Reporter Devlin Barrett of The Wall Street Journal wrote the following story on the compensation first responders are receiving from the federal government. I’m posting it in full for those of you who don’t have an online subscription to the WSJ:
Fifteen emergency responders who worked at Ground Zero will be the first to receive awards from the new Sept. 11 victim-compensation fund, for amounts ranging from $10,000 to $1.5 million, officials said Tuesday.
The fund has received fewer than 100 completed applications for money, officials said. That suggests the program may end up receiving far less than the 34,000 total claims for aid that fund officials estimated.
Congress created the $2.8 billion fund two years ago to compensate those who developed health problems after working around the sites of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, as well as a Pennsylvania field where passengers forced the crash of a jetliner hijacked by terrorists.
Fourteen of the recipients are firefighters, and one is a New York state corrections officer, fund officials said, and all suffered respiratory problems.
Sheila Birnbaum, a New York lawyer appointed as special master of the fund, said recipients would get only 10% of their total award at first because she doesn’t know yet how many people will ultimately apply or how severe their illnesses will be.
“I think we have good news for people. We’ve been working very hard to get the process up and running,” she said.
So far, more than 16,000 people have registered with the fund, but a fraction of those have filled out all the necessary paperwork, officials said. As of last week, the fund had received 194 compensation applications (including the fewer than 100 that had been completed). “Most of them are incomplete—even though they’ve been submitted, they haven’t provided all of the information,” Ms. Birnbaum said.
Noah Kushlefsky, who along with another attorney represents about 5,000 people seeking compensation, said he was thought there was “a concern there’s going to be a mad dash” when the October deadline for filing claims approaches. “I think there’s a general surprise that it’s not 25,000 people making claims,” he said.
Many first responders applying to the fund haven’t provided signed authorizations allowing administrators to confirm with the New York police and fire departments that the applicants worked at the Ground Zero site. “It’s been a difficult process to get the documentation we need,” Ms. Birnbaum said.
Under the fund’s rules, lawyers representing those with claims can’t take more than 10% of the award payments.
Ms. Birnbaum said she aimed to have $10,000 be the minimum award. The awards are calculated based on economic loss, pain and suffering, minus other payments such as pensions or disability payments for injuries.
The firefighter who received the largest initial reward of $1.5 million is now 43 years old and suffered severe respiratory problems that forced him to retire on disability, she said.
Two years ago, Congress passed legislation creating the fund in response to years of complaints that those who were made sick by their exposure to toxic substances at the Ground Zero site needed and deserved health care and compensation.
Out of the total $2.8 billion, the law makes $875 million available during the fund’s first five years. Because of that structure, the fund is setting total award amounts now and plans to make payments over the years to reach those amounts.
Ms. Birnbaum said it was difficult to tell how many people would seek compensation for cancers they believed they developed as a result of working at or around Ground Zero—and how costly those illnesses will be. For those two reasons, she said, the first payment would be 10% of the total award amount, a portion she described as “conservative.”
Corrections & Amplifications
Fourteen firefighters and one New York state corrections officer will be the first to receive compensation from the Sept. 11 victim compensation fund. An earlier version of this story, based on information from officials, incorrectly said the initial group consisted of 15 firefighters.
Write to Devlin Barrett at [email protected]