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Message from the Special Master – Rupa Bhattacharyya Farewell

April 29, 2022

Dear Friends,

On April 5, 2022, I announced through the VCF website that I would be leaving the Fund at the end of this month for a position with Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection.  Today is my last day as Special Master, and as I leave the VCF after almost six very fulfilling and rewarding years, I am extremely proud of the progress that has been made to help individuals file claims more easily, with the roll out of the new claim form in 2016 and the many updates to forms and procedures that have been made since.  I am very proud that we were able to meet my goal to reduce the time that it takes to review a claim from start to finish; as of April 2021, we are deciding claims within one year of submission and we have continued to do so.  I am proud of the fact that, under my tenure, we made awards to more than 35,000 individuals and paid more than $8 billion in compensation.  I am proud of the advances we have made in spreading the word about the VCF to people who may be eligible.  I am proud of the expansion of our collaborative partnership with the World Trade Center Health Program, and our work with the many advocacy groups who do so much to support the 9/11 community. And, most of all, I am proud that, while I was Special Master, as a consequence of the tremendous effort from the 9/11 community, the advocates, and the sponsoring members of Congress, the VCF became a permanent program, here to continue its vital work until 2090, with sufficient funding to pay all eligible claims.  

I will always view my time as Special Master as, above all else, a privilege.  When I accepted this role, I hoped to be able to uphold the VCF’s reputation for excellence and fairness and compassion.  I depart with the great satisfaction of having done so, and of leaving the VCF in the most solid position possible, with its future firmly secured. I also leave with great confidence in the appointment of August Flentje as the Special Master for an interim period while the search for a permanent Special Master is conducted.  Auggie is an extremely well-respected and seasoned attorney who has been in the Civil Division for decades, he and I have worked together for years, and I have every confidence in his ability to fill this role – and to ensure that claim decisions and awards continue to be made without delay – while that search is conducted.   

As my final act as Special Master, I want to express my heartfelt appreciation and thanks to the many advocates and champions for the 9/11 community who have done their best to ensure that fair and adequate compensation will continue to flow to those who need it.  Through all of the changes of the last six years, the lawyers (and their incomparable staff) who represent VCF claimants have stood behind the VCF and offered support, suggestions, and guidance.  Your input has made the VCF better, and I will always be grateful for your insight, your compassion for your clients, and your dedication to holding the VCF to its promise to be fair to claimants, faithful to the statute, and accountable to the taxpayers.  Similar thanks and appreciation are due to the many advocates for the 9/11 community, including 9/11 Health Watch, the FealGood Foundation, VOICES Centers for Resilience, StuyHealth, 9/11 Environmental Action, the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum, and the many other 9/11-related organizations for the work that they do every day to ensure that resources of all kinds are available for the 9/11 community.

I am also so appreciative of the strong partnership that the VCF has built with Dr. John Howard and his team at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and for all the doctors and medical professionals who do the hard work in the World Trade Center Health Program’s Centers of Clinical Excellence to provide care to the members of the 9/11 community.  Your work is truly inspiring.  Thank you for all you do. 

I also must thank and I am so grateful for the time that I got to spend working with, and learning from, the incredible team that is the heart and soul of the VCF.  Each and every day, the members of the VCF staff go above and beyond in their fulfillment of the VCF’s mission.  Together, we have weathered many storms, we have grappled with and overcome many challenges, and we have persevered on behalf of those whose lives continue to be impacted by events more than two decades in the past, which some members of the team are too young to even remember.  All of the success of the program over the last six years has been achieved because of the teamwork, collaboration, ingenuity, and flexibility of each and every member of the VCF staff, who collectively have never lost sight of their goal of service to the 9/11 community and to the fulfillment of the honorable mission of the VCF.

And, most importantly, I want to thank all of you, the members of the 9/11 community, who have suffered so much but have emerged with such resilience to tell your stories, advocate for your cause, and make sure not only that the events of that terrible day more than 20 years ago are not forgotten, but also that those who continue to suffer in its wake remain in our minds and in our hearts.  I have cherished the opportunity to learn your stories, and I am humbled, that in small some way, we have been able to ease some of your pain.  Thanks to you, I will never forget.  I will miss you all, I will treasure the time we have had together and the important work we have done, and I will take great interest in the further evolution of the VCF as it continues that work for many years to come.