How Do I Prove that I Was in the Lower Manhattan Disaster Area on or After September 11th?

By Troy Rosasco

What You Need to Apply for 9/11 Benefits

Apply for 9/11 BenefitsTo receive compensation from the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF), you must submit written proof that shows you were present in the lower Manhattan Disaster Area on or in the months after 9/11. If the proper written proof of presence is not provided, the VCF will deny the claim and not make payment of any award. In December 2020, the VCF’s most recently published report, a total of 5,332 claims (well over 20% of all claims) were denied for the failure to establish eligibility—with many of these denials because the claimant failed to provide proper documentation or “proof of presence.”

A large number of people in lower Manhattan are eligible for a tax-free payment from the VCF, including anyone living, working, or going to school in lower Manhattan (as far north as Canal Street) between 9/11 and May 30, 2002.  You can submit a claim for compensation if you lived or worked in Lower Manhattan in the months following the September 11 terrorist attacks, when a dust cloud filled the air and exposed many people to toxins, including asbestos, which could cause mesothelioma and a host of lung or respiratory problems.

Establishing your presence at the scene, however, starts with submitting the right written documentation. If you do no, the VCF will either delay or deny your claim, as it did with 5,332 claims just last month. What documents do you need to submit to prove your presence at or near Ground Zero or in Lower Manhattan?

The VCF offers a list of the primary documents used to prove presence at Ground Zero. That list, as noted by the VCF, does not include a comprehensive list of all possible documentation that can prove presence at the scene, but it does offer a starting point.

Gathering all of this information would present a burden to healthy people under the best of times, but a serious illness or injury can make the task impossible to complete. If the following seems insurmountable to you, give our 9/11 lawyers a call. We know how to quickly and efficiently find the information you need to apply for the VCF and how to file the paperwork properly so that you don’t need to deal with endless appeals. You’ll pay us nothing out of pocket, either, so you have nothing to lose by calling us.

Employment Documents

Did you work near Ground Zero, or work on the cleanup efforts following 9/11? If so, you may have documents from your employer that will establish your presence.

This may include:

  • A letter from your employer establishing that you worked at or near Ground Zero. In the case of a letter submitted directly from your employer, you may need to have your employer, or former employer, submit that letter directly to the VCF, rather than submitting a letter as part of your supporting documentation.
  • An official personnel roster from your employer, which will establish that you worked for a company located in Lower Manhattan. The personnel roster will need to include specific dates.
  • Pay stubs that establish you worked for an employer located in Lower Manhattan. If you use these documents, you may need to show additional documentation of your presence at Ground Zero or Lower Manhattan.
  • Records from your employer. These may include orders that sent you to Lower Manhattan or specific orders that sent you to Ground Zero to aid with cleanup.

To use employment documents to establish your presence in Lower Manhattan or at Ground Zero, you will need to look for dates on your paperwork. Those dates will establish that you worked at the scene during the relevant time.

Importantly, just submitting some or all of the documents listed above is usually not enough. The VCF will most often require that these documents be supported by at least two detailed sworn affidavits that satisfy the federal regulations and the VCF’s rules.

Residency Records

Many people living in Lower Manhattan after 9/11 later suffered a variety of medical conditions: cancers, respiratory symptoms, and mesothelioma, for example. Residents gradually went back to life as normal following the terrorist attacks. Many had no choice to leave the area following the attacks. As a result, they faced exposure to everything in the dust cloud.

To establish residency, you may need to show:

  • Rental agreements
  • Proof of rent payments
  • Mortgage receipts
  • Utility bills

If you show this evidence of residency following the 9/11 attacks, you may also need to show other proof that you actually spent time in the area following the attacks. Landlords who owned properties in Lower Manhattan, but did not reside there themselves and who did not spend time in the area, either dealing with tenant complaints or handling common issues with the property, may not have faced exposure to the dust cloud and may not have diagnoses associated with it.

As with area workers, submitting some or all of the above-listed documents above is usually not sufficient. These residence documents must also be supported by at least two detailed sworn affidavits that meet the standards set forth in the federal regulations and the VCF’s rules.

School Records

Many students continued to attend school or daycare in the Lower Manhattan area following 9/11. Those children have grown into adults who may have faced serious diagnoses in the intervening years, especially if they spent most of their time living or working in that area.

To prove that you went to school or daycare in Lower Manhattan and may have faced exposure to the dust cloud as a result, you may need to submit:

  • Report cards
  • Enrollment records
  • Certification from the daycare or a daycare employee

If you use school records to prove your presence in Lower Manhattan, you may need to add a letter or certification from someone who worked for the daycare or school at the time. If you have certified records, the VCF may allow you to submit them without accompanying documentation. The better practice to avoid a claim being denied, however, is to submit detailed eyewitness affidavits (from at least two non-relatives) in support of your claim.

Medical Records and Reports

If you suffered a direct injury at Ground Zero, you may have records establishing when that injury took place and that the injury relates to your contributions in the cleanup or recovery efforts, or that you suffered injuries during the terrorist attacks.

These may include:

  • Your specific medical records
  • Workers’ compensation reports
  • Reports from your employer

You may need to provide certification for your medical records, including doctors’ statements.

Volunteer Records

Many people chose to come to New York to aid with cleanup following the events of 9/11. They offered support and assistance moving debris away from the scene and cleaning up the site. Some checked in with specific organizations, which may have records that list the volunteers present at the scene, how long they volunteered, and what duties they took on. Those records can help establish your contributions and presence, especially if you have them certified by someone who manages the organization.

A Personal Statement

The VCF allows a personal statement to help establish your presence at Ground Zero. Your statement should include all the details you can remember about your presence in Lower Manhattan. Your personal statement is a chance to tell your story: everything that happened to you during and following 9/11.

Suppose, for example, that you volunteered to help with debris cleanup following 9/11. You did not come in with a specific organization, but you did work directly with a specific provider who offered assistance and guidance as you worked through cleanup at the scene. You may have few actual records of your presence, but you can detail the specific tasks that you took on: moving debris away from the scene, finding specific features of the building, or accomplishing highly specific tasks. Your records will line up with records provided by others proven to have volunteered at the scene and can help establish your presence.

On the other hand, if you lived in Lower Manhattan, but have trouble producing records of residence, your personal statement can help establish your presence during that time. You might tell about your reaction to 9/11: where you were when you heard about the attacks, what you personally saw, or who you interacted with immediately after finding out about the attacks.

You might describe time out of school: Do you remember how many days you missed after the terrorist attacks or what you did on those days? Do you remember changing your usual transportation route? Did you note specifics about how life changed? The more detail your statement contains, the better it can establish your presence in Lower Manhattan following the attacks.

How to Locate Needed Documentation to Prove Your Presence at Ground Zero or in Lower Manhattan

Most people had no idea, immediately after 9/11, that they would later have to prove their presence at the scene. You might even have tried to erase many of the records of that time, especially if you lost someone in the terrorist attacks. Years later, you suddenly discovered that you actually needed to provide a record of your presence in Lower Manhattan, but you have no idea where to start.

Luckily, you have several options for collecting the information you need.

1. Contact your employer.

Many employers carry records that go back multiple years. Thanks to digital storage, some employers rarely empty their databases, which means that they are likely to have those employment records on hand. Employers who sent workers to Ground Zero have likely already had several employees go through the VCF claims process. That makes them more likely to keep track of those records.

If your employer has been through the claims process in the past, you may also find that the company can offer you exactly the documentation you need to process your claim quickly and effectively.

2. Get in touch with your former school or daycare.

Depending on the facility you used, you may find that your care provider already has certified records of who attended that facility in late 2001 or early 2002. Many daycares and schools have had many former students diagnosed with 9/11-related conditions, and they know the importance of providing accurate records. Some have already had their records certified. Others can provide you with needed information to help solidify the evidence of your presence.

3. Contact your former landlord.

If you lived in Lower Manhattan, your former landlord may have a record of your presence. Those records can prove vital in establishing your residence in Lower Manhattan. Ask your landlord if he can provide certified copies of your information.

4. Check your personal records.

Most people get rid of personal paperwork after a while—often as little as five to 10 years. In some cases, however, you may still have that information and documentation: an old utility bill tucked back in your records, for example, or a mortgage or rent agreement that you filed away and never got around to tossing out.

Going through your personal records can be one of the most effective ways to find the documentation you need. Take a look at virtual records, go back through your utility records online, or check your personal paper files to see what paperwork you still have.

5. Contact the organization you volunteered for.

Did you volunteer for an organization that aided with rescue or cleanup efforts? If so, that organization may have records that will establish your presence in Lower Manhattan and even at Ground Zero directly. Many of the organizations that contributed to both rescue and cleanup efforts have already seen many volunteers who suffered severe diagnoses from their participation or presence.

As a result, those organizations have kept careful track of their records over the past several years, making it easier for them to submit documentation on behalf of future volunteers. In some cases, those organizations have already submitted their records to the VCF, which means you may contact the VCF to learn what documentation you can use to prove your presence.

What if You Can’t Find the Records You Need?

Sometimes, you may struggle to find any record at all of your presence at Ground Zero or in Lower Manhattan. Other times, the VCF may ask for additional documentation to help support your claim. What happens if you can’t find the records you need? Luckily, you have several options for providing documentation.

If you can’t find the records you need on your own, don’t worry! We can help. Many 9/11 attorneys already know how to find documentation regarding 9/11 involvement and have a solid understanding of what you need. Often, an experienced 9/11 attorney can access records you might not have access to on your own. An attorney can also do a public records search to find property records or help contact companies, including utility companies and your former employer, to get the records you need.

We Can Help

Hansen & Rosasco - NYC 9/11 lawyersThe 9/11 compensation lawyers at Hansen & Rosasco have a long proven track record of assisting 9/11 victims obtain the proper proof of presence to support their VCF claim. We have staff that helps conduct investigations (including a decorated retired detective) who will help you find the proof that is needed for the approval of claims with the WTC Health Program and VCF. For a free case evaluation to or to simply see how we can help, contact us online or by calling (855) 353-4907.

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