A July deadline looms for some people seeking compensation for injury, illness, or death tied to the 9/11 terror attacks.
The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund was created to aid survivors and first responders, or their families.
Individuals who were certified to have a 9/11-related illness, or who lost a loved one to a 9/11 illness, before July 29, 2019 must register with VCF by July 29.
Registering is separate from filing a claim and ensures the right of a survivor, first responder, or family to file at a later date, USA Today reported Tuesday.
Lee London, a partner and managing attorney for Barasch & McGarry's VCF practice, said that although about 80% of first responders had registered with the fund or were part of the World Trade Center Health Program — a separate federal program that helps with medical monitoring and treatment — only 7% of survivors who lived, worked, and attended school in Lower Manhattan in the months after 9/11 had done so.
"We're just trying to get the word out there and make sure that if you were in the [exposure] zone, you register just to protect yourself, God forbid anything happens down the line," London said.
The VCF defines the exposure zone as the area below Canal Street in Manhattan. People who can prove they were in the zone or at an attack site through May 2002 could be eligible for an award.
If an illness were to develop at a later date, a survivor would have two years from the date it was certified by the World Trade Center Health Program to register. Families of people who have died after July 29, 2019, have two years from their loved one's death to register.
Acute traumatic injuries, such as burns and head trauma, and respiratory illnesses, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, are among the medical conditions related to the Sept. 11 attacks. Also, more than a dozen cancers, including lung, kidney, and skin cancers have been linked to the attacks.
London said some survivors might not realize their illness has been certified because some health conditions were grandfathered into the World Trade Center Health Program in 2011.
He added that families who have lost loved ones could be the most at risk of being unaware of the deadline and possibly losing out on the benefits.
Rolando Vizcarra, whose wife, Diana, died in 2016 from a 9/11-related cancer, said he didn't know VCF could apply to a situation like his after first hearing about it.
"I actually thought it was only for firefighters or police officers, for ambulance," Vizcarra said.
That assumption has been common, according to London, especially before the VCF became more widely publicized and was permanently authorized.
"People did not want to take money away from first responders,” London said. “They didn't want to make claims.”
Opened in 2001 and operated until 2004, the VCF served individuals and their families who were harmed or killed in the attacks or were part of the debris removal process.
As years passed, awareness grew about the rise of cancers and other illnesses in survivors and first responders. The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act reactivated the VCF in 2011. It later was extended to allow claims to be filed until December 2020.
After the VCF's special master in 2019 said funding was not available to pay out all current and future claims under its policies, it was determined payouts would have to be cut.
Comedian Jon Stewart and first responders appeared before Congress to argue for the government's responsibility to fully fund the VCF. The Permanent Authorization Act then extended the claim filing deadline to 2090 and permanently appropriated the money to fund eligible claims.
More than 113,000 survivors and first responders of 9/11 have registered for the VCF, according to the most recent monthly status report on the fund.
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