Message from Special Master Sheila Birnbaum - VCF Reauthorization
December 30, 2015
On December 18, 2015, President Obama signed into law a bill reauthorizing the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010. This includes reauthorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (“VCF”) for another 5 years, which will benefit individuals impacted by the events of 9/11 and its aftermath.
The new law directs the VCF to issue “full compensation” to claimants with “Group A Claims,” defined as claims for which a loss determination was issued on or before December 17, 2015, “as soon as practicable.” To carry out that directive, I have moved additional staff members to support the payment process so that these payments are made expeditiously without compromising the quality control measures that are so critical to our program.
The new law also requires important changes be made to the VCF’s policies and procedures for evaluating Group B claims and computing losses. Group B claims are those claims that are not defined in the legislation as Group A claims. The new law prescribes the funding available to eligible Group B claimants. I am working with my team to determine how the legislation impacts claimants and our day-to-day operations.
In developing new policies and procedures, we are also re-evaluating the documents required to submit claims (including claim forms and accompanying materials), the systems in place to file and review claims, and the information published on our website. I see this as an opportunity to review our claim forms, redesign our online system, and adjust procedures to meet new requirements and to increase efficiency.
I understand that you may be eager to file a claim if you have not already done so, or take action on a previously submitted claim. I ask that you be patient as we develop and implement updated policies and procedures that will carry us through the next 5 years. We will continue to provide information and updates through our website as those decisions are made.
What does the new Zadroga Act mean for you?
- Our first priority is to make full payments on those claims defined as Group A as set forth in the new law. Given the almost 10,000 payments to be made and the process we must follow to ensure compliance with Department of Justice and Treasury Department protocols, we expect that it will take 3-6 months to complete these payments.
- Funding to pay Group B claims will not be available until all Group A claimants “have received the full compensation due” or October 2016, whichever is earlier. As a result, we cannot issue any payment on any group B claims before that time.
- Although our online claim system is still operational, we ask that you use it only to register or to upload documents that the VCF has requested for your claim. It takes time to make changes to the system and until these changes are in place, please do not use the system to complete or submit any new claim forms or to amend an existing compensation claim.
- The VCF website is still available, but the full breadth of information it contains has not yet been updated to reflect the new law. This means that some of the information may not be consistent with the new legislation. We are working to remove any outdated information and replace it with updated content.
- We are continuing to process and render decisions on eligibility claims that were submitted prior to December 18, 2015. If you receive a letter from the VCF requesting missing information for your claim, you should respond to the request within the specified timeframe. Eligibility Forms submitted on or after December 18, 2015 will not be reviewed until our revised procedures are finalized. If you have not yet submitted your Eligibility Form, you should wait for the updated forms and instructions to be published.
- We are continuing to review compensation claims submitted prior to December 18, 2015 that have not yet had a decision rendered in order to determine whether any information is missing that may be relevant to the claim. If you receive a letter from the VCF requesting missing information for your claim, you should respond to the request within the specified timeframe. However, please note that we will not issue any decisions until our revised procedures and loss calculation methodology are finalized. We expect to begin rendering decisions on these claims in the summer of 2016 and estimate the first payments for these claims will be made in the fall of 2016, once the funding has been made available. Compensation Forms submitted on or after December 18, 2015 will not be reviewed until our revised procedures are finalized. If you have not yet submitted your Compensation Form, you should wait for the updated forms and instructions to be published. If you filed an amendment to a claim before December 18, 2015, we will review your submission but will not issue any new compensation determination until we have finalized our new procedures.
- Please continue to gather the information and documents that will be needed to support your claim so that you will be in a position to get that information to us as soon as possible after the new procedures and systems are in place.
We will roll out the changes in phases and will post on our website a timeline of activities for the coming year. Information on our website will be updated on an ongoing basis so please check the site frequently for updates.
I remain committed to ensuring transparency and fairness in this process and welcome your comments and input as we continue to implement the changes the new law requires. I am confident the short-term interruptions will lead to enhancements that will benefit all claimants over the next five years.
Thank you for your continued support. I wish you and your families a very Happy New Year.