Message from Special Master Rupa Bhattacharyya
July 21, 2017
As I complete my first year as Special Master for the VCF, I have come to appreciate a number of things that did not fully resonate when I was first appointed in July 2016: the magnitude of the losses that continue to be suffered as a result of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001; the enormity of the task faced by the VCF; the dedication and compassion of the many lawyers, advocates, medical professionals, and others who serve the 9/11 community (not the least of whom are the staff at the VCF); and, above all, the resiliency, strength, and endurance of that community. It has been a privilege to be able to serve in this position, and I hope that the efforts we are making to resolve the claims before us as promptly, accurately, and fairly as possible provides some small measure of relief to those who continue to suffer.
The Quarterly Report published today demonstrates that, as of June 30, 2017, the VCF has rendered over 16,800 compensation determinations, including initial awards on new claims, and revised awards on claims with amendments or appeals. These determinations total over $2.8 billion awarded to VCF claimants. This means that the total awards have exceeded the $2.775 billion originally appropriated when the Zadroga Act was passed in 2011, and awards are now being made out of the appropriated funds added when Congress reauthorized the VCF in December 2015.
We continue to make substantial progress on our oldest claims. As I noted in my last message, as of the end of 2016, nearly 2,500 claims were pending where compensation had been submitted in 2015 or earlier. As of today, nearly 65 percent of those claims have been determined. At the same time, of the nearly 800 compensation amendments that were submitted in 2015 or earlier, more than 30 percent have been determined. This progress means that we remain on track to decide the remainder of the 2015 claims, whether new claims or amendments, before the end of this year (assuming all information necessary to complete our review has been submitted by the claimant or third party entities). Under our prioritization plan, which determines the order in which claims are reviewed based on the date the compensation claim or amendment was submitted, claims and amendments submitted in early to mid-2015 are currently receiving award determinations. Compensation submissions from mid-to-late 2015 are under review, and compensation submissions from late 2015 and those submitted post-Reauthorization but prior to the re-opening of the new claimant portal in August 2016, will come under review soon. We also continue our efforts to increase transparency about the claim review process, and earlier this year, we updated the Claim Status Definitions that are visible on the claimant portal to provide better information about where a claim is in our review process.
While we have been focused on the oldest claims, we are very carefully monitoring the claims that continue to be filed to ensure that our processes and our resources are appropriately calibrated to deal with the claims submitted in 2016 and 2017. The rate of claim filing has not subsided, underscoring yet again the importance of this program to those who continue to suffer as a result of the 9/11 attacks. In all, over 2,800 compensation claims are currently pending where eligibility has been approved. Another more than 4,500 claims are awaiting eligibility review prior to beginning compensation review. And, there are 2,400 pending compensation amendments. Resolving this number of claims will take time, but I am confident that the changes we have implemented since the reauthorization of the VCF in 2015, and since I stepped into the role of Special Master in July 2016, will continue to result in measurable progress. I continue to be committed to making every effort to improve our operations while processing claims as promptly, accurately, and fairly as possible in service to the members of the 9/11 community.
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.