The VCF completed its 11th year of operation in 2022, a year that brought with it measurable progress, continued challenges, and notable transitions – the most significant of which was the departure of Special Master Rupa Bhattacharyya in April 2022, after nearly six years of dedicated and extraordinary service at the VCF, and 27 years with the Department of Justice. Rupa’s far-reaching contributions will continue to benefit the 9/11 community for years to come, and she has my deepest gratitude for her service to this community. I was honored to step into the role of Special Master in May 2022 on an interim basis, while the search for a permanent Special Master is underway. Throughout this period, the VCF team has continued to impress me with its resilience, work ethic, and dedication to those we serve.
As a young professional, I worked in lower Manhattan in the 1990s, so when I read the stories of claimants who were caught in the midst of the 9/11 attacks, or of the heroic responders and clean-up workers, I think about the people I worked with in lower Manhattan, and see claims frequently from people who worked in and around the offices where I was working just a few years prior. My career brought me to Washington before those terrible attacks, but I think often about the experiences of those who were in the buildings where I worked, those who lived and attended school in the area, and those who passed through areas that I traveled through daily. I have a deep appreciation for those who made it possible to return to lower Manhattan after 9/11, and sadness for those who suffered in 2001, and who continue to suffer to this day.
When stepping into this position earlier this year, my goals were straightforward: (1) continue the processing and payment of claims without delay during this time of transition; and (2) make sure the team had what it needed to continue to deliver on the VCF mission – issuing decisions and payments as quickly as possible (once all information needed to decide the claim has been provided). I also set a personal commitment to decrease the time it takes to render decisions following appeal hearings to within six months of the hearing date. At the time of my appointment as interim Special Master, on average, it took almost 12 months for decisions to be rendered following a hearing. I am proud that our team has been able to reduce that timeframe to six months by the end of 2022, although we still have much work to do to decrease the overall timeframe of claim review and the appeals process.
In our ongoing efforts to make the claims process less burdensome for claimants, we continued to identify and develop new collaborative relationships with external entities to obtain “proof of presence” information directly from employers, unions, volunteer organizations, and other groups with potentially large numbers of claimants. Our “Entity Outreach” team leads these efforts, and their results are profiled in the “Outreach” section on page 10. We also streamlined the overall process by removing the requirement to submit original copies of documents by mail, encouraging claimants to upload all supporting documents for their claim into our online claims system. And as we look towards our future as a permanent program, we began focusing significant attention on our “VCF Transformation,” profiled on page 12, which is our plan for ensuring that the VCF, now that it is permanent, is set up to operate in an efficient manner to support claimants and their families through 2090.
The commitment and pride with which the VCF team serves this deserving community is overwhelmingly evidenced by our year-end progress. As of December 31, 2022, over the course of the VCF’s eleven years in operation, we have communicated awards totaling nearly $10.9 billion to almost 49,000 individuals, with over $1.4 billion awarded in 2022 alone. This past year also saw a continuation of the new trend that began in 2021, with each month bringing more new claims filed from survivors than responders. In 2022, we received 5,539 total new claims from survivors and 3,856 from responders, a reflection of the outreach efforts undertaken by the 9/11 community. You will find details about our progress throughout this report, with detailed statistics beginning on page 20.
As I near the end of my time as interim Special Master, I have a personal message to those who are still suffering from the 9/11 attacks: keep up the fight! The WTC Health Program has tremendous resources to help with your health and well-being. Every day when I read claims and issue awards to those of you who are suffering from 9/11-related ailments, I cannot help but hope you are able to stay as healthy as possible and can share precious time with your loved ones well into the future.