A Message from Special Master Sheila Birnbaum
October 17, 2014
Fiscal Year 2014 was a very productive year at the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. In our first two years, we were focused on everything required to start a significant new program, including hiring staff, developing claim forms and ways to process those forms, and reaching out to prospective claimants to file their claims. This year, we were focused on processing and paying claims, and we have seen positive results.
As of September 30, 2014, the Fund has made 2,042 compensation decisions totaling over $551 million. As a comparison, around the same time last year, the Fund had made 112 decisions totaling around $27 million. Additional details about the Fund’s progress are available in our Third Annual Status Report, which was released today. While this progress is important, I am committed to improving on these accomplishments.
I attribute the progress over the last year to several changes we have made at the Fund. We have increased staffing by almost forty percent, including adding a second Deputy Special Master. We have also trained hearing officers who handle claimants’ appeals. In addition, we have created specialized teams to process payments to claimants and to review medical records. We also now have World Trade Center Health Program employees working on site at the Fund to improve communications between the two entities and expedite decisions. Internally, we have focused on improved training of our claims processing staff and our staff who interact with claimants. Externally, we have worked closely with law firms representing multiple claimants to improve our communications and have worked to improve instructional materials on our website for claimants who do not retain a lawyer. We are committed to processing all claims quickly and efficiently regardless of whether a claimant has hired an attorney.
We are also working to improve the quantity and quality of information we make available to the public. Last quarter, we expanded our public statistical reporting to include additional information on claims processing, including breakdowns of the number of claims we receive on behalf of deceased individuals and individuals with cancer. In the coming weeks, the Fund will also begin to make available on a weekly basis increased amounts of data about compensation decisions, which will allow individuals interested in the Fund to explore our data at a greater level of detail and closer to real time. When we notify claimants of their individual loss determinations, we will soon begin to include in the letters a more detailed breakdown of the Fund’s calculations so that claimants can make more educated decisions on whether they wish to appeal their awards.
I believe the Fund has a special responsibility to serve the 9/11 community. While I emphasize that no amount of money can alleviate the losses suffered on September 11th, the Fund is committed to processing claims quickly and fairly. We have seen many improvements over the past year and the Fund’s dedicated staff will continue to improve the services we provide to each and every claimant in the coming year.