Families of Deceased 9/11 Victims 

By Troy Rosasco

Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives in the terrorist attacks in Lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001. The “second wave” of cancers and other diseases linked to the fallout from the 9/11 attacks with the number of deaths of downtown residents and workers expected to be even worse. These New Yorkers moved back to their apartments and went back to their jobs in lower Manhattan breathing in the same dust and fumes as the massive number of first responders and other workers who cleaned up our city streets, carted away debris — all who tried to rebuild New York.

Many simply tried to carry on with their lives by working, living, or going to school near Ground Zero. They did this because they believed it was safe. The EPA and city officials told everyone that the air was safe to breathe and the water was safe to drink. The EPA lied.

Now, thousands of survivors and residents suffer from a variety of chronic medical conditions, cancers, respiratory illnesses, and digestive disorders. Many deal with terminal illnesses from breathing in the toxic air that clouded Lower Manhattan after the attacks. This air contained more than 2,500 known toxins, including fiberglass, asbestos, concrete dust powder, and lead. Families left behind must pick up the pieces and try to make sense of the grief they now endure.

Unfortunately, many New York families do not realize that 9/11 caused their loved one’s health conditions or death. This link between the 9/11 fallout and a later cancer or another terrible disease is not always apparent, especially if diagnosed years after the attacks.

If you lost a loved one and you believe their presence near Ground Zero after 9/11 caused their health condition, we can help. Your family may receive compensation through the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF). This is a fully funded program to help all victims, survivors, and families who suffered after 9/11. An experienced 9/11 attorney can help you with the process of filing your claim.

What the VCF Provides

Stephan was only seven years old on September 11, 2001. What he remembers of that day was his mother picking him up early from school and the sadness of his family members as they watched footage of the attacks on television. He remembers his mother working non-stop in the days after the attack in areas like Battery Park City, where toxic dust clung to the air. A special agent for the ASPCA, Stephan’s mother, Diane, was retrieving stranded pets in the affected area and attempting to reunite them with their owners.

The exposure to the toxic dust from the collapsed towers for those few days in 2001 was enough to create health issues that eventually would cost Diane her life.

In 2013, as the ASPCA was disbanding the unit where she worked, Diane was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer. Left ill and with virtually nothing as the result of the loss of her job, Diane filed a VCF claim. She died two years later, in 2015, when her son was 21. The funding his mother received through VCF helped him to continue his education, covering grad school so he could pursue a career in physical therapy.

The same federal program (the VCF) available to Diane’s family is also available to the families of non-first responders, including downtown residents, workers, and students who were in lower Manhattan on 9/11 or any time during the eight and a half months afterwards. The residents and downtown area workers breathed the very same toxic air as Diane, and tragically later got sick too with many dying due to a 9/11-caused cancer or other illness.

The VCF provides coverage of both economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages refer to out-of-pocket expenses incurred as a result of 9/11 illnesses or injuries, including out-of-pocket medical expenses that were not covered by the WTC Health Program or private insurance. Non-economic damages refer to the life impacts that the claimant experienced as a result of their 9/11 illness or injury, such as physical pain and suffering.

The eligible conditions that contributed to a person’s death that qualify family members to file a claim with VCF are those that are covered by the WTC Health Program, including:

  • Acute injuries such as burns, complex sprains, eye injuries, fractures, head trauma, and tendon tears.
  • Airway and digestive disorders, known as aerodigestive disorders, including asthma, chronic cough syndrome, chronic laryngitis, chronic nasopharyngitis, chronic respiratory disorder, chronic rhinosinusitis, gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD), interstitial lung disease, new-onset or WTC-exacerbated chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), reactive airway dysfunction syndrome, sleep apnea co-occurring with another eligible condition, or upper airway hyperreactivity.
  • Cancers, which can occur in any part of the body as a result of toxic exposure. Examples of the types of cancers covered by the program include blood and lymphoid tissue cancers such as lymphoma, myeloma, and leukemia; breast cancer; childhood cancers; cancers of the digestive system including rectal and colon cancers; eye and orbit cancers; ovarian cancers; cancers of the head and neck; prostate cancer; mesothelioma; cancers of the respiratory system including lung or bronchus cancer; skin cancers including melanoma, non-melanoma, and carcinoma in situ; soft tissue; thyroid; and cancers of the urinary system, including bladder and kidney.

Registering and Filing a Claim

Individuals who wish to file a claim for VCF compensation following the death of a loved one are required to create an account on the fund’s website and register. Registration is not the filing of the claim, but will reserve the right for the family to file a claim in the future.

The deadline for registering if the death occurred before July 29, 2019, the deadline for registering is July 29, 2021. For those whose loved one died after July 29, 2019, who want to receive prompt consideration of a claim, the deadline is two years from the date of death.

Once an individual has registered with the fund, he or she may then file a claim anytime until 2090. If the deceased person was sick with a 9/11 condition before he or she passed — including one of the over 70 different types of 9/11 cancers — but did not die as a direct result of their 9/11 condition, the claimant’s family would then file a personal injury claim rather than a wrongful death claim.

The documents needed to submit a VCF claim on behalf of a deceased person include:

  • A completed claim form.
  • An original or certified copy of court orders naming an executor of the deceased’s will, an administrator of the deceased’s estate, or a personal representative of the deceased’s estate.
  • Original or certified copy of the death certificate showing the cause of death.
  • An authorization of release of the deceased individual’s medical records.
  • Documentation to support the deceased individual’s presence at a 9/11 site either on September 11, 2001, or in the weeks following the terrorist attacks. Some acceptable documents to prove this include an employer verification form or employer records, proof of residence in the New York City exposure zone in September 2001, school or daycare records, or an affidavit from someone who witnessed the individual in the exposure zone on September 11, 2001, or in the days immediately following.
  • Information about any life insurance policies that the deceased person had.
  • A Social Security Administration consent form if the family is seeking funding for damages other than non-economic losses.
  • Proof of the deceased’s 9/11-related injury or illness. Please note that if the deceased had previously applied for the WTC Health Program and his or her condition was certified for treatment, you do not have to submit proof of physical illness or injury.
  • If the deceased and/or his or her family members participated in a 9/11-related lawsuit, you must submit documentation proving that the lawsuit was either withdrawn, settled, or dismissed.
  • If your claim seeks compensation for the cost of services that the deceased provided before death, you must submit a statement clearly listing the type of services and the amount of time the deceased spent performing those tasks. If the deceased could not perform the services before death due to a 9/11-related injury or illness, you must provide medical records that show an eligible injury or illness as the reason why those services could not be performed.
  • If you are including in your claim the loss of earnings experienced by the victim’s illness, injury, or death, you must provide documentation regarding any disability benefits, pension, or workers’ compensation benefits received by the deceased.

We can help you collect this documentation.

If a claim is properly submitted and documented with the correct affidavits and all other statutory requirements are met, the VCF makes awards for non-economic losses—such as pain and suffering—of $250,000 for the decedent, plus an additional $100,000 for the deceased’s spouse and each of his or her dependents. No documentation is necessary to prove dependents who were under 18 at the time of the victim’s death. However, if there was a dependent over the age of 18 at the time of the victim’s death, you must submit the deceased’s tax return for the year before his or her death.

The History of the VCF

The original VCF began in 2001, shortly after the terrorist attacks and was then closed in 2004, providing compensation for individuals who experienced physical harm as a result of the terrorist attacks in Manhattan, as well as the Pentagon and the site of the downed plane in Shanksville, Pennsylvania that was intended to be part of the attack. The fund also provided compensation for families of those killed in the attacks.

Initially, those families and individuals had until December 22, 2003, to file a compensation claim. During this time, the Fund paid around $7 billion, as well as sources such as charities and insurance companies. Insurance companies contributed slightly over half of that amount. The majority of money paid out through insurance claims, however, went to covering the physical and other damages caused to businesses in Lower Manhattan by the September 11, 2001 attacks.

In early 2011, President Barack Obama signed into law the James Zadroga Act of 2010. This act reinstated the VCF along with creating a program known as the World Trade Center Health Program, designed to monitor the health of 9/11 workers and survivors and to treat the conditions related to exposure to the toxic environment of Ground Zero and other 9/11 sites; $2.775 billion was allotted at the time of reactivation to compensate claimants for expenses such as wage loss resulting from 9/11 injuries and illnesses as well as non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering.

The reactivated VCF began accepting claims in October 2011, and was authorized for five years. The Zadroga Act and both programs it concerns was reauthorized for another five years in 2015.

In 2019, the VCF Special Master noted that the funds could not cover the claims that the program had received. The funding insufficiency was attributed to a rise in claims brought by people who had been diagnosed with cancer as a result of toxic exposure. It was predicted that the lack of funds would require cuts of 50 to 70 percent to claims. In some cases, the cuts were up to 90 percent of what would have been paid on the claim in previous years.

In July 2019, Congress reauthorized the VCF and the WTC Health Program, with the deadline for filing claims extended until October 2090. The reauthorization also increased the funding allocation for the program to more than $10 billion, and requires replenishing the fund as needed to pay all of the claims.

Additionally, the reauthorization called for a two-year window for anyone who had missed a VCF registration deadline to register, thereby reserving the right to later file a claim, to July 29, 2021. This made funding available for victims who had not known that they suffered from 9/11-related cancer. It is also available for anyone who did not know that the fund was open to all survivors and families, not just first responders.

As of July 2020, more than 55,000 claims were submitted to the VCF and more than 38,000 of those claims had resulted in compensation. Around $6.96 billion had been paid through the fund to 9/11 survivors and the families of those who died as a result of an injury or illness precipitated by 9/11.

Let Hansen & Rosasco, LLP Help You With Your Claim

An experienced 9/11 attorney can help you with the VCF claims process.

Some of the services an attorney can provide include:

  • Guidance and information about the process of obtaining compensation through a VCF wrongful death claim.
  • Registering with VCF and obtaining the documentation that is needed for a substantive review of your claim, including the preparation of the required affidavits and other proof.
  • Knowledge as to the full amount of damages you are allowed to claim through VCF.
  • Coordination of your VCF claim and benefits that you are receiving through other federal, state, or private agencies.
  • Representing you or your family before the Department of Justice to ensure that the VCF makes the maximum award for your claim.
  • Representing you or your family with the appeals process if you are not satisfied with the decision that was made about your claim.
  • Assistance in collecting the compensation award you receive.

Let the experienced 9/11 attorneys at Hansen and Rosasco, LLP provide you with the answers you need regarding how to obtain compensation following the loss of a loved one due to a 9/11 illness or injury.

Our founder partners and experienced staff have been assisting the families of 9/11 victims in receiving the help they need for years, and offer extensive knowledge of the Zadroga Act, as well as the claims and appeals process. For a free case review, contact us online or by calling (855) 353-4907.

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