responders and survivors to obtain the compensation they deserve for their 9/11-related illnesses, they must verify that they were within the NYC Exposure Zone in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks. Significantly, the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund has recently issued further guidance regarding acceptable forms of proof of presence. If you’ve been diagnosed with an eligible 9/11 health condition, it’s crucial to understand what type of presence documentation you will be required to submit to the VCF to avoid denial or delay of your claim.
What are the Criteria to Establish Presence?
The VCF has specific presence requirements pursuant to the Zadroga Act. A responder or survivor must have been in the NYC Exposure Zone at any time between September 11, 2001 and May 30, 2002. The NYC Exposure Zone consists of the area in Manhattan south of Canal Street and any location that was along the debris removal route — including the Fresh Kills landfill, barges, and bus depots. Notably, the VCF’s criteria to establish presence is different from that of the WTC Health Program, which has different time and location requirements.
How Can Presence in the NYC Exposure Zone Be Proven?
Some employers — including the FDNY, FDNY EMS, FBI, New York City Department of Sanitation, the National Guard, and many others — have arrangements with the VCF to provide presence information. However, other responders and survivors have found it increasingly difficult to establish presence as the necessary documentation has become lost or destroyed over the years. Critically, there are several ways a responder or survivor can demonstrate that they were present in the area south of Canal Street in the weeks and months following 9/11, including the following:
- Employer or Third-Party Verification — If your employer does not have an agreement with the VCF to share employment information, it is your responsibility to provide the employer with a Third Party Verification form and request that it be returned to the VCF. If it includes specific dates and locations, the VCF will typically accept it to establish presence. Employers can return the forms to the VCF via email.
- Witness Presence Statements — When third-party documents are not available, a Witness Presence Statement can provide additional details in support of proof of presence. The VCF encourages responders and survivors to locate independent sources to verify their presence and only use witness presence statements if no other documentation can be found.
- Affidavits from individuals who were minors on 9/11 — While the VCF accepts witness affidavits in cases involving claimants who were in high school at the time of 9/11, they have not been deemed reliable when used on their own. Now, the VCF will only consider Witness Presence Statements and affidavits written on behalf of someone who was a fellow student. However, an individual who attended high school in the NYC Exposure Zone should also obtain a copy of their transcript from the school. Rather than using a witness statement which requires additional supporting documentation, a school transcript would be the only proof of presence needed.
If you are unable to provide proof of presence to the VCF, your claim could potentially be denied. Otherwise, you may receive a “Missing Information Letter” from the VCF after submitting your claim package — this gives you the opportunity to provide the necessary documentation. If the VCF denies your claim because you were unable to establish presence, you may be entitled to file an appeal.
Contact a New York City 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund Attorney
If you’re an eligible 9/11 responder or survivor who requires assistance establishing your presence in the NYC Exposure Zone, an experienced 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund attorney can help ensure you submit the required documentation — and obtain the monetary recovery to which you are entitled. The Dearie Law Firm, P.C. is committed to helping responders and survivors navigate the VCF claim filing process and secure their rightful compensation. The 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund attorneys at the Dearie Law Firm, P.C. have represented claimants and their families in 9/11 VCF claims for over a decade. For a free consultation, contact us today.