9/11 Health Watch: Notice of Inquiry & Special Master Statement Re: Potential VCF Shortfall

Statement from 911 Health Watch on “Notice of Inquiry” Regarding the Potential of Cuts to Compensation for those Injured by 9/11 Due to Lack of Funding

911 Health Watch wants to thank the Special Master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF), Rupa Bhattacharyya, the Department of Justice and Attorney General Sessions for today’s publication in the Federal Register of the VCF’s “Notice of Inquiry” regarding the potential shortfall of funds for the VCF and asking for comment on possible responses to that potential shortfall.
The Special Masters Message can be found below this statement.
Under current law, the Justice Department has the responsibility and must manage any funding shortfall. In publishing this notice and requesting comments, the Justice Department continuing its diligent and proper management of the VCF.  We commend the Department for taking this action and for their continued work on behalf of 9/11 injured and ill responders and survivors.
The underlying problem that this “Inquiry” calls attention to, the potential lack of resources that are needed to continue to fully pay compensation claims to injured and ill 9/11 responders, survivors and their families, is Congress’s problem to solve.  It is Congress’s responsibility to provide the VCF with all the funding needed to see that 9/11 responders and survivors get the help they need and deserve.
It is not surprising that the number of people coming forward with illnesses and cancers related to their exposure to toxins at Ground Zero grows every single day.  Every other day another 9/11 responder or survivor reportedly dies from a 9/11 related cancer.  The magnitude of the 9/11 cancer problem, though obvious today, was not entirely known in 2015 when the VCF reauthorization was funded.
These are the facts today:
  • The more than 42,000 people who are in the World Trade Center Health program are suffering from at least one certified 9/11 condition caused by the toxins at Ground Zero, the Pentagon and Shanksville crash site, while a large percentage have multiple conditions.
  • The chronic diseases like asthma, obstructive pulmonary disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and cancer that continue to plague those who were exposed to the many toxins and carcinogens on 9/11 and in the weeks and months after.
  • Over 9,300 of those enrolled in the Health Program have been certified with a 9/11 related cancer, with more that are being diagnosed every day. Thousands more who have been diagnosed with cancer are only now joining the health program, so these numbers will increase dramatically.
  • 9/11 responders and survivors in the Health Program are in all 50 States and in 434 out of 435 Congressional Districts.
It has taken years of effort to get a handle on the size and scope of the health crisis facing so many caused by the terror attacks.  The statistics and information we have now, were not available in 2010 when the legislation was first passed and in 2015 during the reauthorization.
Now that these facts have become known, and we have a better understanding of the number of people that are sick and dying from their 9/11 exposures, it is up to Congress to act.
Congress must provide the funds needed by VCF so that these potential cuts will not happen—cuts that would impact the lives of those injured and still suffering, as well as the families of those that have died.
Remember it was the Federal Government that said the air was safe to breathe.
It was also the Federal Government that refused for years to take responsibility, to do the research and respond to the health crisis that is facing so many.
We know that the sponsors of the James Zadroga, 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, Senators Gillibrand and Schumer, and Representatives Maloney, Nadler and King-along with colleagues from both parties will be working to get Washington to respond.
Recently, on the 17th Anniversary of the terror attacks, we again vowed as a nation that we would not forget that day and its aftermath.  It is our hope that the promise to never forget 9/11 will extend to those who are now sick and dying from it and their families.  Given the information, we now have on the scope of the health crisis, and the potential funding shortfall the VCF faces, it is our hope that Congress will in fact remember 9/11 and provide the needed funds so that the choices outlined in today’s Notice will not have to be made.
Below is the message from the Special Master Rupa Bhattacharyya:
October 2, 2018
Dear Friends,
When Congress reauthorized the VCF in 2015, it extended the time for individuals to submit new claims – as well as amendments on existing claims – until December 18, 2020. The Reauthorization Act also directed me, as the Special Master, to periodically reassess the VCF’s policies and procedures to make sure that we prioritize claims for individuals who suffer from the most debilitating physical conditions, and that we do not exceed the $7.375 billion in funds appropriated to the VCF.
The VCF’s most recent periodic assessment, published in February 2018, shows us remaining within that appropriated limit. But, as I am required to do, I am monitoring our expenditures very closely, keeping an eye on the volume of incoming new claims and amendments on existing claims, and continuing to use forecasts from the World Trade Center Health Program and VCF historical data to project whether the current available funding will be sufficient. The VCF expended just over $2.5 billion in the two-and-a-half years since our 2015 reauthorization, and we have more than $3 billion in funding remaining with just under two-and-a-half years left to go. There is no immediate funding crisis. As some of you may have read in the press reporting that surrounded this year’s anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, however, there is concern among some groups that the VCF may run short of funding. An updated projections analysis, run using data as of August 31, 2018, suggests the possibility that, following current policies and procedures, the VCF may exceed its available funding prior to the currently designated program end on December 18, 2020, although I have not made any formal determination that funding may be insufficient. Accordingly, in both an abundance of caution and a steadfast commitment to fulfilling my statutory responsibilities, I am seeking public input on how the remaining funds might be allocated in a fair and equitable manner to claims and amendments that have not yet been decided, with priority given, as the Reauthorization Act requires, to those claimants with the most debilitating conditions. The Notice of Inquiry published to the Federal Register on October 3, 2018, is the official vehicle for gathering that input.
It is important to note that this is an effort to solicit information only. It is both prudent and consistent with my statutory responsibilities to begin the process of collecting your comments and suggestions for our careful and systematic consideration. As the Notice of Inquiry makes clear, should any changes to VCF policies or procedures be deemed necessary solely because there are insufficient funds to continue making awards under the same policies as are in effect today, any such changes would apply only to claims submitted or amended for compensation review after an established effective date. No compensation claim currently submitted for review would be affected.
Our website at www.vcf.gov and our toll-free helpline at 1-855-885-1555 are both excellent sources of information about the VCF’s policies and procedures, and we encourage anyone with questions to take advantage of those resources. The VCF continues to accept new claims – as well as amendments on existing claims for claimants who have suffered new injuries or incurred new losses – and we will continue to do so until December 18, 2020, under the current statutory framework.
The Notice of Inquiry provides an opportunity for all interested members of the 9/11 community to have a voice in how the VCF operates going forward. You are the individuals and organizations who have an interest in how we do our jobs and in the equitable awarding of VCF funds, and I am always grateful and appreciative of your comments and suggestions. Please take some time to review the Notice and the questions on which we are seeking feedback and provide your comments as instructed in the Notice. In doing so, you can help ensure that the VCF remains financially stable, and that we continue to do the best job we can to make sure compensation is awarded to those who deserve it in the fairest, most efficient, and most transparent way possible. Thank you in advance for participating in this effort.
Rupa Bhattacharyya
Special Master
Benjamin Chevat
Executive Director
911 Health Watch Inc.
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