What is the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund?

In the United States and worldwide, the 20th anniversary of the terror attack on 9/11 was commemorated. 

While we often know about the attacks themselves and the lives lost the day of, we may not think as much about the long-term effects so many have dealt with through the years due to their involvement or exposure to harmful substances during recovery and cleanup efforts. 

Since 9/11, more than 23,000 cases of cancer have been linked to exposure to toxins at attack sites. More than 1500 people have died because of these cancers in the past two decades. 

The dust that was in the toxic plume over Lower Manhattan after the terror attack contained many carcinogens. Carcinogens are substances linked to a higher risk of cancer. 

Researchers at Mount Sinai recently released a report that found general responders are 9% more likely to experience cancer than people not exposed to the toxic dust. 

The group was more likely to experience certain types of cancer, including leukemia, prostate cancer and thyroid cancer. 

The latency period is another issue. The latency period is how much time goes past between when you’re exposed to a cancer-causing substance and when cancer appears. Many cancers don’t appear for a number of years after exposure. For example, the CDC estimates the minimum latency for mesothelioma associated with 9/11 is 11 years. For thyroid cancer, it’s anywhere from 2.5 to 4 years.

With these things in mind, there are two primary government programs that may help survivors and responders. There’s the World Trade Center Health Program which provides health care, primarily. 

There’s also the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, detailed below. 

An Overview of the Victim Compensation Fund

The Victim Compensation Fund was established by Congress just 11 days after the World Trade Center collapse. The fund’s creation was intended to compensate people affected by the attacks and also to prevent lawsuits against the federal government, security companies, and airlines. 

Initially, the fund didn’t provide compensation to first responders who were hurt or were negatively affected. In 2011, a decade later, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Fund was opened. That increased funding to $7.3 billion and updated policies and procedures to make it easier for first responders to receive compensation and victims. That particular program was reauthorized permanently until the year 2090. 

The goal of the program is to compensate individuals or personal representatives of deceased people who were present at the World Trade Center, the New York City Exposure Zone surrounding it, the crash site at the Pentagon, and the site in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, who have since been diagnosed with an illness linked to 9/11. 

The VCF isn’t exclusive to first responders—compensation is available for people who volunteered in various capacity, and people who lived, worked, or went to school in the zone of exposure. 

Jon Stewart’s Role

In 2019, Jon Stewart gained national attention for the program when he spoke in front of a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing. Stewart said it was shameful more of them didn’t attend. He went on to say that he was sitting in front of a room filled with 9/11 first responders, yet the Congress in front of him was nearly empty. 

Alongside Stewart was Luis Alvarez, a retired detective and first responder on 9/11 from the New York Police Department. Alvarez spoke about his cancer, linked to the 9/11 attacks. 

Stewart was speaking as the fund had a series of financial problems. It had been set to expire in December 2020, leading to a spike in the number of claims. 

The administrator said there wasn’t enough funding to pay all the current and projected claims at that time under the current policies. He said future claims would only be paid a portion of the previous value.

At this point, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports more people have died from toxic exposure due to 9/11 than because of the attack themselves.  

Ultimately, in 2019, then-President Trump signed the Never Forget the Heroes Act. The full name was Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act. 

That legislation allowed for the extension of the claim submission deadline for the VCF program through October 2090. It also allocated $10.2 billion for compensation of claims. 

The then-President spoke out at the signing of the legislation, saying that our nation owes the people who receive compensation from the funds a debt no nation can ever pay but that the country would keep their promise to them. 

As a result of the deadline extension, family members and survivors have practically unlimited time to file a VFC claim. However, if you’re a survivor, you do have to complete your registration with the VFC two years after the WTC Health Program verifies your illness. 

If you were to find out you had a cancer diagnosis this year, in 2021, for example, you would have two years from the date of the diagnosis to register and begin your claims process in order to be eligible. Participating in the WTC registry or receiving monitoring or health care under the WTC Health Program doesn’t automatically mean you meet the deadline requirements for the Victim Compensation Fund. 

The developments in 2019 for the program have been especially helpful in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, which officials say is causing severe complications for 9/11 survivors who had respiratory effects from the attacks. 

If you’re a survivor or your loved one died in the attacks, you might want to learn more about this critical program, and you can also speak to an attorney who can help you learn more about how to qualify and apply for the program.

With the recent 20th anniversary of the attacks, it’s a good time to remind people affected by 9/11 about the potentially available resources to help them. 

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