Message from Special Master Rupa Bhattacharyya
February 15, 2019
Today, the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (“VCF” or “Fund”) publishes its Seventh Annual Status Report and the Third Annual Reassessment of Policies and Procedures (available here) required under the terms of the Reauthorized Zadroga Act, Pub. L. No. 114-113 (Dec. 18, 2015). As you will see in the report, 2018 was an incredibly productive year for the VCF. We ended the year having issued 8,619 compensation determinations, with initial or revised determinations on almost 7,000 claims, totaling almost $1.5 billion in awards, the largest amount of compensation awarded in a given year since the Fund’s inception. Also included in the report is a comprehensive review of the progress, improvements, and changes made throughout the year to increase productivity, enhance processes, and ultimately, enable the VCF to best serve the 9/11 community. I encourage you to read about the details of these many successes in the report, and I am very proud of the dedicated VCF team that works so hard to make these successes possible and to ensure that compensation is paid to those in need.
In this message, I want to focus on what I know is always most important to you – where is the VCF headed in the future? Unfortunately, the situation the VCF currently faces is a difficult one. As the report also details, the VCF received a record number of new claims in 2018, with a particularly significant increase in claim filings over the past four months (including January of 2019). For perspective, in the first five years of the Fund, through December 31, 2016, over 19,000 compensation forms were filed. In the two years after that, through December 31, 2018, almost 20,000 additional compensation forms were filed, with another 4,800 compensation forms filed just last month, in January 2019. There is no doubt that the dramatic increase in VCF claim filings over the last four months was due, in part, to the publication of the VCF’s Notice of Inquiry in October 2018, which likely prompted many individuals – who may have otherwise waited to submit their claims – to file them now. But the increase in VCF claim filings in 2018 was also due to a number of other factors, most notably the increased rates of serious illnesses suffered by members of the 9/11 community, the increasing number of deaths that can be attributed to 9/11 exposure, and the continued and important outreach efforts of the VCF, the World Trade Center Health Program, the 9/11 advocacy community, and the attorneys who represent 9/11 claimants, all in an attempt to reach potential claimants who might have been affected by the events of 9/11 and their aftermath.
As of the date of this message, the VCF has awarded nearly $5.0 billion in original and amended determinations on more than 21,000 claims. That leaves approximately $2.375 billion of the $7.375 billion appropriated funding available to compensate all pending and anticipated future claims filed through December 18, 2020, the VCF’s statutory end date, including the almost 20,000 claims and amendments that are currently pending an award determination, and the thousands of claims still expected to be filed.
As the law requires, I have conducted my annual reassessment of the VCF’s available funding in light of the claims already filed and those reasonably projected to be filed in the future. That analysis is explained in detail in Section 9 of the report. Given the funding already expended, and the increases in claim volumes, I have determined that there is insufficient funding remaining in the Fund to pay all current and projected claims at the same levels as under current policies and procedures. Accordingly, as the law requires, I am modifying VCF policies and procedures so as to ensure that the VCF does not expend funds beyond its appropriated limit of $7.375 billion. To that end, the VCF must make significant reductions in awards, and these reductions will affect all claims for which a determination has not yet been made, regardless of when the claim was filed. The VCF is also making several policy changes, independent of the funding insufficiency determination, which I have determined constitute better, sounder policy. These reductions and policy changes are explained in detail in Section 10 of the report.
I am painfully aware of the inequity of the situation. I also deeply regret that I could not honor my intention to spare any claim submitted prior to this announcement from any reductions made due to a determination of funding insufficiency. But the stark reality of the data leaves me no choice. If there had been a different option available to me, I assure you I would have taken it. As detailed in the report, the plan we have adopted meets both the requirements of the law and the policy goals we identified as most important: adhering to the statutory mandate of prioritizing the claimants with the most debilitating conditions; compensating all claimants who file a claim by the statutory deadline of December 18, 2020 (subject to offsets); and implementing a plan that would not unduly delay claim determinations. I could not abide a plan that would leave some claimants uncompensated or that would fail to make any allowance for the claimants who suffer the most. The Department of Justice and the VCF also will work with the Administration and Congress to ensure every appropriate consideration is given to claims as soon as possible.
In the end, I sincerely hope that the terrific work done in the past year by the very dedicated team at the VCF will not be eclipsed by this announcement. I personally remain extremely grateful for their commitment to the 9/11 community, and unspeakably proud to work with them every day. Ours is a mission that runs deep within us, and one that we will continue to honor to the very best of our ability in the year to come. I also remain constantly in awe of the deep reserves of strength and resilience in the 9/11 community. It is, as it has been from day one, a deeply humbling responsibility to be able to serve you through this work, and I remain hopeful, despite the situation in which we find ourselves, that the work we do provides at least some measure of needed relief to those who have sacrificed so much and suffered for so long.
As always, if you have questions about the VCF claims process, I encourage you to call our toll-free Helpline at 1-855-885-1555. For the hearing impaired, please call 1-855-885-1558 (TDD). If you are calling from outside the United States, please call 1-202-514-1100.