On September 11, 2001, and in the months that followed, 500,000 people endured exposure to disaster in Lower Manhattan alone. This exposure included seeing the horrific loss of life, the collapse of one or both of the Towers, and seeing people running away from the dust plume in terror. The dust cloud enveloped more than half.
Unfortunately, exposure to the dust plume or the high levels of contaminants that permeated the disaster area for several months after the attack has since caused serious health problems for these survivors.
If you were exposed to toxic dust in the New York City disaster area (any time from 9/11 through July 31, 2002), you are at increased risk of cancer and other serious health problems, including breathing disorders, musculoskeletal conditions, and digestive system damage. Many of these illnesses have life-altering or life-ending impacts. Nearly 20 years after the attacks, the risk of becoming ill from exposure to 9/11 dust remains high the minimum latency period is met for all cancers making the link between the 9/11 exposure and a cancer ever stronger, and doctors are making new diagnoses daily.
An experienced 9/11 attorney can represent you in the process of obtaining compensation for the financial, physical, emotional, and social impacts of your 9/11-medical condition. You may have the right to receive financial compensation through the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) and healthcare monitoring and treatment through the WTC Health Program.
To obtain these benefits and services, you must have a certified 9/11-linked medical condition. Here are some health safety tips to help ensure timely diagnosis and treatment of a 9/11-related illness.
Get to Know the Potential Illnesses Caused by Exposure
Doctors have linked more than 100 medical conditions to exposure to the 9/11 dust plume in Manhattan on the day of the attacks and in the months (almost a full year) afterward.
The dust plume consisted of a toxic mixture of materials known to cause severe illnesses and health issues, including:
- Asbestos, used in the WTC Towers as a flame retardant, exposure to which can cause a particularly deadly type of cancer known as mesothelioma. The level of asbestos at Ground Zero in the early days after the attacks was 112,000 times higher than the legal limit of the toxin.
- Melted heavy metals, which damage the brain.
- Melted plastic containing polychlorinated biphenyls, which damages the lungs, particularly when the materials are exposed to high heat. Seventy percent of the workers involved in the rescue operation at the World Trade Center have been diagnosed with lung conditions.
- Drywall and cement dust, which contains a host of alkaline materials including gypsum and calcite, and can damage the respiratory system and irritate the mucus lining of the nose and eyes. These ingredients may cause the “World Trade Center cough” that afflicted about half of the site’s rescue workers.
- Gases released from toxic metals, acids, and organics that burned at the site for more than three months after the attack.
- Glass, insulation fibers, and metal particles, which not only created injury to the lungs but allowed toxins to further enter the body through tiny cuts made to tissue by the fibers.
Unfortunately, officials initially failed to recognize the extreme health risk caused by inhalation of toxic 9/11 dust, and many individuals who lived and worked in the area and were evacuated immediately after the attack returned to the site within days, while many toxins were still at unacceptably high levels.
Discuss Your Exposure With Your Doctor
Doctors are encouraged to ask their patients about exposure to 9/11 dust when performing routine examinations, even if those patients live and receive treatment outside the New York City area. However, as time passes, fewer doctors remember to inquire about this exposure and patients often need to start the discussion about their exposure to 9/11 dust. Remember, you are at risk if you were in the New York City disaster area between September 11, 2001, through July 31, 2002.
In discussing your potential toxic exposure to 9/11 dust with your medical provider, be sure to bring up any unusual symptoms you are experiencing, such as a persistent cough, that your exposure could cause. This will provide your doctor with the information necessary to determine whether and how to screen you for health conditions linked to 9/11 dust.
Apply for Services Through the WTC Health Program
A federal program called the WTC Health Program provides health monitoring and medical treatment to individuals who may have been exposed to 9/11 dust and are at risk of developing, or have developed, 9/11-linked medical condition.
You are likely eligible to participate in the WTC Health Program if you can demonstrate your presence between September 11, 2001, and July 31, 2002, in the New York City disaster area defined as:
- Lower Manhattan, south of Houston Street.
- Any block in Brooklyn that is wholly or partially within a 1.5-mile radius of the former site of the World Trade Center.
- The Staten Island Landfill.
- The NYC Chief Medical Examiner’s office.
- Certain barge loading piers used to transport contaminated material from the World Trade Center to the landfill.
- Survivors who lived, worked, or attended school in Lower Manhattan, south of Houston Street.
Individuals accepted into the program qualify for a free health screening to monitor and diagnose 9/11 dust-related health conditions. The WTC Health Program offers these services at specialized 9/11 treatment facilities in the New York City area and through a national network of affiliated healthcare providers. Anyone participating in the Program who gets diagnosed with a 9/11-related health condition becomes eligible for medical treatment of the illness, free-of-charge, through a WTC Health Program provider.
Register for the VCF
Individuals who have had a 9/11 dust-related illness or health condition certified by the WTC Health Program can register to file a claim with the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF). The VCF pays compensation to eligible individuals for wage loss and pain and suffering related to living with a covered 9/11-related cancer or other health condition
Individuals who have lost a loved one to a 9/11-related health condition can also register to file a wrongful death claim with the VCF. Claimants have two years from the certification of a 9/11-related condition or death of a loved one from one of these conditions to register. If the 9/11 cancer or other condition was never certified by the WTCHP, then, in most cases, the deadline is in the year 2090.
Registering to file a claim with the VCF and filing a claim are two different things. Registration with the VCF reserves your right to file a claim at any time before October 1, 2090. When you are ready to file your claim, you can do so by uploading your completed application and supporting documents to the VCF secure portal.
VCF administrators will then perform a preliminary review to ensure that you have all the required documents, such as a medical release that authorizes the VCF administrators to confirm your diagnosis with the WTC Health Program. VCF administrators will also need to obtain information about 9/11-related benefits you receive from other sources, such as worker’s compensation or a state or federal disability pension.
If your claim lacks some required documents, the VCF will notify you and place your claim in inactive status until you provide it. If you fail to submit the missing documents within 60 days of receiving your notification, the VCF will deny your claim.
Once the VCF administrators have received and verified your documentation, a substantive review of your claim begins.
The substantive review includes procedures such as:
- Verifying your claim was registered before any applicable deadline.
- Confirming your certified condition with the WTC Health Program, an affiliated provider, or through the private physician process.
- Verifying your presence at the disaster site during the applicable dates.
- Confirming the timely resolution of any 9/11 lawsuits that you are participating in.
- Receiving missing information within 30 days of a notice of missing information to use that information in consideration of your claim.
Once the VCF has determined that your claim is eligible for funding, your case will move to the compensation review. This involves determining the losses you claimed and calculating the loss based on established criteria. The VCF typically considers the wages you lost because of your 9/11-related condition and the pain and suffering you have endured.
VCF claims decisions also take into account any collateral source payments you have received. A collateral source payment consists of any money you receive in compensation for your 9/11-related health condition from other sources, such as federal or state benefit programs, a lawsuit, a pension, or a life insurance policy. VCF may adjust the size of any compensation it awards you to account for (or offset) those collateral payments.
Having reviewed your claim, the VCF will then send you notification of its decision. If you believe VCF made an error in the calculation, you have 30 days to appeal the decision. VCF will typically authorize payment on your award within 20 days after the 30-day appeal period on the decision of your claim expires.
An Experienced 9/11 Benefits Attorney Can Help You With the Whole Process
Hiring an attorney does not directly benefit your health and safety in connection with managing your exposure to 9/11 dust and any medical conditions it caused. It can, however, take some of the difficulty out of your journey by ensuring you can seek compensation for wage loss, pain and suffering, or often even losses associated with the death of a loved one.
An experienced 9/11 benefits attorney can represent individuals in the process of obtaining compensation for the harm they suffered from exposure to 9/11 dust.
Skilled attorneys can, for example:
- Provide detailed information to you about the benefits programs in which you are eligible to participate based on your exposure to 9/11 dust and your risk of developing, or diagnosis of, a 9/11 dust-related medical condition.
- Assist you in gathering and submitting to the WTC Health Program and the VCF the documents that prove your exposure to 9/11 dust and your diagnosis of an illness associated with that exposure.
- Representing and advocating for you in dealings with those programs, and in appealing any adverse decision on your application or claim.
- Assist you in amending a VCF claim to add a certified condition or report a collateral source of income for which your claim needs to account for possible additional compensation.
Make sure to choose an experienced 9/11 benefits attorney to help you navigate your options for receiving services and compensation. You will need a lawyer who is well-versed in the laws that govern your right to be compensated for your 9/11-associated medical conditions, and who understands the hardships you and your family members have faced as a result of your 9/11 dust exposure and related illness.
To learn more about seeking benefits for your 9/11 dust-related health condition, contact an experienced 9/11 benefits attorney today for a free case evaluation.