How Long Can My 9/11 Attorney Hold Onto My Award Payment Before Sending It to Me?
The short answer to the question is that once your attorney receives funds from the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund (VCF), the Special Master expects your 9/11 lawyer to send your award compensation money to you within 30 days.
After your VCF claim award gets approved, you want to receive your money right away. You have medical bills and expenses that have piled up, and you want to pay them.
That money, however, does not necessarily reach your attorney right away after claim approval. Several steps must take place before any VCF funds arrive at, and can be disbursed from, your attorney’s law firm client account.
Let’s take a look at how the VCF pays claims, and the steps that must take place before the money reaches your hands.
Overview of the VCF
The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) is a federal government program that provides compensation for injuries, illnesses and economic losses suffered by victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and by individuals who suffered health complications resulting from toxic exposures in the attacks’ aftermath.
Created originally in 2001 to compensate the victims on 9/11 itself, the Fund was re-opened in 2010 by the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act and is overseen by the US Department of Justice. The VCF pays economic and non-economic (pain & suffering) damages to help victims cope with long-term health complications and terminal illnesses, including a host of cancers and respiratory conditions caused by exposure to dangerous airborne toxins in the NYC Exposure Zone in the months after 9/11.
Individuals entitled to compensation from the VCF submit compensation claims, typically after receiving a certification from the World Trade Center Health Program, a separate federal program run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that they suffer from a 9/11-related health condition. The VCF reviews each claim to determine if the claimant is eligible for compensation and, if so, how much compensation the claimant should receive.
I submitted a claim with the VCF. How long will a decision take?
Generally, the VCF reviews claims on a first-in, first-out basis, based on the date the claimant’s lawyer “fully” submits the claim. As of July 2021, the average time for a claim to be decided after it is “fully submitted” is between 12-18 months. If the claimant has dire health (is likely to be terminal within 12 months) or financial (foreclosure or eviction pending) circumstances, claims can be “expedited” and substantially quicken a decision and award.
The VCF will no longer accept claims that are only partially done while other parts of proof (such as WTC Health Program “certification”) are pending. The 9/11 law firm must coordinate all the different parts of the claim at one time for “full” submission. Consequently, VCF prioritizes older claims over newer submissions.
Since its inception, the VCF has worked to shorten the time frame for evaluating claims. Currently, the VCF is trying to reach the goal to issue final determinations within one year of submission of the claim or any subsequent amendment to the claim.
Claim review and determination is not necessarily a straightforward process. It often takes the VCF an extended amount of time to review all the information submitted by the claimant, which typically includes a substantial amount of documentation that the VCF needs to confirm eligibility and calculate an appropriate award.
Typically, that documentation includes:
- Medical records reflecting the eligible 9/11-related health condition from which the claimant suffers or, in the case of a deceased claim, from which the claimant died.
- Information from employers, insurance companies, unions, and workers compensation systems detailing any benefits the claimant may have received to cover costs associated with the health condition.
- Proof of the claimant’s presence at a 9/11 attack or cleanup site to establish that the claimant suffered from toxic exposure that led to a 9/11-related health condition.
- Other administrative documentation, such as paperwork designating a personal representative of a claimant who died of a 9/11-related health condition, or documentation of any prior claim the claimant made to the VCF.
The VCF conducts a preliminary review of a submission to ensure it is complete and contains the required documentation. It then conducts a second, substantive review, during which it may request additional information, evidence, or documentation from the claimant to assist the VCF in determining the claim.
VCF claimants can help keep that process moving and minimize delays by teaming with an experienced VCF claim attorney to prepare and submit a claim, and respond to information requests. An attorney who understands how the VCF works and the types of documentation that the VCF needs to substantiate a claim can keep your claim on track to its quickest possible determination.
Will VCF accelerate a claim payout?
The VCF may accelerate a claim if the claimant suffers from a terminal illness or significant financial hardship. Claimants who find themselves in that type of situation can work with a lawyer to request that the VCF expedite the processing of the claim.
Many claimants hope for expedited processing due to financial hardship. The VCF typically will expedite a claim for significant financial hardship if the hardship is imminent. If the claimant faces pending eviction or foreclosure proceedings, cut-off utilities, or other dire, money-related life circumstances, the VCF may expedite a claim.
After receiving documentation in support of an expedited processing request, the VCF will usually notify the claimant and claimant’s lawyer of its decision typically within 48 hours. If the VCF approves the claim for expedited processing, it can often process the claim, issue the award, and process the payment in as little as three to four weeks.
Does filing an appeal delay payment?
Generally, it does. If you received a notification of your eligibility for compensation, but are not satisfied with the compensation decision, you can typically file an appeal of that determination within 30 days. However, unless VCF has already agreed to expedite your claim, it will not process your payment until the appeal resolves.
Will amending a claim delay payout processing?
The VCF’s first priority is to render decisions on claims for those who have not received an award. Yet, at the same time, VCF does also continue to review claim amendments, and it uses the same priority scheme in doing so, rendering decisions on older amendments before reviewing newer ones received.
Nevertheless, as a general rule, an amendment to a claim that has not yet been decided (i.e., on which the claimant has not received an award determination) will not change the claimant’s priority status. An amended claim retains the priority based on the date it was first submitted to the VCF for determination.
In contrast, claims that have already received an award determination do not retain their priority status if later amended. Instead, the VCF will give priority to it based on the date of the amendment submission.
Claim Determination and Payment
Thus, the timing of your VCF payment can depend on numerous factors.
However, once the VCF issues a determination, the timing of a payment largely depends on whether you choose to appeal it.
- No Appeal: The VCF will generally begin processing your payment once the 30-day appeal period ends. Once the processing has started, it can take up to 20 days for the Special Master to authorize the payment. This payment will then get processed by the Department of Justice and the Treasury Department, which can take up to three weeks. As a result, the payment should typically be sent to your lawyer’s designated bank account within two and a half months from the date of the award letter.
- Appeal: The VCF will not start processing your payment until after the appeal. Once the VCF sends you a letter notifying you of the outcome of the appeal, only then will the payment process start. Once it does, it can take up to 20 days for the Special Master to authorize the payment. The Department of Justice and the Treasury Department will then process the payment, which can take three weeks. This means that payment can come within one and a half months from the date of your post-appeal decision letter.
Settling Outstanding Bills and Liens Against Your VCF Award
Once the VCF disburses the money to your VCF attorney, your attorney may first have an obligation to use the funds to settle any outstanding liens that were filed against your VCF proceeds (such as by medical providers whom you have not paid). The process of resolving a lien may go quickly or take months to resolve, depending on the circumstances. Speak with your attorney about any potential liens on your VCF award.
Additionally, an attorney may also use a portion of the VCF proceeds to reimburse expenses related to your claims, such as the cost of private investigators, medical tests, or expert witnesses.
Paying Attorney’s Fees
Under the 9/11 Zadroga Act, attorneys may not charge a fee of more than 10 percent of the amount of the individual’s VCF award recovered.
The VCF does not pay attorney’s fees separately. The VCF will deposit the client’s award money into the attorney’s escrow account. A lawyer then deducts the 10% legal fees from the VCF award before disbursing the remainder to the claimant.
Distribution From Your Attorney
As we said at the outset, the Special Master expects a law firm to disburse a VCF award to a claimant within 30 days of the law firm receiving the money into their escrow account. In most cases, that’s all the time the attorney should need to resolve any outstanding expenses (although the attorney may need more to resolve liens).
Distribution from your attorney to you can take the form of a paper check or a wire or ACH transfer, usually at your request.
Or course, once you receive your VCF award, you may need to pay any outstanding claim-related bills that your attorney did not take care of before disbursing funds to you. Before you start spending VCF award funds, it’s often a good idea to take an inventory of all your claim-related accounts and make sure you pay them. Some recipients of VCF awards make the mistake of spending their money before settling outstanding debts, which can lead to significant legal and financial complications.
What You Can Do to Speed up the Process
Many of the steps above are beyond your ability to control.
However, you can help move the process along by, for example:
- Helping your lawyer identify and contact witnesses who can attest to your “presence in the 9/11 NYC Exposure Zone” between 9/11/2001 and May 30, 2002.
- Working with your lawyer to take an inventory of any outstanding bills and liens, and their payoff amounts, so that your attorney can settle them as quickly as possible after receiving your VCF award funds (and, potentially, negotiate their final amounts before the funds arrive).
- Providing documentation requested by the VCF as quickly as possible.
- Requesting expedited processing when you qualify for it.
Contact a 9/11 VCF Lawyers Hansen & Rosasco Today for Further Information
If you want to learn more about your legal options and whether you qualify for compensation from the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, reach out to an experienced VCF claim attorney at Hansen & Rosasco today. Obtaining compensation from the VCF is not always easy. The process can often change without warning, making it helpful to have someone well versed in the VCF’s practices to guide your claim and keep it on track to the quickest possible payment.
An experienced 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund lawyer can also:
- Collect information from you that can help illustrate why you should receive the maximum available VCF award.
- Connect you with medical professionals who can assist with documenting your health condition.
- Gather evidence to substantiate your presence at an attack or cleanup site.
- Prepare and submit claim documentation to the VCF.
- Respond to VCF requests for additional information.
- Represent you in an appeal of an adverse claim determination.
To learn more about the process of applying for VCF benefits, contact an experienced VCF claim attorney at Hansen & Rosasco today for a free consultation.Posted under: 9/11 Victim Compensation