Do I Need a Lawyer to File a 9/11-Related Claim?

By Troy Rosasco

Following a 9/11-related cancer diagnosis or another serious health issue, you may have the right to file a claim with the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF). You likely have a lot of questions about the process,  what compensation you should seek and is available, and you may also wonder if you need a lawyer to file a 9/11-related claim through the VCF. Read on for more information.

What Is the VCF?

The Victim Compensation Fund provides compensation to the victims of the 9/11 attacks who discovered in the months and years after the attacks that they suffered from cancer or other serious illness as a result of their presence in lower Manhattan on 9/11 or any time during the many months after the attacks.

Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers — downtown workers, residents, students, visitors and others were exposed to the 9/11 toxic dust either on 9/11 or any time during the many months afterwards. Many others, in the aftermath of 9/11, contributed to the efforts to rescue others, clean up the area, and provide much-needed support to the first responders. Unfortunately, during this time in downtown Manhattan, they breathed in asbestos and other contaminants in the air around the WTC. Over the course of almost 20 years now, tens of thousands of these same people — who were in the wrong place at the wrong time — have suffered serious diagnoses related to their simply presence in lower Manhattan in the weeks and months after 9/11, including cancer, skin conditions, asthma and other respiratory conditions, and musculoskeletal disorders.

Not only do these conditions cause significant medical expenses that can leave the entire downton population of workers, residents, volunteers and workers at Ground Zero suffering financially, but they can also cause significant physical limitations. The Victim Compensation Fund provides important compensation for these victims, who may have ended up overlooked as life returned to normal for most of the country.

You don’t need to worry that filing a claim will take money from other people you think may deserve it more. On July 29, 2019, H.R. 1327, The Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, extended the deadline for filing with the VCF through 2090 and ensured that the Fund is full funded and to provide compensation to all victims.

Who Can File With the VCF?

Tens of thousands of people who suffered health impacts due to the events of the 9/11 terrorist attacks have the right to file for compensation through the VCF. This includes firefighters, first responders, paramedics, construction workers, and people who lived and worked around Ground Zero in the weeks and months following the attacks, specifically lower Manhattan south of Canal Street/East Broadway/Clinton Street. If you suffered an illness (including any cancer) that you suspect may be caused by the fallout after the attacks on 9/11, you may file for compensation through the VCF.

Do You Need an Attorney to File a 9/11-Related Claim?

According to the VCF’s FAQs page, you do not legally have to have an attorney to file a 9/11 related claim. You can choose to connect with the VCF on your own. However, victims who faced a cancer diagnosis or other serious medical problems related to the 9/11 attacks should carefully consider the value of retaining an experienced 9/11 attorney who understands the VCF claim process. An attorney can file and pursue your claim.

1. A 9/11 attorney can help relieve stress during this difficult period.

Filing a claim on your own may mean digging through paperwork, finding proof of the impacts that the 9/11 attacks have had on you, and working closely with the VCF to ensure that you receive the compensation you need. You may need to submit copies of your medical paperwork or pursue specific treatments through the WTC Health Program to maximize your compensation. All of these activities can cause substantial stress and make it more difficult for you to focus on your treatment and recover from the conditions you acquired in the aftermath of 9/11.

An attorney can relieve stress and take many of those responsibilities off of your shoulders. Instead of worrying about your claim, hand it over to a September 11 attorney.

A 9/11 attorney will also allow you to tell your story. Across America, everyone has a story to tell about 9/11. People remember where they were when they found out and what steps they took in the immediate aftermath. You may remember your decision to move into action or the choices you made that led to your contributions at the scene of the accident.

Many volunteers and employees who worked at the scene also remember the contributions that they made and what they saw as they helped clean up or aid victims in the aftermath of 9/11. That story may appear front and center in your mind as you deal with a 9/11-related diagnosis and process your claim for compensation. An attorney will listen to your story and give you a chance to share how those events have impacted you.

2. An attorney can fill out all your paperwork correctly.

To receive compensation for your illness, you will need to fill out all the legal paperwork correctly and completely plus gather the necessary proof needed to support your claim, including sworn affidavits or sworn witness statements that are often required for your claim to be approved. An attorney can help fill out your paperwork and ensure that you do not miss anything.

Each time you fill out paperwork incorrectly or fail to file and provide all necessary proof and other records required by the VCF, you likely delay the time it takes for you to receive compensation through the VCF or, in many cases, even cause the denial of your claim. While you may receive treatment through the WTC Health Program (or remain with your own doctors) while waiting for VCF approval, you may still choose to pursue compensation for much-needed funds, including funds that can help you take care of your other expenses while you receive medical care. You will also need to have your illness certified by the WTC Health Program to receive much-needed treatment through that program. An attorney will ensure that all the paperwork gets filled out correctly and that you do not miss anything as you file your claim.

3. A 9/11 attorney can help you collect the documentation that will prove your presence at Ground Zero.

In 2001 and 2002, nobody had even a remote thought that a decade or two in the future you would need to prove your presence at Ground Zero. People focused on trying to get back to their apartments or jobs downtown or, in the case of first responders, helping those that needed it or cleaning up in the aftermath of the attacks, rather than on documenting every step they took. With a 9/11-related cancer diagnosis or serious respiratory or musculoskeletal problem related to your contributions, however, you now find yourself needing to prove your presence in the 9/11 Disaster Area.

An attorney can help find necessary evidence that will show your presence in the 9/11 Disaster Area as required to establish your right to compensation. If you worked as a firefighter or first responder at Ground Zero, employment records may show your presence. Likewise, if you came in as a construction worker to help haul away debris, you may discover that your employer has vital records that will show your contributions at Ground Zero. Most others, on the other hand, may have more serious problems showing evidence of their presence and contributions. An attorney can help find that evidence, allowing you to establish your presence in the Disaster Area zone and therefore your right to compensation through the VCF.

In addition, you may need to provide documentation that shows your diagnosis and the extent of your illness. The WTC Health Program will provide you with medical records if you seek treatment through it, but does not communicate directly with the VCF. If you have received treatment elsewhere, you may need to collect those medical records and bills to help show exactly what diagnoses you faced and what treatment you went through as a result. A 9/11 attorney can help collect those important medical records, which may also serve as evidence establishing the value of your claim.

4. A 9/11 attorney can give you a better understanding of the compensation you should expect.

The VCF has a very specific set of precedents and awards established that can help provide support to victims of the 9/11 attacks, including those who suffered serious diagnoses due to their exposure to toxic dust and chemicals at Ground Zero. Many victims, however, have little idea how much compensation they can expect.

A 9/11 attorney can estimate the value of your claim and determine how much compensation you are entitled to, the different types of compensation that may be available to you, and if your award can be increased. An experienced 9/11 attorney can assist with the following:

  • Assistance with medical bills. If you have already been through treatment related to conditions diagnosed after 9/11, you may receive compensation for your medical bills. This may include treatment for cancer, including chemotherapy, radiation, or surgical treatment for your cancers. You may also choose to pursue treatment through the WTC Health Program, which provides treatment directly to people who faced such diagnoses through a series of specific clinics and hospitals.
  • Compensation for economic losses. Many people face substantial economic losses related to a cancer diagnosis, including lost wages, benefits, pension and possibly union or employer-provided benefits such as health care costs or premiums. Often, your economic losses may include factors you did not initially consider as you thought about and prepared your claim. Talk to an attorney about how to include your expenses as part of your VCF claim for a 9/11-related diagnosis.
  • Compensation for non-economic losses. In addition to economic losses, you may face considerable non-economic losses related to your diagnosis. Also known as pain and suffering, these losses include the non-financial impacts of your diagnoses related to the assistance you provided after the 9/11 attacks. Many victims may also suffer from an inability to perform the activities that they usually enjoy or find themselves struggling with ongoing physical symptoms related to their illnesses.

The VCF does not provide direct compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to the 9/11 attacks. The WTC Health Program, however, does offer some treatment for PTSD as part of its services. Talk to your attorney to learn more about your right to assistance following a PTSD diagnosis and how it can impact your ability to seek compensation.

5. An attorney can help streamline your claim and get it approved faster.

9/11 Cancer Claim LawyersIn the immediate aftermath of 9/11, no one had any idea that heading back downtown to live or work or to help render aid at the scene would result in health consequences down the road. Most people tried to get back with their lives or jumped into action, hurrying to the scene to offer what support and assistance they could.

Now, you find yourself in equally urgent need, but it can take time to get your claim approved. Not only that, but also many situations, including backlogs or problems finding evidence related to your claim, can interfere with your ability to recover adequate compensation.

An attorney can help. An attorney with experience handling 9/11 claims can help move your claim through the system faster, providing you with the funds you need in a faster, more efficient manner.

6. A 9/11 attorney can help you appeal the decision on your claim if needed.

In some cases, you may need to appeal the decision regarding your claim, especially if your claim had missing information or if you have reason to believe that the claim did not include all of the losses that you’ve faced as a result of your disease following 9/11. The VCF only allows you to file an appeal if you include an Appeal Request Form.

In the absence of that form, you cannot file a request for appeal. If you do file an appeal, the VCF will typically hold any payments you would have received under the grounds of your current award until your appeal is decided. An attorney can provide you with more advice about whether you should appeal your claim and what other options are available.

Many victims find that working with an attorney both relieves stress and helps increase the compensation that they ultimately receive through the VCF. While the VCF has fair standards for providing compensation for victims of the 9/11 attacks, including those victims who suffered serious diagnoses long after the initial attacks, you must provide the right information to receive that compensation. An attorney can help you better understand your legal rights, frame your arguments, and increase your odds of recovering compensation.

Do You Need to File a 9/11-Related Claim?

If you need to file a 9/11-related claim, contact Hansen & Rosasco online today or by calling (855) 353-4907. We have experience handling 9/11-related claims—in fact, that’s the only thing we do—and we are ready to help you pursue compensation for your September 11 illness.

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