Registering with the VCF: What It Means, Why It’s Done, and More
The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) provides compensation to individuals who suffer from physical injuries or illnesses due to working as 9/11 responders or having lived, worked, or attended school or daycare in the area near Ground Zero in Manhattan and shortly after the attacks. It also compensates family members for the wrongful death of a loved one due to such a physical injury or illness.
However, to receive compensation from the VCF, individuals must first register for the program. Here is some information about VCF registration, what it means, why to do it, and more.
Registration: The First Step in the VCF Claim Process
Registering with the VCF is the first step in claiming VCF compensation. But it can be a point of confusion for prospective claimants. Registering with the VCF is not the same thing as filing a claim. Registering merely reserves your right to file a claim, which can happen at any time between now and October 2090.
The purpose of registration is to give the VCF program’s administrators the ability to determine the amount of staff they will need to review and process future claims and predict the money the program needs to pay out year-to-year. As a potential claimant, you can think of registration as
As of the most recent VCF annual report, more than 137,000 people have registered with the VCF, with increasing registrations each year. There were more than 30,000 VCF registrations in 2021, which was more than double the number the year before.
Likewise, the number of claims has also increased by the year, with more than 71,000 VCF claims made in the decade since the Zadroga Act reinstituted the program.
Claims made by the survivor group (those living, working, or attending school or daycare in the area) have shown the biggest increases over recent years.
The Registration Deadline
While there is a long filing window for VCF claims, registering with the VCF carries a deadline that is important to follow. Responders and survivors diagnosed with a certified 9/11-related condition must register within two years of the latest date listed on the certification of the condition or within two years of when a local, state, or federal entity notifies you that your medical condition is 9/11-related. In some cases, claimants can also use the private physician process to show that their physical condition is 9/11-related.
For personal representatives seeking compensation on behalf of the family members of a responder or survivor who died from a 9/11-related illness, the deadline for registering to file a claim is two years from the later of either the date of death or the date the condition was certified or verified as 9/11-related.
What Does It Mean to Have a Condition Certified?
In 2011, in addition to restarting the VCF, the federal government also created another 9/11 benefits program, the World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP), to provide free medical treatment and medical monitoring services to those suffering from 9/11-related medical conditions.
The program has a process of certifying conditions as 9/11-related, and—while the VCF and the WTCHP are distinctly different programs—the VCF uses the WTCHP certifications of covered conditions to partially satisfy the eligibility criteria for obtaining compensation.
What Is the Private Physician Process?
The private physician process is another way medical conditions can be determined to be 9/11-related. This benefits individuals who cannot participate in WTCHP and obtain certification of the condition that way.
Those authorized to use the private physician process include:
- Those filing a deceased claim in which the victim’s conditions were not certified through the WTCHP.
- Foreign residents living outside the U.S. who cannot travel to New York City to obtain WTCHP benefits, including the certification of conditions, and cannot obtain these services through the program’s nationwide network of affiliated providers.
- Those eligible for compensation for a certified condition and now seek to add non-certified cancer as a claimed condition.
The Steps of Registering
Individuals can register with the VCF by phone, online, or by having an experienced 9/11 benefits attorney assist them with the process. To register by phone, call the program’s toll-free helpline at 1-855-885-1555, and a VCF representative will assist you with the process.
To register online, go to www.claims.vcf.gov and follow these steps:
- At the welcome screen, click on the option on the left to “Create Account.”
- Create and enter a user name, your name, and email. Create a password that meets the site’s requirements, and answer the security questions so that you can recover your sign-in information if your account ever locks you out. Once you have provided this information, click on “Create Account.”
- You will receive a confirmation that your account creation has been successful. Click on the link on the confirmation page.
- When you return to the welcome screen, click on the option to “Sign In” and enter your user name and password.
- At the welcome screen, click on the “New Registration” option on the left.
- You will be issued a claim number and can begin your registration. Fill in the information for each of the following tabs: Victim, Claimant (if someone other than the victim is filing the claim on the victim’s behalf), Attorney (if applicable), Alternate Contact (if applicable). After completing each section, click save and continue.
- Once you complete and save the requested information in each tab, click Submit Registration.
- Once you’re sure that the information is correct, click “Finalize and Submit Registration.” Be aware that you cannot change certain information once submitted, including the victim’s name, Social Security number, or date of birth.
- If your registration is successfully submitted, you will see a green box on your screen that states: “Registration Submission Successful.”
- You can log into your account to see your registration status or submit your claim.
As noted, there is a third option for registering with the VCF, and that is by having an attorney assist you with the process. While an attorney is not required to register for the VCF or even to file a claim, having the experience of someone who works with this program every day and has a deep understanding of the claims process can be extremely helpful.
What Happens if You Don’t Register Before the Deadline?
If you fail to register before the deadline, you will likely lose your right to seek compensation through the VCF.
Can You Register if You’re Not Sick?
While those diagnosed with a 9/11-related illness must register with the VCF within two years of certification, many who register with the VCF were diagnosed with a 9/11-related condition. By registering early, they may file their claim when/if a diagnosis of an illness related to 9/11 exposure occurs.
Another way of preparing for a claim, even if you are not yet diagnosed with a certified condition, is to start gathering the documentation you need to prove you were at a 9/11 terror attack site within the times of exposure to toxins that could cause illness.
Some documents you can use for this purpose include:
- Employer records that show you were working at Ground Zero or in a business within the New York City exposure area between September 11th, 2001, and the following months.
- Documents showing that you were a resident of the New York City exposure area after the attacks. Acceptable documents include utility bills, rent or mortgage receipts, or a sworn statement from a witness who can attest that you were living there.
- Records from schools or daycares in the affected area can show you were in attendance during eligible periods.
- Contemporaneous records such as order, confirmation of tasks performed, volunteer records, medical records, or workers’ compensation records showing your presence in the affected area.
If you were a responder working for FDNY when exposure occurred, you are not required to send proof of presence as the VCF can verify that information directly from FDNY.
If You Register, Do You Have to File a Claim?
No. Registering with the VCF does not obligate you to file a claim. While thousands of individuals who were at Ground Zero or in Lower Manhattan on September 11th, 2001, or in the many months of cleanup operations on the site will become sick due to toxic exposure, not all will suffer from 9/11-related illnesses. Registering with the VCF simply allows you to file a claim if the time comes that you’ve been diagnosed with a related illness and need assistance.
Why Is the Claim-Filing Window So Long?
Once registered, individuals have until the program closes in October 2090 to file a claim. The filing window, still many decades-long, is thanks to the Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Act.
Within days of the terror attacks on September 11th, 2001, Congress had authorized the original September 11th Victim Compensation Fund to provide financial relief to those most devastated by the terror attacks. The fund ran until 2004. In 2011, it was reauthorized as part of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. With this reauthorization—which was initially intended to run until 2016—the program was given new filing deadlines, expanded eligibility criteria, and limited funding.
Congress reauthorized the program in 2015 for another five years. This reauthorization capped the maximum individuals could receive for non-economic losses at $250,000 for cancer and $90,000 for non-cancerous illnesses. It also removed the $10,000 minimum award so that claimants who had smaller losses could still receive some funding and capped the maximum annual gross income at $200,000 for those seeking economic losses. Additionally, the program’s Special Master was authorized to prioritize claims from those most severely harmed by their exposure to 9/11 toxins.
In 2019, the program had insufficient funds to pay all pending and projected claims. Modifications to the program ensured that it could meet its obligations. Also, in 2019, the permanent reauthorization of the program became law, providing a claim filing deadline of October 1st, 2090. The law also orders Congress to appropriate the funds necessary to pay all awarded claims through that time.
Since 2011, through the five-year reauthorizations and finally the permanent authorization, the VCF has seen a steadily growing number of claims.
The growth in the number of claims reflects both increasing knowledge within the 9/11 community about the program as well as the unfortunate reality that—given the extraordinarily long latency periods for many cancers linked to exposure to toxins in the World Trade Center dust—individuals will receive new diagnoses because of their exposure for many years.
The permanent authorization of the program, with its many-decades-long claim filing window, ensures that there is funding available when and if those individuals need to file a claim.
Contact a 9/11 Attorney Today to Answer Any Questions You Have About Registering or Filing a Claim Through the VCF
Survivors and first responders of the 9/11 attacks have many questions about the Victim Compensation Fund, including how and when to register, the registration deadlines, and what filing a claim through the VCF can do for them. If you suffered from any cancer or other condition that you even suspect may be related to being downtown on or any time during the many months after 9/11, contact an experienced 9/11 attorney to learn more about your legal right to tax-free compensation.Posted under: The Victims' Compensation Fund