California’s First Responders and the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund

January 31, 2019

Following the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, the US Congress established the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (“VCF”), with the stated purpose of compensating individuals (or their families) killed or injured following the attacks themselves, or the debris removal efforts by first responders and others that followed thereafter.

Though the fund was originally designated to remain open to claimants between 2001 to 2004, President Obama reauthorized the VCF’s twice: once in 2011 and again in 2015 under the “Zadroga Act” which presently extends the VCF’s availability until December 2020. This is important news for many safety members across the country, including the multitude of Southern California first responders who travelled to certain parts of Manhattan in the months and weeks following the attacks.

Importantly, eligibility for compensation through the VCF is available to any first responder who developed certain illnesses, whether local to New York City or who responded from across the country for a limited timeframe to assist with rescue and debris removal. Depending on the location of where the first responder served in relation to Ground Zero, exposure to the dust and particulates in the air following the Twin Towers’ collapse, could be as little as 48 hours to render one eligible for the fund. Even if a first responder were stationed farther away from Ground Zero, depending on the time he or she assisted in the debris removal, the responder may still be eligible for the fund.

If a first responder was present during the weeks or months after the attacks, it is important that he or she know that over 68 cancers have been scientifically linked to the dust and particulate in the air after the collapse of the Twin Towers. This list includes skin cancer, prostate cancer, thyroid cancer, breast cancer, blood cancers, lung, and colon cancer. Further, other common illnesses linked with the disaster clean-up are as follows:

• Interstitial lung diseases, including: pulmonary fibrosis and sarcoidosis.
• Chronic Rhinosinusitis
• Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
• Asthma
• Sleep Apnea
• Chronic Respiratory Disorder
• COPD

Many cancers and the above-listed diseases are legally presumed to be due to the exposures first responders encountered in the days, weeks, and months following the fall of the Towers and the following debris cleanup. Depending on what tasks an individual rescue or recovery worker did and where he was stationed, he may have up to eight months of exposure eligibility following the fall of the Towers.

Notably, it does not matter if you have already claimed that your cancer or other qualifying illness was due to the regular exposures you suffered as a safety member. A workers’ compensation award against your employer/agency does not disqualify your eligibility against the VCF.

The VCF offers varying amounts of financial compensation and medical treatment coverage depending on the service member’s disease. However, as noted above, the VCF is scheduled to close to all new claims on December 18, 2020. This means that it is in your best interest to see if you qualify immediately. The first step in determining your qualification is a consult with a knowledgeable attorney, familiar with both the VCF and with the role that many of California’s Safety Members played in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. Determining your eligibility with the VCF should be done via a free consultation with an attorney. Thereafter, you can consider whether that attorney’s services will be useful in applying for compensation. The attorney’s fees are contingent on what you receive – you never have to pay out of pocket.

The VCF was designed by Congress to ensure that those first responders who answered their nation’s call for help are covered, both financially and medically. This applies to those who responded from near or far. If you have any questions regarding this article please contact our office.

Benjamin Helquist is a partner at Straussner Sherman.

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