In July of 2019, the U.S. legislature finally enacted long-term protections for 9/11 responders who suffer ongoing illness and injury as a result of their fearless contributions in the wake of the September 11 tragedy. The statute, titled the Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act, extends funding through fiscal year 2092.
That’s great news for those affected and our country as a whole. But, what exactly does it mean for those living with 9/11-related medical conditions? The answer to that question differs depending on where in the process a victim falls, and it’s important to understand exactly what happens next.
September 11 Victims Who Have Had Awards Reduced
Unfortunately, many people who have been determined to be eligible for compensation have seen their awards reduced because the fund simply didn’t have enough money to make full payment. The new law specifically provides that those whose awards were reduced as a result of insufficient funding are entitled to payment to make up the difference between what they received and what they would have received if sufficient funding had been available.
Most claimants won’t have to take any action to trigger this supplemental payment. The Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) is aiming to send notices to the approximately 1,700 people who have had awards reduced by September 11 of this year, and plans to begin processing additional payment immediately after notice. If you fall into this group, it is important that you read your notice carefully and consult an attorney experienced in handling VCF claims if you have any questions or concerns—documentation may be required to process your additional payment.
You should also be aware that some reduced award notices are still going out, so some claimants will receive a reduced award notice followed by an adjustment.
Claimants Already in the Appeals Process
If you have already appealed your award, what happens next depends on where in the process you are.
If you have already had a hearing on your reduced award, the appeal will proceed, and the Special Master will determine the full, unreduced award. If the hearing has not yet taken place, you will receive your unreduced award letter and then have the opportunity to decide whether you still want to proceed with the appeal. The process will move forward unless you contact the VCF to cancel, and any scheduled hearings will take place as scheduled.
Of course, there are many factors that determine whether or not to continue with an appeal in light of the new, unreduced award. The simple fact that the award is now larger doesn’t necessarily mean there aren’t still issues to be addressed. So, it’s important to thoroughly assess all factors before making a decision as to whether to proceed. If you’re uncertain, an attorney experienced in handling VCF claims and appeals can help with the assessment.
Deferred hearings have been canceled. Those claimants whose hearings had been deferred by VCF will receive notice of a new 30-day appeal period along with notice of their unreduced awards.
Claimants Still in the 30-Day Appeal Period
Claimants who have received reduced award letters and are still within the appeals period may choose whether or not to appeal. Those who do not appeal will begin receiving payment on the reduced award, and will later receive notification of the unreduced award amount. Those who choose to appeal will proceed through the normal appeal process, and the Special Magistrate will determine the full, unreduced award amount.
Next Steps for September 11 VCF Claimants
Overall, the news is very good. Most claimants who have received or been notified of reduced awards will be issued new award notices reflecting full compensation. And, those in the appeals process or still in the window for filing an appeal have the option of choosing to appeal/continue with the appeal or to accept the new, unreduced award. The new funding also means that new claimants won’t face the funding constraints that resulted in nearly 1,700 reduced awards.
Still, the process can be daunting and it’s critical that you fully understand your rights and options before making decisions that may impact the rest of your life. If you have any doubts or reservations about how to move forward with your claim in light of the recent law change, educate yourself before moving forward. The Dearie Law Firm has represented more than 1,000 VCF claimants, and we offer free consultations. Just call 1-800-2-DEARIE to learn more about how we can help.