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Amending Your Application After Your VCF Award

Amending Your Application After Your VCF Award

By Troy Rosasco

Did you know that you can obtain additional compensation for a new 9/11-related diagnosis, even if you have already been compensated through the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) for an existing diagnosis? By properly amending your claim, you may be eligible for additional compensation, even if many years have passed since your initial award.

If you lost a loved one who previously filed for or received a VCF award, your family may be able to file an amended claim for wrongful death damages, including pain and suffering, funeral expenses, spousal and dependent awards, and other related losses. For more information, please contact a 9/11 VCF lawyer.

When can you amend your VCF claim after receiving an award?

You can amend a VCF claim that has already resulted in an award if:

  • You have been certified or diagnosed with a 9/11-related health condition for which you have not previously received VCF compensation.
  • You have had your claim denied or deemed inactive due to a failure to respond to a request from VCF administrators for additional information.
  • Your condition has significantly worsened since you received compensation.
  • You have new information not submitted with your original claim that could increase your VCF award.
  • You have received an award on a claim and are now seeking reimbursement of out-of-pocket medical expenses totaling over $5,000.
  • You lost a loved one who previously filed a claim for a VCF award, even if the deceased family member previously received an VCF award.

Have questions about whether you can amend your existing VCF application? Speak with an experienced 9/11 benefits attorney today in a free consultation.

How to Amend a VCF Claim to Add a Newly Certified or Diagnosed Condition

If you suffer from a newly diagnosed 9/11-related health condition that was not documented in your initial VCF application, the most reliable way to submit a fully-documented claim is to work with an experienced 9/11 benefits attorney. You are not required to have a lawyer handle your VCF claim amendment. Getting an experienced attorney can make the process more efficient and often increases the likelihood of immediate claim approval.

Make sure you first obtain a certification of your newly diagnosed condition from the World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP).

About the VCF

Congress created the original September 11th Victim Compensation Fund in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks to give financial support to those most impacted by the attacks. The original VCF, which operated until late 2004, mostly paid compensation to families of deceased victims of the attacks and individuals who suffered acute physical injuries on 9/11 or in the immediate cleanup and recovery efforts.

By 2010, it had become apparent that nearly half a million people had suffered potential toxic exposures in Lower Manhattan on 9/11 and in the months that followed. Many had begun to develop severe illnesses and disorders linked to those exposers. Recognizing those individuals’ need for financial assistance, Congress passed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. This act reopened the VCF, expanded its eligibility criteria, and funded it for five years. Congress authorized an additional five years of funding in 2015.

The Zadroga Act also created the World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP) to provide medical treatment and monitor 9/11-linked conditions. Today, the VCF

relies on WTCHP’s certifications of individuals’ 9/11-related health conditions to establish one of many elements of eligibility for VCF benefits.

In 2019, months after a Department of Justice-appointed Special Master concluded that the VCF lacked sufficient funding to compensate all pending and projected claims, Congress passed the Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. President Donald Trump signed the act into law shortly after. This new law permanently authorized the VCF and guaranteed it would have enough funding to pay all claims filed through October 1, 2090.

Who is eligible for funding through the VCF?

The VCF provides compensation to individuals diagnosed with certified 9/11-related health conditions, such as:

  • Acute traumatic injuries suffered in the 9/11 terror attacks or during immediate recovery and cleanup operations, such as burns, complex sprains, eye injuries, or head trauma
  • Airway and digestive disorders including asthma, chronic cough syndrome, chronic rhinosinusitis, gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD), interstitial lung disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and sleep apnea.
  • Cancers, including those involving the breast, blood, digestive system, eye and orbit, ovary, head and neck, prostate, respiratory system, skin, soft and connective tissues, and urinary system
    All VCF claimants must suffer from some 9/11-related physical injury or illness.

The VCF does not pay compensation to individuals who suffer exclusively from mental health conditions tied to 9/11, such as PTSD, anxiety, or depression. However, the WTCHP provides monitoring and treatment of those conditions if certified.

In addition to suffering from an injury or illness linked to 9/11, to receive benefits, VCF claimants must also:

  • Register with the VCF within two years of receiving a certification of a 9/11-related health condition from the WTCHP or a diagnosis of a 9/11-related illness through the Program’s private physician process. For wrongful death claims, the registration deadline is two years from the date of a loved one’s death caused by a 9/11-related injury or illness, or two years from the date on which a physician determined that a 9/11-related illness was the cause or a significant contributing factor of the death. If you or a deceased loved one was never in the WTCHP or a condition was never previously “certified,” then you have until the year 2090 to register and file a claim.
  • Withdraw from or dismiss any 9/11-related lawsuits to which the claimant is a party.
  • Provide documentation proving the claimant was at one of the 9/11 attack sites or lived, worked, or attended school or daycare in the New York City exposure zone on 9/11 or in the following months.
  • When applicable, prove that an injury for which the claimant received compensation from the original VCF (which expired in 2004) has substantially worsened.
  • If filing a wrongful death claim due to the loss of a loved one to a 9/11-related condition, prove that the claimant has the legal authority to do so, typically by appointment by the Surrogate’s Court. Claims can be filed on behalf of family members by the named or appointed executor of the deceased’s estate.

What types of documents are needed to substantiate a VCF claim or amendment?

VCF claimants must submit documentation substantiating their claim, such as:

  • A certification of a 9/11-related health condition from the WTCHP or proof of diagnosis of such a condition is obtained through the private physician process
  • Proof of presence at or near an attack site on 9/11 or in a toxic exposure zone in the months that followed
  • Secondary proof of presence through a witness statement or an affidavit from a witness who was aware of your presence at the site
  • Information about so-called “collateral offsets,” which include compensation you’re receiving from other sources, such as a pension, workers’ compensation claim, or SSD

This is not a complete list. Speak with an experienced 9/11 benefits attorney today about the substantiation you may need for your VCF claim or amendment.

How do doctors know the condition is related to 9/11?

Over the past twenty years, researchers have identified dozens of health conditions, including respiratory diseases and cancers, strongly linked to exposure to toxic materials released on 9/11 in Lower Manhattan and, albeit to a lesser extent, at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) keeps an updated list of those conditions and adds to it when evidence emerges of a link between a new condition and 9/11-related exposures.

All cancer research tied to toxic 9/11 exposure has a latency period. This time passes when exposure occurs, and cancer develops as a result. The CDC tracks the minimum latency period for the cancers linked to 9/11 exposure to assist doctors in distinguishing cancers likely to have resulted from exposure from those that might have other causes.

For non-cancer conditions, the analysis is reversed. Physicians consider a maximum time interval between when exposure occurred and the appearance of the health condition. After a certain number of years, for instance, it’s unlikely that a 9/11-related toxic exposure would have caused some non-cancer respiratory or digestive conditions. The latency rules vary by disease and can be complex.

Will a newly diagnosed condition always result in more VCF compensation?

Not always, but often.

You have a good chance of receiving additional compensation, over-and-above any previous VCF award, if:

  • Your newly diagnosed condition entitles you to additional compensation for pain and suffering. The VCF awards claimants up to $250,000 in non-economic damages for qualifying cancers and up to $90,000 in non-economic damages for non-cancer conditions. A newly diagnosed condition may entitle you to additional non-economic compensation, especially if your initial award wasn’t for the maximum pain and suffering allowable.
  • You lost a loved one whose cause of death was either a condition that was previously certified by the WTC Health Program or was any type of cancer, even if not previously certified.

An experienced 9/11 benefits attorney can evaluate your newly diagnosed condition and counsel you about the likelihood of obtaining additional compensation from the VCF.

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If I am certified for a new condition by the WTC Health Program after my award was issued, or if I have a new loss, can I amend my application?

Yes. And you should! According to the VCF, you can file an amendment to your claim that adds a new condition or a new loss at any time before October 1, 2090. For example, let’s say you received an original 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund award in 2015 for COPD and asthma. Then in 2021 you are diagnosed with cancer. Hansen & Rosasco can then amend your prior 9/11 claim for additional tax free compensation. However, you may want to talk to an attorney about your right to compensation and how an additional ailment may increase your prior award.

Exposure to the dust cloud after 9/11 left many people with serious health ailments, many of which had a long-term effect on their finances and their ability to engage in normal activities. Filing a claim through the VCF can help provide much-needed compensation for the financial losses you experienced because of your exposure to toxic materials in connection with 9/11.

Some 9/11 health condition sufferers, however, may discover after receiving their award from the VCF that they have contracted another ailment related to their dust cloud exposure: a different type of cancer, for example, or a more serious lung ailment than initially thought. Can you amend your claim and seek additional compensation for that new condition?

Does Your New Claim Increase Your Compensation?

If you already receive treatment for your ailments through the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program, which provides treatment for 9/11-related ailments free-of-charge for victims of the attacks, then you generally will not incur additional medical expense associated with a new diagnosis you receive that is also related to dust cloud exposure.

On the other hand, if you currently obtain care for a 9/11-related health condition through a private physician, such as if it would cause you hardship to seek treatment from a WTC Health Program-certified physician or if you live in an area where you cannot access a WTC Health Program-certified provider, then you may need to seek additional compensation through the VCF to pay for the additional care you need for your newly-diagnosed condition.

If your medical expenses rise due to your new diagnosis, then you can seek additional compensation from the VCF to pay for them.

In addition, your 9/11 related non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, may also increase because of your new diagnosis. The VCF will pay pain and suffering damages up to $90,000 for non-cancer conditions, and $250,000 for claimants with a cancer diagnosis. But, if you have already received the statutory maximum amount of non-economic damages from the VCF, then your new diagnosis will not entitle you to additional compensation. The VCF, in other words, does not pay more than the statutory maximum for pain and suffering, even if you suffer a new condition that causes you additional non-economic hardship.

Talk to the experienced 9/11 lawyers at Hansen & Rosasco to learn more about whether an amendment can increase your compensation, which would make it worthwhile to file an amendment to your claim, or if you have already received the maximum allowable amount.

How to File an Amendment to Your Claim

Your circumstances have changed. Due to a new diagnosis, such as a cancer diagnosis or mesothelioma, your exposure to the dust cloud after 9/11 now creates a much more substantial impact on your life as a whole. Filing an amendment to your initial VCF claim notifies the VCF about your changed diagnosis and seeks the compensation you deserve for the additional losses that the newly diagnosed condition will cause you.

In some cases, the estate of a 9/11 victim may need to file the amendment, if the victim dies before receiving additional compensation related to a changed diagnosis or claim. Consult with an attorney to learn more about whether you might need to file an amendment on behalf of a deceased individual.

Amending an Online Claim

If you filed your initial VCF benefits claim online, then follow these steps to amend your claim based on your new diagnosis or loss.

  • Consult Hansen & Rosasco. Before you begin the amendment process, get in touch with an experienced 9/11 attorney to discuss how your new diagnosis has impacted you, including the limitations it has imposed on your life and any financial losses you may have faced because of the new diagnosis. An attorney can help you determine how much additional compensation you might deserve and whether you should file an amendment to your claim. In many cases, an attorney can also handle filing that amendment for you, or walk you through the process so you do not miss any critical details, to assure that your claim progresses smoothly.
  • Have your new condition certified by the WTC Health Program. To seek additional compensation from the VCF for a newly diagnosed 9/11-related health condition, you will need to have your new diagnosis certified by the WTC Health Program. You can seek certification through the WTC Health Program directly, or, in some cases, you may instead present evidence of your new diagnosis through the Private Physician program, which will allow you to use a non-WTC Health Program doctor to have your condition certified. You can use the Private Physician program to certify your condition if, for example, using the WTC Health Program would lead to undue hardship. WTC Health Program certification or Private Physician process certification shows that you have a covered condition related to dust cloud exposure following 9/11. This critical certification allows you to seek compensation through the VCF for your losses and to seek treatment through the WTC Health Program.

Amending a Hard Copy Claim Form

If you submitted a claim to the VCF in hard copy, rather than online, then here is how to file an amendment seeking the full compensation you deserve for the losses you face due to your newly diagnosed condition.

  • Consult your attorney. As above, make sure you consult your 9/11 attorney before filing an amendment to your claim. An attorney can help take a look at any new conditions you may face because of dust cloud exposure, determine whether they fall under the conditions covered by the WTC Health Program, and evaluate any compensation you have already received to determine whether you deserve additional compensation related to a new claim.
  • Get your new condition certified by the WTC Health Program. If you intend to file an amendment related to a new diagnosis, then you will need to have that new diagnosis certified by the WTC Health Program. The WTC Health Program will review the new illness and determine whether it relates to dust cloud exposure. Often, if you have already sought compensation or treatment through the WTC Health Program in the past, you may already have a certification for another diagnosis, or the WTC Health Program might have identified the new diagnosis in the first place. In either event, certification of the new condition will be critical in establishing your eligibility for additional compensation.
  • Gather your documentation. Talk to your attorney about what information you need to submit to file an amendment. You should not move forward with a claim amendment until you have received your WTC Health Program certification, since you will need to submit the certification letter as part of your documentation. You may also need to include your medical records and any other supporting documentation. You should not need to submit the documentation already submitted with your initial claim, including proof of dust cloud exposure and your involvement at Ground Zero or the “NYC Exposure Zone”, since you would have already provided that proof in connection with your initial claim.
  • Have your attorney write a cover letter. The cover letter should request to amend your claim based on these new conditions, including how those conditions have changed and why you feel that you deserve additional compensation.
  • Submit your letter and supporting documentation. Remember, it may take time for the VCF to process your claim amendment in hard copy. You should make sure to submit your amendment request along with your supporting documentation, since the VCF will need to prioritize your claim appropriately to process it as needed.

How can an attorney help you amend a VCF application that already resulted in an award?

An experienced 9/11 benefits attorney can help you amend your existing VCF application by:

  • Advising and assisting you in gathering the documentation VCF will likely want to review in considering your amendment.
  • Evaluating the potential benefits you might receive by amending your claim and answering your questions about the process
  • Preparing the paperwork required for requesting your amendment
  • Submitting your amendment and all necessary documentation online or via hard copy
  • Interacting with VCF representatives on your behalf to facilitate their review of your amendment
  • Responding to any follow-up requests from the VCF for additional
  • information about your amendment
  • Representing you in the formal appeals process if the VCF denies your amended application.

An attorney will most likely do all this work for you without charging you any upfront money. Instead, the attorney collects a fee from any award your amendment succeeds in obtaining from the VCF.

Do You Need an Attorney to Handle a VCF Claim Amendment?

No. Filing a claim amendment might go smoothly, if you have already filed a claim with the VCF in the past, have an open account, and have received the compensation you deserve for past injuries and losses. However, in many cases, depending on your condition, ensuring the maximum compensation and efficient processing of your claim requires having a skilled, experienced 9/11 benefits lawyer advocating for you.

A lawyer can help go over the reason for the amendment, including a new diagnosis, before you submit it.

In some cases, your new diagnosis might not change the compensation you deserve for your illness, especially if you have already received the maximum benefit for illnesses in your specific category. A lawyer can review your diagnosis and its impact on your life, to determine whether you should file an amendment to your claim. Keep in mind that if you plan to claim only non-economic losses, and you have already received the maximum benefit, then you will likely not receive additional compensation related to your claim.

A lawyer can ensure that you submit all the right documentation.

If you fail to submit the proper documentation with your claim amendment, then it can cause the VCF to delay your claim while waiting for that information. In many cases, that can mean you will not receive the compensation you deserve until much later than you might otherwise. Since, in many cases, 9/11 victims need the compensation they deserve from their illnesses as soon as possible, failing to submit the proper documentation can result in significant financial and personal challenges.

Working with an attorney can help your amendment move more smoothly while causing less stress.

Amending a VCF claim can require knowledge of how the VCF works and careful attention to detail. By working with a lawyer, you can gain peace of mind in knowing that someone experienced and knowledgeable has properly prepared and filed your claim amendment.

Contact a VCF Claim Amendment Attorney Today

If you have a newly diagnosed 9/11-related medical condition that was not documented in your initial VCF claim or covered by your first award, contact an experienced 9/11 benefits attorney today to learn about your right to amend your claim and receive additional compensation.

Posted under: 9/11 Victim Compensation

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