A Message from Special Master Rupa Bhattacharyya September 9, 2016
As we approach the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the work that the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (“VCF”) has accomplished since its reopening in 2011, and to update you on our plans regarding the work that remains to do.
Today, we are issuing updated program statistics that reflect our progress as of September 7, 2016, in three areas: the final accounting of Group A payments; eligibility decisions for both Group A and Group B claims; and compensation decisions for both Group A and Group B claims. As you know, under the terms of the 2015 Reauthorization Act, Group A claims are claims for which a loss was determined and a letter notifying the claimant of the award decision on the claim was issued on or before December 17, 2015. Group B claims are those that are not in Group A.
The statistics show that over the life of the program, 10,580 awards have been issued to VCF claimants, including 9,130 awards in Group A and 1,450 awards in Group B. When combined, these awards total approximately $2.022 billion ($1.822 billion to Group A and $201 million to Group B). All Group A payments have been authorized, and nearly all Group A claimants have received the full compensation on their claims (other than a very small number of people whose payment has been delayed because some information necessary to process the payment is missing). Payments on the 1,450 Group B awards are in the process of being authorized, and we will start issuing payments on those awards as soon as the Group A payments are reconciled, which is nearly complete. Unless a claimant exercises his or her right to appeal, payments to Group B claimants should be received within 8-10 weeks of the date of the letter notifying them of their award.
The payment of more than 10,000 claims is a reflection of the success of the VCF program, but also of the tremendous need for compensation that exists in the 9/11 community. Providing some measure of relief to these claimants could not have happened without the tremendous dedication, compassion, and just plain hard work done by former Special Master Sheila Birnbaum, Deputy Special Master Deborah Greenspan, Deputy Special Master Stefanie Langsam, Director of the New York Office Jordy Feldman, and each and every member of the talented and committed VCF staff. They have my gratitude and my respect.
But, as I have said before, much more work remains to be done. My priority on being appointed as Special Master was to develop a plan so that we could meet the goal of processing claims thoughtfully but without delay. My focus has been on the Group B claims for compensation that were submitted before August 1, 2016, and on establishing a priority order, taking claims that have been waiting longer before newer submissions in a first in, first out order. We are in the process of putting that plan into operation. There are nearly 1,300 of these claims currently under review for claimants who have been deemed eligible (around 800 of which have been pending for more than one year), and those claimants should receive notification of decisions on their claims in an order that corresponds to the length of time they have been waiting. My goal is to decide all compensation claims for eligible claimants that were submitted more than two years ago, and that include all of the information needed to decide compensation, by the end of this year. Moreover, I expect that significant additional progress can be made this year with respect to the claims that were submitted between one to two years ago, although given the time and attention required to decide complicated issues of compensation (particularly where claimants seek recovery of economic losses), our current resources will likely not be sufficient to get through all of them by the end of the year. As we move through the next few months, assessing claims and streamlining processes, I will be evaluating our resource needs to determine how best to support the processing of claims moving forward.
In addition to making award determinations, other work also remains to be done. Just over 1,400 Group B claimants have submitted compensation claims but have not provided the necessary information to allow us to make decisions on the claims. Those claimants have been (or will be) notified of the missing information so that their claims may be placed in a queue for processing. In addition, another 1,500 individuals with claims in Group B have not yet been determined eligible but have submitted compensation forms. We plan to render eligibility decisions on these claims and then review the compensation claims for the ones that are deemed eligible in the first in, first out, priority order, depending on when their compensation forms were submitted. Finally, there are over 1,700 claimants who have already received some award but have returned to the VCF seeking additional compensation through an amendment because they have been diagnosed with a new condition, or because they have suffered a previously uncompensated loss. While these claimants, who have received some compensation already, will be asked to wait while claims for those who have not received any award are decided first, I plan to put in place a process for dealing with these amendments so that these requests can also be processed without unnecessary delay.
The anniversary of the attacks this weekend is a moment for reflection on all that the nation has endured since that terrible day, and none more so than the members of the 9/11 community. But it is also a time to remember that we as a nation are committed to providing help to those who need it, and that programs such as the VCF, which are designed to provide relief to those who are suffering as a result of the attacks, have already done much good, and have the capacity to do much more. I am committed to doing my part to ensure more progress in the months and years to come.
Best regards, Rupa