I was very proud to step into the role of Special Master in March 2023, particularly as a native New Yorker and someone who was raised to respect and value public service. In the months since, I have been struck by many things that I hadn’t fully anticipated – chief among them the need to inform the public about the VCF and to ensure that every person who might be eligible for a VCF award is aware of the program and has the resources and support they need to register and file a claim.
I have been astounded by the number of individuals I have spoken with – friends, people in the Federal Government, or who lived in New York or worked at the Pentagon – who do not know about the VCF. I am convinced that they represent a much larger universe of individuals whose health may have been impacted by 9/11, but who either have not made the connection, or simply don’t think the VCF is meant for them. Through meetings with U.S. Representatives, local officials, 9/11 advocacy groups, and others, we were able to lay some important groundwork in 2023, and my commitment to outreach is a 2024 priority.
At the same time, the entire VCF team shares my strong commitment to resolving the claims before us as promptly, accurately, and fairly as possible, providing some small measure of relief to those who continue to suffer. As of December 31, 2023, the VCF has made awards to 56,640 individuals, totaling $12.8 billion in compensation since the VCF re-opened in October 2011. It is gratifying to report that in 2023, the VCF decided more claims and awarded over $1.8 billion in compensation - more than any previous year. Detailed reporting of program statistics can be found on pages 19-24.
There is a wealth of information about the VCF’s progress and activities included throughout this report, and I encourage you to read it cover to cover.
I want to thank our interim Special Master, Auggie Flentje, for his excellent stewardship of the VCF from May of 2022 until I came on board in March, and extraordinary efforts to keep the claim review process moving without delay. In his time with the VCF, Auggie decided 729 appeals and oversaw the completion of over 10,000 determinations. Thank you, Auggie!
In September, I announced the appointment of Nicole P. Smith as the second VCF Deputy Special Master. Filling this critical leadership role has been essential to being able to support the 9/11 community with a stable and accessible VCF. Nicole’s appointment coincided with this year’s anniversary – a time that afforded VCF leadership the opportunity to participate in a number of very meaningful events to honor the occasion (see pages 8-10).
In November, I was very proud to be the first VCF Special Master to visit the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, PA, and to meet with the community. It was a true highlight of my year, along with an October visit to the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial in Arlington, VA (see pages 8-9). As depicted on the cover of this report, the VCF exists to serve victims from all three of the 9/11 crash sites.
In December, Stathi Patseas joined the VCF as Manager of Communications and External Affairs. Stathi has gotten off to a very strong start, and is pursuing a wide range of outreach opportunities. Read more about Stathi and our outreach efforts this year on page 8.
Throughout 2023, the VCF team expended enormous energy on our Transformation effort, focused on the creation of myVCF, our new claims system. myVCF will streamline and simplify the claims filing process, making it easier for claimants and families to file their claims and understand where the claim is in the review process. myVCF, scheduled to launch later this year, uses plain language with a guided claim form and easy-to-access directions to make registration and submission of claims and the required documents straightforward. When fully implemented, myVCF will speed overall claims processing, so we can pay claimants more quickly and efficiently (see page 13).
In preparation for the transition to myVCF, we made a special appeal in January 2023 to law firms that represent VCF claimants to help us by only submitting claims once they are in good order – meaning they include everything needed to begin review. Thoughout the year, we provided special reporting to firms with very specific information about what was needed on a claim-by-claim basis. This was a heavy lift for our team, but one that I am pleased to report seems to be paying off – with law firms waiting to submit claims only when they have all the required information and documents. I enjoy seeing this type of ongoing cooperation and partnership.
I look forward to the challenges and opportunities ahead, confident of the abilities and commitment of the incredible VCF team, and buoyed by the support of the 9/11 community and its dedicated advocates, lawyers, and medical professionals. It is an honor to serve as part of this community.