VCF Policies and Procedures Updates

By Troy Rosasco

Victim Compensation Fund Policies and Procedures UpdatesThe September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) provides compensation to individuals (or survivors of those individuals) who suffered physical harm or died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks—whether in connection with their participation in rescue and debris-removal efforts immediately after the attacks, or their presence in Lower Manhattan in the months after the fall of the Twin Towers.

Since the VCF’s creation shortly after 9/11, federal laws have reauthorized and renewed its funding and existence on three occasions. The most recent reauthorization, signed into law by the president in July 2019, extended deadlines for seeking compensation from the VCF and ensured its funding through the year 2090, effectively making VCF benefits permanently available to anyone who has a valid claim.

To carry out its mission, the VCF implements and periodically updates its policies and procedures for determining eligibility for individuals to receive compensation from the fund, and for evaluating claim submissions.

Here is a review of the latest updates to those policies and procedures, as of January 2021. Understand, however, that you don’t need to navigate this maze of requirements alone—a dedicated 9/11 lawyer can make sure you meet all of these requirements and more. Call today to see how we can help you.

Updated Proof of Presence Standards

Eligibility to receive VCF benefits requires proof that the claimant was physically present at a 9/11 crash site or the site of debris removal at any time from September 11, 2001, through May 30, 2002.

Three types of documentation have long served as the primary evidence claimants can use to establish Proof of Presence:

  • Third-party verification, supplied by an employer or other reliable third party, attesting to the claimant’s presence at an eligible site; and
  • Contemporaneous documents, which are documents created in the ordinary course of business between September 11, 2001, and May 30, 2002, that serve as reliable evidence of a claimant’s presence, such as for work or as an area resident, at an eligible site.
  • Two Eyewitness Affidavits, by two people who were physically with the 9/11 victim in the crash site Disaster Area between 9/11 and May 30, 2002, that meet the detailed requirements of both the World Trade Center Health Program and the VCF.

Some people with otherwise valid claims for VCF benefits, however, may not have access to the primary types of Proof of Presence evidence listed above. Recognizing this, the VCF has updated its policies to provide more ways to meet the Proof of Presence requirement for eligibility.

These updates include:

  • Development and distribution of a standardized Witness Presence Statement. A claimant can prove presence at an eligible 9/11 site through sworn statements of witnesses who can swear they saw the claimant there or ordered the claimant to go there. The Witness Presence Statement aims to serve as a template for those sworn witness statements, but these statements must be carefully reviewed to ensure strict compliance with the VCF rules and regulations, must be consistent with each other, must be consistent with the Victim Presence Statement, and must also be consistent with any documentary proof. By using the Witness Presence Statement as a form, claimants and their witnesses can help to ensure that the VCF receives the complete information it needs to assess the claimant’s presence at an eligible site. This cuts down on delays and complications in the application process.
  • Entering into third-party agreements to streamline Proof of Presence for individuals affiliated with certain employers, entities, and organizations. The VCF is aware that certain entities, organizations, unions, and companies had numerous employees, members, and affiliated personnel on-site during the 9/11 attacks and debris removal. The VCF has entered into agreements with those third-parties to make it easier for individuals affiliated with them to prove their presence at the sites. These agreements specify the specific kinds of documentation that will serve as adequate Proof of Presence for individuals connected to those third parties, and in some cases, relieves claimants from submitting Proof of Presence altogether. Third parties with whom the VCF has signed agreements include NYFD, NYPD, New York Department of Sanitation, New York State National Guard, New York City Transit Authority, New York State Police, FBI, District Council 37, Communications Workers of America, Lucent Technologies, Verizon, ConEd, New York State Workers’ Compensation Board, American Red Cross, and WTC Health Registry.
  • Explaining how VCF denies claims for insufficient Proof of Presence, and how claimants can appeal. The VCF may deny a claim if a claimant’s witnesses fail to submit sufficient information for the VCF to determine the claimant’s presence at a 9/11 site. In those cases, the claimant can appeal the decision and offer to prove his or her presence through sworn testimony at an appeal hearing. Claimants whose appeal rights had already expired before the most recent reauthorization of the VCF may amend their claim to request the opportunity to prove their presence through their own sworn testimony.

Updated Preliminary Claim Review Process

All claims submitted to the VCF undergo an initial review process that screens applications for basic information and minimal requirements to be considered for eligibility.

The VCF has updated its procedures to add a new, automated pre-screening step, known as the Automatic Document Check.

In that step, a computer reviews claims for the presence of two key elements of any application:

Once a claim clears the automated step of confirming the submission of those two documents, it proceeds to a Preliminary Review. Like the Automatic Document Check, the Preliminary Review focuses on confirming that a claim submission contains original, signed versions of all necessary documentation (a list of which you can find here). The VCF does not accept photocopies of signatures or documents signed electronically.

If the Preliminary Review finds missing documents in a submission, the VCF places the claim on “inactive” status and notifies the claimant by mail of the missing information. Claimants who receive a missing information letter have 60 days to submit the missing documentation to the VCF, unless that documentation confirms a certified health condition from the WTC Health Program (which may take longer). Failure to submit missing documentation, other than a WTC Health Program confirmation, within 60 days may result in denial of a claim.

An experienced VCF claim attorney can handle the preparation or amendment of your claim submission to ensure it contains all necessary documentation. If you have received a missing information letter or have had your VCF claim denied at the Automated Document Check or the Preliminary Review stage, contact an experienced VCF claim attorney right away. You may still have the ability to amend your claim and receive benefits, but you must act quickly to preserve your rights.

Updated Non-Economic Loss Documentation Policy

VCF benefits include payment for 9/11 victims’ pain, suffering, and other non-monetary life difficulties, which lawyers refer to as non-economic losses. Generally speaking, the VCF bases the non-economic portion of an award on the type of 9/11-related health condition from which the claimant suffers. The amount of a non-economic loss award for any given condition will fall within a predetermined range for that particular condition.

By default, the VCF awards the lowest end of the range of non-economic losses for a proven health condition. However, the VCF may award more than the minimum for your condition if you provide documentation detailing the difficulty your health condition has caused. You can find a list of the types of documentation you might include with your claim submission to support a request for a higher non-economic loss award here.

Medical records can serve as a particularly effective means of making your case for a higher non-economic loss award. The VCF’s updated guidelines warn, however, that claimants cannot rely on the VCF to dig through voluminous medical records to find evidence warranting a higher award. Instead, claimants should always highlight and summarize the portions of their medical records that they believe justifies a larger non-economic loss award, especially if claimants submit more than 75 pages.

Failure to highlight and summarize key information in your medical records may lead to the VCF awarding you the minimum amount for your condition.

An experienced VCF claim attorney can prepare claim submissions seeking increased non-economic losses, and knows what information the VCF considers most significant.

Updated Policy for Past Out-of-Pocket Medical Expenses

Claimants with a 9/11-related health condition covered by the VCF can seek reimbursement of Acceptable Medical Expenses exceeding $5,000 that they paid out-of-pocket during the period before the WTC Health Program certified their condition as covered by the VCF. On occasion, the VCF Special Master may also permit reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenditures made after certification of the condition by the WTC Health Program.

To obtain reimbursement of past out-of-pocket medical expenses, however, claimants must comply with specific rules for the timing of their request.

  • Living claimants must wait until after the approval of their initial VCF claim before seeking reimbursement of past out-of-pocket medical expenses. After the approval of an initial claim, claimants can seek reimbursement by amending their claim.
  • Survivors of deceased claimants must include their request for reimbursement in their initial claim submission.

The VCF requires claimants seeking reimbursement of past out-of-pocket medical expenses to submit a VCF Medical Expense Worksheet along with a Medical Expense Supporting Documentation Packet containing in-depth documentation of the claimed past out-of-pocket medical expenditures. Collecting, organizing, and submitting this documentation in a form acceptable to the VCF requires careful attention to detail, and compliance with rules on what constitutes a reimbursable past out-of-pocket expense.

Updated Policy on Obtaining Documentation of an Official Disability Determination

VCF claimants can seek compensation for their loss of future earnings or income due to a 9/11-related disability. To obtain that compensation, claimants must prove they have a covered disability by submitting acceptable documentation.

The VCF has updated its policy for former federal workers seeking VCF disability compensation for a disability that the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Employees’ Compensation (FECA) program has already determined exists. Under the updated policy, the VCF will obtain information about that claimant’s FECA disability determination directly from the Department of Labor.

This change aligns the treatment of former federal employees’ disability determinations with how the VCF treats disability determinations for non-federal employees that have been issued by the New York State Workers Compensation Board.

Updated Policy on Expedite Process in Cases of Terminal Illness or Financial Hardship

In a new and welcome change, the VCF has recently implemented a policy update allowing claimants to seek an expedited review of their claims in cases of financial hardship or terminal illness.

These changes make it possible for claimants in dire need of financial support to obtain benefits more quickly than would previously have been possible.

  • Financial hardship may serve as a basis for expedited processing if you face “an imminent or pending foreclosure or eviction proceeding, utility cut off, or other similar circumstances, as demonstrated by appropriate documentation.”
  • Terminal illness may serve as a basis for expedited processing if your current medical records show a terminal diagnosis.

To seek expedited processing of a claim for either of these reasons, claimants must contact their 9/11 attorney the appropriate documentation. Within 48 hours, the VCF will let you know if it granted your request for expedited processing. (Note that 48 hours is the turnaround time for your request to expedite, not the turnaround time for an expedited claim itself.)

Differing rules apply when amending a claim that the VCF has agreed to expedite, depending on the basis for the expedited review. Claimants with a terminal illness must contact their 9/11 attorney to discuss the potential amendment, so they can include it in expedited processing. Claimants granted expedited processing for financial hardship, in contrast, must re-submit a new request for expedited processing of their amended claim.

For More Information and Help With Your Claim

Hansen & Rosasco - 9/11 lawyersThe VCF provides a financial lifeline for individuals and families struggling with the long-term health effects of the 9/11 tragedy. That does not mean, however, that obtaining VCF benefits is always easy or straightforward. Many claimants can improve their chances of receiving full benefits, and speed up a claim review, by contacting a skilled, experienced VCF claim attorney who can provide them with additional information and help them prepare and pursue a fully supported claim.

Let our experienced 9/11 compensation attorneys help you navigate the ever changing federal rules and regulations, helping you to obtain the benefits you deserve for your 9/11 related condition. For a free case evaluation, contact Hansen & Rosasco online or by calling (855) 353-4907.

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